Snake Survival Guide For Dogs

Ford Wilson and his wife Wendy lived in Mexico, at least five months a year, for 30 years. He now lives in Washington state and raises chickens.  Here is his snake story,

We have quite a snake history since we lived near Los Barracas, out in the tulies between Cabo Pulmo and La Ribera for so many years. We had a few near misses, one of them when we returned home and turned on the lights. Lying in the middle of the living room was a 4 ft long rattler! I grabbed a shovel and dispatched it.

This was the first rattler we killed and we decided that if the snake was on our property and around an area that our dog walked thru, well, sorry but the death penalty would have to be applied. If we encountered a rattlesnake on the road or anywhere else like a hike, we avoided the snake and in some cases would protect it from being run over on the road.

We would never walk in the dark without a good flashlight to illuminate where we

would step. When hiking we would always watch where we were going and especially where we put our hands. You just can't relax when you are in snake country.

In 2010 we got a new puppy. On our migration to Baja in October, we stopped in Bermuda Dunes, California to meet up with a guy who trained dogs to avoid rattlesnakes.

The trainer and an assistant had an ice chest with snakes in it. The snakes had surgical tape around their mouths to render them harmless. Raven was fitted with an electric shock collar, with the strength set for her size and hooked up to a long leash.

First the trainer put a snake in the middle of the clearing and walked Raven around and towards the snake. As Raven noticed the snake and started to investigate it, she got a mild zapping which caused her to back away. This continued in other scenarios, like putting a snake

under a bucket and letting Raven sniff the bucket and, again, getting zapped. Another snake was put in the open area and was agitated enough for it to rattle, again letting Raven get close enough to get a zapping.

The theory is that when seeing a snake, smelling it, and by hearing the rattle and getting zapped for getting close, a dog would avoid snakes in the future. (I wonder if that works for quitting cigarettes? Wear a shock collar for a couple weeks, maybe?)

The final exam was to put a snake in the clearing, have us stand on one side and the trainer and Raven on the other side. He let Raven off the leash as we called her. If she ran straight toward us and close to the snake, well, that was a fail. If she took a great circle route to avoid the snake on the way to us, that was a pass. She passed.

One year later we did another session to re-enforce the avoidance training. The cost of this training was around $100 per session. There is also the option of anti-venom injections for protecting dogs, although this is more controversial and something we decided not to do.

For the five winters that Raven spent in Las Barracas there was never an encounter with a rattlesnake that we were aware of. Additionally we never saw a rattlesnake on the beach but seeing them on the roads was common.

We consider rattle snakes a manageable risk if you follow some common sense rules.