While Sully lives in Central Phoenix, I had to remember that snakes - rattlesnakes - can certainly make their way to the inner city. Garages, backyards, gardens, and even in the house. I wanted to make sure that Sully went through rattlesnake aversion training and I did my research. What kind of training methods were used? Snakes in cages? Dead snakes? Live snakes? My competition obedience instructor also did some research and she recommended RattlesnakeReady.
Cody Will trains snake aversion using sight recognition, scent recognition and sound recognition. And he uses live snakes that are not in cages. Cody maintains a good collection of snakes and since their fangs have not been removed, he "muzzles" them with surgical tape. The snakes are well cared for and they are given frequent days off.
I wanted photos of Sully's training, but I also wanted to make sure I learned his behavior. You have to read your dog's behavior, so the photos aren't great, but they will give you an idea of what the training was all about.
Cody arrives bright and early for Sully's training. He came to my home since that's probably where we would run into snakes. He will also go to other places, depending on what you do with your dogs.
Out come the rattlesnakes, the snakeskin, the rattleblind and the e-collar. Yes, he uses an electric shock collar but uses it only in the strength he needs for the individual dog being trained. He starts off very, very light and ups the shock only if necessary.
The training starts with Junior, a juvenile Great Basin rattlesnake. Sully, of course, wanted to get up close and personal and he was allowed to do that. As soon as he got way too close, Cody gave him a static correction with the e-collar. It didn't hurt him, but he jumped several feet off the ground! His lesson: the snake is really not a fun toy after all.
Cody moved Junior several times and Sully needed only one other correction. After that, my pup wasn't having any of it! He saw the rattlesnake each time and ran right to me.
Next up: snakeskin. This is for scent recognition. Again, Sully went right up to it (please note: he's not on leash through any of this). Cody let him get a good whiff and then gave a static correction.
Sully doesn't associate the small shock with Cody or me. He associates it with the snake - and the scent. So ... let's put him to a real test ...
Cody moved the snakeskin to an area on the side of my house (encircled in red). I was on the other side and gave the recall command.
Sully DID come to me on the recall ... GOOD BOY! ... but he made sure to avoid the snakeskin and took the long way around.
Up next: sound recognition. Cody's "rattleblind" is audio equipment with large and small rattlesnake sound recordings and he hides it from the dog. Keep in mind: Sully has already heard Junior's tail rattling.
This is Sully's reaction after the small rattlesnake sound ... he knew exactly what it was and didn't even want to go near. Same thing for the big snake sound.
And now it's time to bring out the big boy. Apache is a very large Western Diamondback rattlesnake. Cody placed him in several areas of the backyard, on the porch, grass, concrete, foot rug ... and Sully stayed clear at each and every location!
Again, the recall. Sully came to me, but made a huge circle around Apache who was hiding in the grass (the snake is actually out of the photo on the left side). No way he was getting anywhere close - and you notice how he crouched down; it was as if he wanted to make sure the snake didn't see him. Several times during the training, Sully ran to the back door to get away from the snakes so ... Cody put Apache right at the door and I acted like I was going in. Nope - as soon as he got a glimpse of the rattler, he refused to come any closer and he backed off. At this point, Sully started talking to me ... I'm sure he was telling me to move away from the snake. :)
Sully's rattlesnake aversion training was complete after just 30 minutes. In 6 months, we'll do a test to see if he's retained what he learned. I was impressed with the training and with Cody. He answered questions, explained the training, and he handles the dogs and snakes with care. The hood of his vehicle caught my attention ... the head of a snake. :)