Snakes, Surprises, and Safety

September 27, 2023

On a sunny fall Saturday, 140 dogs and their owners took part in a rattlesnake avoidance training course, hosted by Durango Kennel Club. Professional Trainer Terry Chandler (Rugerheim Kennels) has over 35 years of experience training field dogs, and he brings that expertise from Las Cruces, New Mexico to help keep dogs and their owners safe while hiking in the southwest. The aim of the training is to replace curiosity with founded fear, and keep dogs from getting bit by rattlesnakes. By Hannah Robertson. This story is sponsored by Tafoya Barrett & Associates and Serious Texas BBQ

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Hiking in the Southwest comes with a variety of challenges and dangers to two-legged and four-legged explorers alike. The telltale rattle is often one of the best warning a hiker is about to encounter a venomous foe, but to an untrained dog, the rattle might sound like a new friend to be found. Unfortunately, a bite from a rattlesnake can be very deadly, but the Durango Kennel Club aims to avoid that tragedy through its rattlesnake avoidance training. You are watching the Local News Network brought to you by Tafoya Barrett and Associates, and Serious Texas Bar-B-Q. I'm Wendy Graham Settle.

The reason dogs get bit by rattlesnakes is because they're curious. So we replace curiosity with abject terror. After this, they're terrified of rattlesnakes. They're not curious anymore, and they'll keep away from 'em. Now a dog will will know there's a snake around long before the owner will 'cause they can hear 10 times better, they can see 10 times better, and they can smell 100 times better. So they'll warn the owner that there's a snake near and keep the owner from getting bit.

Terry Chandler developed the training after losing several dogs in his field training program to rattlesnake bites, and through trial and error has honed in on the training process over the last 35 years.

We decided we needed to develop a method to teach our dogs to stay away from rattlesnakes. We tried a lot of different methods. We tried to using bullsnakes, which doesn't work. We tried putting snakes in cages, which doesn't work. We tried a lot of different methods, and we finally found out the only method that really works is to have the snake out in the open and the in a natural setting, and let the dog walk up to it just like it would if you were out hunting or out in the desert.

The process is deceptively simple, despite the live snake which is de-fanged before the training starts to ensure no accidents occur. Chandler has the owner and dog approach the snake. When the dog goes to investigate, Chandler administers an electric stimulation to stimulate the bite or strike of a snake. It only takes once for the dog to associate the stimulation with the snake, and it is so effective, that dogs returning to the training years after will still know to avoid the snake.

And I have people say, well, gosh, I don't want my dog to be hurt. Well, I can tell you, if you've ever seen a dog get bit by a rattlesnake, and you've seen one die from a rattlesnake bite, that's a whole lot worse than this momentary stimulation here that teaches 'em those animals are bad, stay away from 'em.

Once each dog has been introduced to the snake and felt the strike, Chandler and his granddaughter who handles the snake relocate and have each owner and dog pair re-approach the snake without the e-collar. Without fail, each dog notice the snake through either sight, sound, or smell before the pair got within strike distance. Chandler instructs the owners to see how the dog reacts as the dog will in the future react the same way, warning the owner of the possible danger before the encounter can even occur. Any type of avoidance training like this should be done under the guidance of an experienced trainer like Chandler, who is a certified snake handler and experienced dog trainer. Durango Kennel Club plans to continue offering the avoidance training with a tentative date for next spring, and the regular clinic next fall. Find more information on the Kennel Club's website to keep yourself and your dog safe. Find more information about this and other stories at Thank you for watching this edition of The Local News Network. I'm Wendy Graham Settle.


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