How Does It Work
Snake proofing, also known as avoidance training, is based on the principle that you introduce the dog to the sight, sound or smell of a snake; wait for him to indicate that he has sensed the snake; introduce a painful stimulus which creates a negative association to the snake. This negative association / painful stimulus is almost always a shock. I would say it's always a shock but I do know one trainer who only uses leash corrections.
If all goes according to plan, then the next time the dog encounters the sight, sound or smell of a snake, he will recall the pain and avoid the snake. Sounds simple? Well yes and no.
- If your dog is focused, if your dog is not nervous, insecure, dreaming, running around, etc, then they could "miss" the association, and the deal is off. Emotion and engagement are important
- If your dog is not using his nose at the instant it crosses the scent cone, then he has no idea what you are shocking him for. Timing is important.
- If the handler is distracting the dog, or assisting the dog, or petting the dog, then the dog has no idea what he is receiving the shock for. Handling is important.
- Some dogs choose fight instead of flight when confronted with an aversive stimulus. You may end up with a dog that attacks snakes instead of running away.
- Too much force and your dog may break down and become extremely stressed, or fearful.
- Too little force and your dog will get habituated to the pain, and just ignore it.
- Shock collars may sound tempting and easy to use, but unfortunately, consistent and automatic timing does not necessarily mean correct timing.
- The training takes place at one location and is never repeated in other locations to allow the dog to generalize.
- Dogs may associate the pain from the shock collar with the environment or with objects in the environment (including humans , dogs, or cats), rather than with snakes.
There are multiple other reasons a dog could fail. The first three are the reasons that most snake avoidance trainers who use shock collars mention when encouraging you to use their services. The other reasons are ones they ignore or insist never happen. They are correct in saying that this type of training should be left to professionals with years of experience, however. IF you train the incorrect association, then someone has to fix it. Or if you interfere with your dog during training, then he has no idea how to behave when you are not around. Shock collars require precise timing and focused attention by the handler.
This method is based on the fact that one event learning does occur often in dogs. One event learning is always traumatic and creates potential behavior issues that we cannot predict.
Like the traditional method, we use the sight, smell and sound of a rattlesnake to indicate to the dog that something is amiss. What we don't use is a negative stimulus. As with our regular training and behavior work, we strive to stay on the positive reinforcement / motivation training side of the equation. The biggest difference in our training is that what we teach the dog is self control and impulse control. We teach the dog that investigating new things should be done with care and caution. Most of the dogs learn to first ask permission before investigating anything new or strange. A side effect of this training is that your dog may even stop chasing the cat without first asking you if it's ok.
Reward based training is not a miracle cure, and it will still take a lot of work, consistency and patience to train a dog. However, reward techniques can work on dominant, stubborn, and aggressive dogs and teach any dog that snakes are to be avoided.