What would your Kerry do if it had a close encounter with a snake? Attack? Bark? Stick its nose up and walk the other way? If you'd rather not leave it up to chance, there is now a way to condition a dog to avoid rattlers.
Instructor Patrick Callaghan (909-735-3251) at the Gameland Kennels Dog Training Centernear Riverside (5800 Bluff, P.O. Box 458, Norco, CA 91760) is teaching dogs to run the other way when they enounter a snake. The course involves a real live rattlesnake and a dog with an electric shock collar set to deliver a memorable zap, but not strong enough to hurt the dog in any way. The dog enters the pen where the snake is coiled, rattling away, and ready to strike, but with it's mouth taped shut. Most dogs are curious enough to go nose-to-nose with it to see what all the noise is about. When the snake strikes-which can be quite a powerful blow in itself-the trainer simultaneously zaps the dog. Normally, that's all it takes. After that, the dog will no longer go near the nasty reptile.
The course continues with the owner approaching the snake to see what the dog will do. Some dogs get between the snake and the owner and nudge the owner out of harm's way. Others become agitated and bark their heads off. The training ends with the owner and dog walking past a hidden cage full of snakes. Typically, the dog senses the snakes and refuses to walk there or sounds the alert. Trainers recommend refresher courses every few months.
The training facility has pictures on display of dogs and people who've been bitten by rattlesnakes. In some cases, the skin can turn black as the cells are literally eaten away by the venom. Dogs have lost eyes, whole parts of their muzzles, and some have grotesquely sunken faces due to cell damage. Anti-venom is often no quick cure-and can be painful in itself. Pretty scary stuff.
For a complete article on what to do and what not to do if your dog is bitten, visit the Health topic on the Kerry Blue Web site and read "Snake Bites" by Robert Paul.