Rattlesnakes are very common in the rural mountains of Colorado. In fact, last year, Neal spotted one under a tree on our property. Curious dogs and rattlesnakes don't mix well, so when I found out there was a snake aversion class being offered in Westcliffe, I signed up the pups for training.
The process consists of fitting each dog with an electronic shock collar, which varies in intensity from 1-6. Once the collar is fitted properly, a handler (not the dog's owner), walks the dog through an obstacle course in and around caged rattlers.
If the dog shows any interest in the sight, sound or smell of the snakes, he is given a zap from the collar. Neal and I had to hide out of sight from each of our pups, because they immediately started looking for us and got distracted. It broke our hearts to hear them yelp when shocked, but we had to remind ourselves that this little lesson could save their lives one day.
Once at the end of the course, we were called back to the scene and the dog was unleashed. The objective was for us to call the dog to come and if he made every effort possible to avoid the snakes on his way to us, the training was deemed successful. Nadia and George both failed to acknowledge the last cage of snakes, so they had to go again, after a brief rest period.
For George's second try, the trainer had me walk him through the course to check for reaction. He zig-zagged in and out and took a wide berth around the snakes, so he was cleared to go. The trainer suggested that the dogs go through this training two or three years in a row to make sure it sinks in. While the dogs may have forgotten all about the stress and discomfort come next year, I'm not so sure Neal and I will.
When we got back to The Ranch, all three dogs got plenty of love and treats and freedom to do what they wanted, which included lots of water-drinking and snoozing.