Rattlesnake Avoidance Pays Off

Here in Colorado, one niggling impediment to carefree hiking and riding is the prospect of rattlesnake encounters. The possibility of harm and crisis – for horses, humans, and dogs – is enough to motivate several preventative strategies.

There’s not a lot we can do for horses aside from education, preparation, and embracing our ability to keep calm and to keep the horse calm. Check out these helpful articles:

UC Davis report on rattlesnake issues

Wyoming newspaper column on rattlesnakes and horses

Horse blogger’s tips for rattlesnake encounters

Dogs are different and we can help them out a lot more tangibly. Like Frontline and other topical tick deterrents, the rattlesnake vaccine may help. Research is somewhat equivocal but my dogs have all been vaccinated. With it, my 30-pound sprite, Peeko, might survive long enough to get to the vet. The vaccine may also help significantly reduce the vet bill and the bite’s overall impact on the dog.

JJ Belcher works with Kip

JJ Belcher works with Kip

Another preventative measure is a Rattlesnake Avoidance class, something my dogs unwittingly enrolled in last weekend. It involves a shock collar, a big-ass rattlesnake (who goes by the name Brian, is 12 years old, at least five feet long, thick as a Campbell’s soup can, and has had his venom glands surgically removed), and an experienced canine trainer from Arizona. Watch video. Read more about JJ Belcher and Sublime Canine here.

Individually, the trainer led Kip, Peeko, and Monty to the snake. When they got curious, they were hit with a jolt from the collar. Later, Belcher returned with each dog to visit Brian. My dogs had caught on quickly; as soon as they spied the snake, they went in the other direction. When I led each dog to a bag full of snake sheds, they also steered clear.

Lesson of the Day: Stay away from something that looks or smells or moves like Brian. I was pretty confident that the education would stick. Little did I know, we’d put the training to the test almost immediately.

Jessica Kahn trains with her dog, Remington, and JJ Belcher

I was ponying a group of horses and my dogs were tagging along, off leash. We had a mile of gravel road to cover. Halfway, we encountered a rattler in the middle of the road, coiled up and ready to take on all comers. I think I saw a brief flash of curiosity, but then the dogs steered clear. Hooray!

A few days later, we saw another rattlesnake on the same stretch of road. The dogs came close (a few yards), almost by accident, but otherwise did not approach or return to it. Hooray II!

Avoidance training, said JJ Belcher, is not like ordinary obedience. It’s important not to encourage dogs to check out dead rattlers. Contact should be discouraged. For more on that, check out Sublime Canine.

Monty learns that steering clear of rattlers is optimal.