Summer months are the time of year when all types of venomous snakes such as rattlesnakes, cottonmouths (also known as water moccasins), and copperheads are out in full force. I can't tell you how many times I have heard that someone's hunting dog has been bitten by a pit viper. Since the weather is generally hot during summer training and early season hunting, the risk of a deadly encounter with a poisonous snake is very high. I want you to know that 95% or more of snake bitten dogs are due to a lack of proper training on the hunter's part. All dogs have a natural curiosity about snakes since they give off such a strong and pungent odor. The dog's curiosity will compel it to go and investigate the scent or even the sound of a rattlesnake's rattling tail. That is why nearly all hunting dogs are bitten in the face, neck, and front leg areas. Rarely are dogs surprised and bitten by a snake as the dog walks by one, it is nearly always a snake that the dog is curiously checking out that gives the lethal or near lethal strike. Another interesting fact is that most reference sources about venomous snakes state that 60% of all humans that are bitten by venomous snakes each year were bitten because they were messing around with a snake and trying to pick it up rather than simply avoiding it. Perhaps we humans also need some "snake avoidance" training.
I live in the Mojave Desert region of Southern California. Here in the high desert we have a couple of very poisonous species of rattle snake: Western Diamond Back Rattlesnake and the Mojave Rattlesnake. During the hottest parts of summer, rattlers are usually out at night, because they have no body temperature controlling system and cannot endure the extremely hot temperatures during the day. Since the midday desert heat is also too hot for the best rabbit tracking and scenting conditions, I run my hounds mostly during the cooler hours of darkness. Therefore, I have learned that snake avoidance training is a real necessity for my hounds as well as for all other hunting dogs. This article will describe the equipment and the training methods that I have found that work best.
As far as equipment goes, nothing comes close to the usefulness of an electronic training collar (also called a shock collar). There are several good companies out there such as Tri-tronics, Innotek, and others. Nowadays, electronic training collars come in one, two, or three dog systems, have a multitude of sizes, and come with many different features. No matter what type of hunting dog(s) you own, there is a training collar out there that will meet your needs. These electronic training collars are on the expensive side due to their digital technology and the amount of labor involved in making them. When you consider the many different training uses for them and the fact they they can save the life of one or more of your hunting dogs, then the price is truly a bargain. There are also several companies that specialize in selling used and refurbished collars at big discounts. If you don't have an electronic training collar system and you own hunting dogs, I suggest you get one since they are an indispensable dog training tool.
Next, you should acquire some type of nonpoisonous snake, a light rope or bailing twine, and the rattle off of a rattlesnake or a cassette tape player with a tape of an agitated rattlesnake. I recommend keeping and raising a garter snake, bull snake, python, or boa constrictor for the purpose of dog training. Most pet stores will have nonpoisonous snakes and terrariums for sale at very low prices.
Drive a stake into the ground and tightly tie one end of a 3-6 ft. rope to the stake and the other end of the rope to the snake. Now allow your dog, that is wearing the electronic training collar, to investigate the snake. Let the dog smell the snake one good time so it is very familiar with the smell and then give your dog the maximum correction for your collar system. Wait a while and see if your dog wants to investigate the snake again. If it does, go through the same procedure once again. Do this same procedure with all of your dogs until they get the message that they will get hurt if they get close to a snake. Use this same procedure several times with any young dogs and repeat the process with all of your hunting dogs each spring just before the weather starts warming up and snakes become a problem. This procedure will make your hunting dog avoid the site and smell of a snake.
Now you want to make your dog avoid the sound of a rattlesnake's rattling tail. As we all should already know, the rattle of a rattlesnake is a warning device for the snake. The rattlesnake shakes its rattle tipped tail when it is trying to scare off an animal that is getting too close to its territory. If the approaching animal ignores the rattler's warning, that animal will get struck once it is within a striking distance of 3-6 feet. We humans have learned what a rattle snake's rattling noise sounds like and what can happen if we ignore the warning; our hunting dogs don't have the same luxury of watching TV and learning. Therefore, this extra training step to get your dog to avoid the rattling sound of a rattlesnake should be taught as well.
Try placing a rabbit under a milk crate and then rattle a rattlesnake's tail or place a playing cassette player (with the tape recording of an agitated rattler) under the crate. The milk crate somewhat hides the rabbit and the recorder so the Beagle must get close and try to smell and see through the small openings. As soon as your dog starts sniffing through the crate then apply the maximum correction. The key to all of this is to make your dog avoid the area of a rattlesnake's rattling noise even if it gets a strong scent of its favorite game animal: rabbit or hare. It won't take long to teach your hunting dog to stay clear of the rattling noise no matter how bad it wants to investigate.
If you are a bird hunter rather than a rabbit hunter, you can do the same type of training by simply placing a live or dead game bird under the milk crate rather than a rabbit. Then make the rattlesnake noise and give your dog the maximum electronic correction when it sticks its nose up to the crate. The dog will learn to avoid a retrieve or point that is guarded by the rattler noise. Make sure you do this type training with different types of objects and scents. If no rattling noise is used, allow the dog to get to its favorite game. If a rattling noise is used, then once again apply the stimulation just as your dog sniffs near the rattling noise. This way you are teaching your dog that the rattling noise is what causes the pain and not the milk crate or the game animal that your dog is scenting.
If you are a gundog owner then you owe it to yourself and your hunting dog to start doing snake avoidance training. Don't wait until your prize champion hunting dog has been bitten by a pit viper, and you find yourself trying to race against time to make it to the Vet's office before your dog dies. Please, get the proper equipment and utilize the training steps above to protect your valuable investment, hunting companion, and best friend. I wish you all a great hunting season with your well trained gundog.