ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Q: Do you have information on humane rattlesnake “proofing” techniques for dogs? It seems to me that keeping your dog on-leash would be a better solution, so I don’t need it for myself. In Santa Fe they are using shock collars for this purpose, and I would like to suggest an alternative method to one of the handlers that is not comfortable with having his dog shocked. Personally, I am shocked that anyone is instructing dog owners in that method.
Dr. Nichol: Shocked? I’m incredulous. I love my dog. No way would I subject her to painful electric current. The stress to the decoy snake matters, too. Tossing a wild reptile on the ground to be menaced by dogs who are set up to fail is inhumane on all fronts. I get it, though. I’ve treated plenty of snake bites involving severe tissue damage and worse.
Modern learning theory makes little use of punishment. To effectively diminish the frequency of a behavior an aversive needs to be repeated multiple times into the future. A dog would learn to avoid snakes as it lost trust in its person. Inflicting pain on my dog has no part in our relationship.
Rattlesnake bites are serious business, although 25 percent of them are “dry strikes,” meaning without venom. There is no first aid that’s worthwhile, other than getting the victim emergency medical care ASAP. Rattlesnake vaccine is available but may do nothing more than reduce the damage. Robust research on its effectiveness is lacking.
I advise teaching “Leave It.” But if you spew this command like a drill sergeant you’ll startle the living @!#& out of your dog. Kindly teach him to earn food by abandoning his focus on the coiled curiosity. With repetition he’ll learn to respond quickly and happily. Go to drjeffnichol.com and click FAQ for links to excellent videos on teaching this skill. You’ll always need to stay on snake watch.
I’m watchful on back country hikes with my dog, Miss America. So far she has shown no interest in agitating reptiles although that little dickens has had harsh words for fellow pageant contestants. Nobody is shocked.
Each week Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video, blog or a Facebook Live to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet questions at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109.