Would You?

A friend’s puppy was bitten by a rattlesnake this week. Everything is fine now, after a few scary days and a scary vet bill.

As she was going through this, the question of rattlesnake training came up. In the scenario outlined (note: I haven’t done my own research on this; I’m casually reporting hearsay) for rattlesnake training, a shock collar is used in a controlled exposure scenario to teach the dog to never approach a snake. The shock collar is run quite high; a second friend who had done the training said it was enough that the dogs cried out.

Which raises a question: would you do it? Would you deliberately hurt your dog (in reality, have someone else do it), just one time, to teach them to be afraid of something deadly? What chance of exposure would convince you?

With Silas’s temperament, I would have to say no. He’s so scared of so many things already that I would never deliberately add a phobia to his list. More importantly, with all punishment-based training, there’s a possibility that the dog will misunderstand the thing he’s supposed to become averse to. It would be devastating for us if Silas became even a little more afraid of strangers or being in new places.

If I had a sturdy, even-tempered dog, and we lived in a place where exposure was likely, I don’t know.

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8 thoughts on “Would You?

  1. I would practice Leave It instead. This is my all-time favorite go-to command for stop what you were doing and leave it alone. If you use it with other animals you see outside (squirrels, cats, birds), then you have a good chance of your dog leaving that snake alone, if that situation ever arises.

    And no, I would never use a shock collar on a dog, ever.

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    1. I can’t really imagine myself doing it, either. But, my friend’s puppy was in their garage, in a place that it was reasonably safe to leave him unsupervised. Given how quickly they discovered that he had been bitten, and exactly by what, I don’t know that he even *was* really unsupervised. The snake wasn’t supposed to be there, so no one was looking out for it, which is the basis of Leave It. (That is, the human sees it first.)

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  2. I don’t think I would do it. Like Married With Dawgs I think the leave it command if taught in conjunction with the take it command, would be the route I would go. I’ve heard of this rattlesnake aversion training and I would never deliberately hurt my dog for any reason.

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    1. It does seem like surely there’s a more positive way to reach the same end, even to the point of setting up the same controlled scenario where the dog meets the snake.

      I do think it’s easy to be abstract about it, having no likelihood of it happening. I’m glad I don’t have to actually make the decision.

      And, of course, there’s a whole host of deadlies out there that we don’t aversion train for. We have a few other venomous snakes here, two kinds of poisonous spiders, and who knows how many toxic plants. Sago Palm ingestion has a 50-75% fatality rate, and Sago Palms are everywhere here.

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  3. I would not do it. I live in the desert and hike a lot and Blueberry and I have met our fair share of snakes, a few rattlers included. Honestly, it just means I have to be more vigilant even on trails and it means that I can’t let B off leash in those areas (even if her recall was great, which it isn’t, but that’s another story).

    I too think there must be a better way to teach them. But on the flip side – is it better to have them shocked a few times and live rather than getting bitten by a venomous snake that could potentially kill them? I know that people that train their dogs using this method are probably thinking it is the lesser of two evils. But really, there has to be another way. I am always suspicious of a training method that is touted as “the only way”. There’s always room for improvement and there isn’t one pat method that works every time. “Leave it” is a good one but if your dog is off leash and out of sight in some bushes, then it isn’t going to be real effective. I’m going to be on the look out for a trainer that has a more humane way of training dogs to stay away from snakes, but in the meantime, I’ll pass on the shock collar.

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    1. Yes, absolutely. I think that logic of “anything’s better than that” is very powerful in this kind of case. It’s also a thought process that I try to be very careful about in general. “Lesser evil” is, historically, the way that humans justify doing all sorts of horrible things without thinking about them. For that reason alone it’s worth always stopping to ask if the “lesser evil” is really the best we can do. Sometimes it is, but sometimes we can change the whole paradigm.

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  4. I don’t live in a rattlesnake area so I don’t know if this would work or not. But could someone work on the leave it command in conjunction with hearing a rattlesnake so that even if the dog saw/heard the snake first, he could recall his training to that sound and return for his treat?

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    1. That’s sort of what I was thinking. You could prepare for the live training with a recorded snake sound, or the trainer could even ship you something that “smelled” like a snake to practice with.

      I guess people feel like you can get a quick, 100% effective result with the shock, rather than days and weeks of training “leave it” under various circumstances.

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