Dogs being trained to avoid rattlesnakes: Real snakes used in training course

Snakes used in training are neutralized

ALPINE, Calif. - Dozens of dogs in Alpine have been put through a unique training that may just save their lives and the lives of their owners.

Experts say this is the time of year when rattlesnakes are lurking and hiding in patios, decks, yards and trails.  

Alpine pet store Natural Instincts recently hosted an intensive rattlesnake avoidance training course for canines, taught by training expert Fred Presson.

Using real rattlesnakes that are neutralized and can't bite, Presson said he uses a safe and humane environment for the dogs and the snakes.  

For $75, the dogs are put through a training course that includes using electronic collars that simulate a snakebite. The dogs learn that the smell, sight and sound of a rattlesnake is uncomfortable and can hurt.

The lesson can also be a real lifesaver for humans.

"I had a client; we had recently trained his two German shepherds. He went outside to his grill barefoot and his dogs jumped in front of him and wouldn't let him get near the BBQ; sure enough a snake was laying there," said Presson.

Jody Wagner brought her six-pound rescue dog, Otis, for a lesson after he was bitten in the jaw by a rattlesnake in Alpine last year.

"He was so swollen you couldn't tell he was a dog anymore. He was gasping for air and his heart was racing; I knew in my heart what it was. He was in horrific pain," said Wagner.  

Otis was able to survive the ordeal, but Presson said most dogs do not instinctively know to stay away from snakes, as their curiosity gets the best of them.  

Even with his brush with death, Otis ran right up to the rattlesnake and showed no fear. He eventually passed the test, associating the electric collar with the snake.

Wagner said she initially wasn't comfortable with the shock therapy, but said the discomfort may save Otis' life. The course was far cheaper than the anti-venom care bill for Otis, which was more than $6,000.

Presson said the snake-avoidance class is recommended each spring, as dogs tend to forget the snake's scent.

Experts say if your canine has been bitten by a snake, take it to a veterinarian immediately.
For more information on Natural Instincts' classes, go to in Alpine or call 619-445-1550.

Contact the group providing the training at in Santa Ysabel or 760-782-0728

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