The spring season brings out beautiful wild flowers, green grassy hillsides, budding trees, and – rattlesnakes, that ubiquitous reptile who hibernates for the winter and then takes the opportunity in springtime to at long last find a spot of warm sunshine, or better yet, to find a mate!
Unfortunately, the average domestic dog does not have a natural tendency to avoid snakes unless trained to do so. Without training, dogs have a natural curiosity toward little critters that slither along the ground and would be prone to sniff out a snake and perhaps even pounce on him. Some years ago, I had the unfortunate experience of witnessing my four year old Australian Shepherd roust out a curled up rattler who promptly bit her on the lip. She survived, but the trauma lingered with her quite literally for the rest of her life.
So as a result, when I first heard about Patrick Callaghan Enterprises Rattlesnake Avoidance Training for Dogs, I signed my dogs up immediately without hesitation. I didn’t realize at the time that I had engaged the crème de la crème of trainers for dogs in the realm of rattlesnake avoidance.
Patrick Callaghan has over 40 years of professional experience in dog training. He has developed numerous AKC field trail champions, assisted dozens of clubs, businesses and government agencies, worked with a wide variety of celebrities, sports personalities, military figures, politicians, and companies including Gaines Cycle dog food products, and Tri-Tronics, Inc., manufacturer of remote training collars. He established Gameland Kennels Dog Training Center in Norco, California, in 1979, specializing in training hunting dogs, dog obedience, and narcotic detection.
In 1982, Patrick recognized the need of effective rattlesnake avoidance training. He formed Patrick Callaghan Enterprises, and using his years of experience, he perfected a process of teaching dogs and other domestic animals to recognize and avoid the sight, sound and smell of a rattlesnake in a variety of settings, using techniques that are safe for both the dog and the rattlesnake.
The training has become so successful that Patrick and his wife, Shirley, now travel extensively, conducting Rattlesnake Avoidance Training Clinics in various locations. Patrick also provides private session for clubs, veterinarians, search and rescue, and police and sheriff departments. His training program has been featured on Animal Planet, the Discovery Channel, the Learning Channel, ESPN, network television, and in newspapers and magazines throughout California and the west.
Patrick’s training utilizes basic principles of avoidance conditioning, applied with the finesse of a well seasoned dog trainer. His skill, timing and capacity to “read” the dog, coupled with the unique licensed ability to bring live snakes into the foray, make this training extremely unusual and highly effective.
According to Patrick, nothing else but a live rattlesnake looks, sounds, and smells like a rattlesnake, and only truly viable way for a dog to learn to avoid rattlesnakes is for the dog to develop an aversion to the look, sound and smell of a live rattlesnake. King snakes, gopher snakes, garter snakes, or artificial or dead rattlesnakes will not produce the identical look, sound, and smell that the dog is to learn to avoid.
Patrick holds a rare license from the Department of Fish and Game for handling the snakes. The rattlesnakes are either muzzled or defanged for the training session. The snakes are rotated through the sessions so that they do not become stressed or tired out. The approach is safe and humane for both the dog and the rattlesnake.
The training appears simple at first glance. A handler leads the dog into the presence of the rattlesnake. Patrick uses a remote training collar to administer a low level aversive stimulus when the dog becomes aware of the presence of the snake.
Avoidance response stimulation is administered for each of the three senses – sight, sound, and smell. After the visual and auditory recognition experience, the dog is presented down wind to a concealed snake whose rattle is taped so that it cannot rattle. This experience isolates the sense of smell for the dog. Snakes give off a strong and pungent odor that a dog can recognize from some distance. Again, the aversive stimlus is administered so that the dog associates it with the smell of a rattlesnake.
Does this procedure sound simple? It is actually extremely complex. Patrick explains that every dog is different, and the size and amount of reinforcement must be administered according to each dog’s unique make up to be effective. Patrick is able to read every nuance of the dog’s breathing, posture and body language as the dog approaches the snake. It is important that the negative stimulation be tied specifically to the presence of the snake and not to other factors in the environment. Some dogs will require multiple experiences of approaching and leaving the snake to get the conditioning.
Patrick has the impeccable timing and superb ability to read the dog to do an effective job. And the good news is that Patrick works directly, hands-on with each individual dog in the training. The training session only takes a few minutes – again, depending on the dog and his nature. What a small price to pay for peace mind!
One thing dog owners should keep in mind is that a snake bite itself would not necessarily give a dog the required aversive conditioning. The pain from the snake bite usually comes in after the snake has made his move and departed, and the dog would not necessarily make the association.
I’ve read numerous testimonials as to the effectiveness of Patrick’s work. Many people are convinced that this training saved them from the serious and expensive medical treatment that a bite would require, and possibly even from death for their dog and/or themselves. At this year’s training, I met Lady Hanson, who lives on a ranch in San Miguel, California with her German Shorthair Pointer. Lady was back for a touch up training for the third year. She shared with me an experience she had had when her dog found two rattlesnakes near the barn. The dog not only avoided the snakes, but pushed the owner safely away as well.
Patrick recommends that dogs be brought back to the training annually to review and strengthen their snake awareness and the associated aversive response. Fortunately for me, Patrick comes to my area every year and I will continue to bring my dogs back for re-conditioning as a precaution.
You can find Patrick’s training schedule at www.PatrickCallaghan.com If you don’t see a training scheduled in or near your area, you may want to consider hosting a training yourself. You would be doing a great service to dog lovers in your area. If you want to arrange to have a training set up in your area, contact Patrick directly. There may be some openings in his schedule in August and September of this year.
Patrick Callaghan Enterprises
5800 Bluff / PO Box 458
Norco, CA 92860-0458