Making Dogs Rattlesnake Smart


Molly, a 6-month-old Golden Retriever, owned by Joann Froshaug of Chandler, shows more curiosity than fear of the diamondback rattler used in a snake avoidance training at Mayday Retrievers in Oxbow Estates. The snake, named Precious, is defanged and a shock collar was used to simulate a bite.

Molly, a 6-month-old Golden Retriever, owned by Joann Froshaug of Chandler, shows more curiosity than fear of the diamondback rattler used in a snake avoidance training at Mayday Retrievers in Oxbow Estates. The snake, named Precious, is defanged and a shock collar was used to simulate a bite. Photo by Dennis Fendler. |

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Whether or not your dog is a hiking companion or a house dog, it is probably a good idea to have it trained to either alert or avoid snakes.

Roger May of Mayday Retrievers in Oxbow Estates presented a program by Jay Smith on rattlesnake avoidance training this weekend. It is something he tries to do once a year, he said.

Smith operates Community Dog Training in Oracle, north of Tucson and is a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, which can be found at www. APDT.com.

Smith learned his dog training skills as a volunteer with professional bird dog trainer, Web Parton.

“I wanted to learn more about training dogs, and Web was patient enough to let me tag along with eyes and ears open,” he said on his Web site, www.comdogtrain.com.

Smith developed his snake avoidance training by studying a learning theory called Operant Conditioning.

He explains, “This learning theory simply says: Anything that immediately follows a behavior will increase or decrease the chances of whether that behavior will be repeated.”

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Jay Smith of Community Dog Training in Oracle taught the snake avoidance program at Mayday Retrievers for Roger May.

About nine students and 10 dogs participated in the public portion of the training at Mayday Retrievers, afterward Smith worked with May’s dogs and those he is boarding.

“They (the dogs) know something is up,” Smith told the participants.

“They have had a change in their schedule to be here, it’s a new environment, there are other dogs and people around and they have probably sensed some anxiety on your part.”

To get all the participants (two- and four-legged) settled, Smith explained the training process.

He uses a live diamondback rattlesnake, that he had defanged; puts an electric collar on each dog and keeps them on a leash. The dog is kept downwind of the snake until it is comfortable with Smith and the new surroundings. Keeping the dog about six feet away will get the snake rattling.

“Generally the dog will key on the sound, lower its head and smell it,” he said.

Smith will then give the dog a slight shock to teach it to avoid the sound and smell of the rattler.

“I want (the dog to become) a mule at the end of the leash. I want it to plant its feet and sit down, letting you know it is not going to budge,” he explained.

That is the ideal response. Another is for the dog to move as far away from the snake as it can or to start barking at it from a “safe” distance to alert its owner of the snake’s presence.

He said that usually a dog will respond in one of those three ways, however, some older dogs are so bonded to their owner, they will stay by their side.

Smith said the training is something the dogs should retain for life, but if there is a question as to their retention, he will provide free retraining.

In addition to snake (and toad) avoidance training, Smith does clicker training; service dog training; helps owners with their dog’s fear, aggression or obedience; and more.

He said his goals as an instructor are:

• To educate the public about responsible pet ownership and humane training practices.

• To turn dog owners into dog lovers.

• To make sure all dogs and people have fun.

• To present the training material in a clear, easy to understand fashion.

• To see every team (dog and owner) improve.

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Mandy Young of Payson brought her dogs Nugget, left, and Rudy, to the training held in Oxbow Estates Sept. 25.

Mayday Retrievers has been operating in Oxbow Estates since October 2009, before that, the business was outside of Snowflake, where Roger and his wife, Candra, managed a pheasant reserve.

Mayday Retrievers is a full-time training and boarding facility. It offers training for field trials and a basic gun dog program. It also provides an obedience training program.

“We suit our programs to fit the needs of each dog. We choose a program that will bring out the best in your dog,” May said on his Web site maydayretrievers.com.

May accepts all breeds of retrievers for field trial and hunt test programs.

He offers an all breed gun dog training program.

“We are very serious in all of our training programs. We compete in six different states, and are here to take you and your dog as far as you can go,” May said on the Web site.

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