Snake Avoidance Training for Dogs

Most of us have heard the saying “the only good snake is a dead snake,” which a large part of me agrees with, though I’d rather just avoid them all together.  Snakes in general have always been affiliated with evil and death, from the well-known biblical references of Adam and Eve to the mythical creatures of the Greeks in Medusa.  Snakes have been creating fear in the hearts and minds of people for decades, the same goes for modern day dog owners and gun dog handlers today. 

Many Americans reside in snake country; most of the western and southern regions of the U.S. in fact coexist with these serpents daily. Nonetheless, if you’re a weekend warrior and enjoy the outdoor activities of camping, hiking or my personal favorite Upland Hunting, you are sure to have a run in with the venomous variety. What if I told you there was a training course that lasted 8-10 minutes that would condition your four-legged family member to avoid slithering snakes all together, would you be interested?  Trained from the blue print of Ivan Pavlov’s “Theory of Condition,” we can teach dogs how to avoid being bit by conditioning them to the site, smell and sound of all snakes, both non venomous as well as the life threatening venomous varieties. 

It was a warm day in southern Colorado and opening weekend for scaled quail season 2013. The sun was beating on my shoulders and the dog’s tongues darn near dragging the desert floor, but my game vest was filling up with feathers and we were doing what we love most. Amongst me and my two German Shorthaired Pointers Gnarli and Radar was my good buddy and upland guru Ken and his two GSP’s. Roughly two miles from the truck and working cactus bundles for covey rises I notice my eldest pup stray from his obvious run and outwardly avoid a typical hot spot for a covey, as did two of the three other dogs. Storm, just eight months old and never been snake broke went in nose first. It was that day my heart felt fear for a dog like it have never felt before, and it was that same day I learned the value of the Snake Avoidance Training Course. 

For background sake, all rattlesnakes used for the class are defanged and milked prior to the introduction of dogs.  No dogs, snakes or handlers are harmed during the course.  The process and the theory are quite simple to grasp, put your hand in the cookie jar the hand gets slapped, repeat a few times and the hand no longer reaches for the jar. 

Hosted by Colorado Gun Dog Association out of Denver Colorado, the class is very organized and typically only takes 8-10 minutes per pet to condition. To achieve the avoidance completion we use a three snake scenario process. Snake one is a rattlesnake with his rattle tapped, we want the dog to focus on site and scent on the first introduction to a snake. The owner is asked to step away so that the dog isn’t focused on them but the training at hand, as a handler takes the lead and walks to the coiled rattler.  As soon as the dog makes eye contact, follows scent to the snake and in many cases the snake strikes, a second trainer holding the E-Collar remote applies a heavy dose of collar stimulation at which point we allow the dog to exit as it wishes.  This process is repeated as needed, typically two no more than three times until the dog takes a very wide path around the snake avoiding it at all costs, both site and scent. By applying collar pressure with each look or smell of the snake we are applying the theory of condition to a T. The dog says, “Every time I look at, smell, or get close to this thing it hurts me” at which point the dog no longer wants anything to do with the electric “toy” on the ground. 

Once completed we walk 15-20 yards to a mature rattlesnake with an untapped tail, often times the noise of the rattle is enough to draw the attention of a dog even after stimulation was applied on the previous silent snake. We repeat the same E- Collar process until the dog avoids the location the sound is coming from and takes the widest route possible away from the snake. Again, we have now conditioned the dog’s brain that the site, smell and NOW sound of these creatures is nothing but bad news. Lastly, we bring the owner into the field at the third and final snake of the course. What we ask the owner to call their dog to them but we place the third rattlesnake between the owner and the dog, making the dog have to run around the snake to get to owner. Collar pressure is repeated so as long as the dog runs across the snake to get to their owner not around. Most pups by snake three have it figured out and take a very obvious path of avoidance to get back to mom and dad, completing the course just as expected. 

In closing, there is a just a few rules of thumb to pay attention to and hopefully will help answer some questions you may have. ANY breed of dog, house or hunting, ages 6 months and older can go through the course, though it is suggested to wait until your dog is a year old. Not because they can’t handle the course but solely for the purposes of retention, young dogs get “squirreled” fairly easy as you know.  Secondly, if at all in your control be sure to complete the course three years in a row, this will ensure the best odds of snake avoidance retention possible. 

Hunt hard, hunt safe and Fetch Feathers

 

Anthony Ferro

Owner/Operator- Fetching Feathers LLC

Fetching-Feathers.com

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4 Tactics to Overcome Public Land Roosters

 

For some, public lands provide the only opportunity in hopes of harvesting the elusive and witty Cock Pheasant. For others, public land provides a nice change of pace from the privately owned honey-hole or game preserve hunt.  Assuming the proper preemptive steps have been taken, (check the forecast, research and confirm bird population in the area, etc...) and adding these three methods into an already impressive bag of tricks, will undoubtedly help produce more points and more shots on public land roosters. 

To start out on the right foot, qualifying the proper fields to hunt is of upmost importance and the first tactic to address. Pheasants, like most animals and birds are creatures of habitat; cover from predators, food to eat and water to drink, it’s really that simple. Search and focus on areas with heavy grass cover like the Panicum virgatum (switch grass) or the more commonly known and heavily hunted CRP (Conservation Reserve Program). A little known fact about these mixes of native grass, they actually assist in enhancing water quality as well as help recharge ground water and ground water tables. Not only do these areas provide safe cover and an evening roost, they hold plenty of bugs, seed, vegetation and water it requires to maintain a healthy wild cock population. While healthy grass cover alone does not deem a field hunt worthy, it is the foundation in which produces wild cackles on the flush and the sweet smell of gun powder in the morning. Pheasant aren’t known for traveling long distances and many miles, due largely because their travel is primarily done on foot. Locating a food source, (corn, milo, sorghum...) adjacent to your grass cover is ideal, but within a ¼ mile or so will do just as well. Lastly, a little something to wet the beak is always key in helping bag a limit. A favorite for both roosters and hunting dogs are ponds and cattails. Ponds provide the nectar of life and cattails provide cover from predators, plus, who doesn’t love watching ring necks come pouring out of tall cattails? 

Now that the best looking public grounds have been scouted and circled on that crinkled up, ketchup stained public hunting map, it’s time to get down to business. The second, and equally as important tactic is choosing what cover to walk and what time of day to hunt it. Granted, there are many weather variables that can skew this method, overall it’s a great rule of thumb in patterning and locating birds. Again, pheasants are creatures of habitat as well as habit. Knowing that ring necks roost (sleep) in tall cover, it’s a no brainer what grounds to hunt at daybreak. Get in those big full mile sections of CRP with some good corn or milo adjacent and hunt hard! Adversely, knowing this is where they roost in the evening, hunt these same sections at dusk leading into shooting light as they are coming out of their evening feed. So, where do pheasant go after they wake up and stretch their wings? Early mornings after the sun crests the horizon, often times they sun bathe in winter wheat fields and jockey for the next hens love. As many have experienced, chasing woman can be exhausting and a man can build up quite the hunger. Around eight o’clock in the morning, give or take, it’s time to switch gears to those heavy grain and feed areas, focusing on working all types of feed until the desired grain of the day is located. Focusing on feed fields mid-morning and late afternoons will guarantee a man and his dog a few more opportunities to create moments that we share as camp fire stories. 

Lastly, and a personal favorite is field management. Public lands often called “WIHA” (Walk-In Hunting Access) in the Midwest, have designated parking or an opening in the fence for one to walk through. DON’T start your hunt at that gate, DO NOT DO IT! These birds are wild for a reason and are resilient as they come, the 56 previous trucks and 113 dogs entered that field at the same place. Instead, cut the field in half and make and entry over the fence. These birds have been as educated as an Oxford scholar and run to the middle fields when they hear the truck door shut and the dog box doors open. Cutting the field in half allows for a couple of single rooster freebies as they don’t expect your presence for much longer coming from the entry gate. As the first pass is completed those birds will flush either right or left of you at which point its an easy decision on what direction to turn after the first pass. 

There is a second rule of Field Management that also helps determine how to go about tackling a field, and that’s numbers. If it’s a solo hunt there is really one rule of thumb, keep the wind in the dogs face and follow the dog. If there is 5-7 hunters try walking in a “U” or horseshoe pattern opposed to a straight firing line. Rooster are notorious for running like hell and sending the dogs on a mad chase, the horseshoe approach cuts down on the number of escapees. Many times, the ring neck will run 60-70 yards straight ahead and then make a hard 90 degree turn. How many times has an uplander and his hound been on a hot trail of some running rooster, to make their way to the edge of the field and nothing flushes? Creating a “U” formation for 5 or 7 guys and no blockers allows a group to set the edge. Yes, it closes some shooting lanes for the interior hunters, its more about the success of the group than it is the individual. Finally, for those groups of 8+ its all about covering as much ground with minimal effort. Often times gents want to walk to close together which makes for great conversation, but truly it leads to tired dogs and less birds. Spread out 50-60 yards apart and let the dogs run the line, they will fill in the gaps and allow for some great firing squad opportunities. To top it off, save a few good ol boys as blockers and no bird will stand a chance. 

There are 100 ways to skin a cat, train a dog and shoot a public land rooster, in the humble opinion of a simple man that loves the lord and puts his trust in his bird dogs, none of them are wrong.  Focusing on proper field qualification, time of day reciprocated with bird activity, coupled with field management… will ensure for tired dogs, happy hunters and game vest full of feather.