About the Snakes for Rattlesnake Avoidance Training
To teach the dogs to avoid rattlesnakes, we most often use Gopher snakes (Pituophis catenifer). These snakes look and act very similar to rattlesnakes. If the temperatures are warm enough, they will coil, hiss (to sound just like rattlesnake) and even strike at the dogs as they approach. Some people claim that you must use a rattlesnake to effectively teach a dog to avoid them. This is simply not true and we have thousands of success stories to prove it. In fact, a dog that is properly trained on a Gopher snake will not get anywhere near a rattlesnake which has a much louder rattle than the Gopher snake can imitate.
People are always rightfully concerned not only for the welfare of the dogs we train, but the snakes that are utilized. The brief shock we use to surprise and frighten your dog may be uncomfortable or even painful for a moment, but it is certainly better for your dog and for you than the intensely painful and potentially deadly venomous bite from a rattlesnake. While the snakes we use do become agitated during the training, we take great care to minimize any stress on them and none of our snakes have ever been injured. We keep the snakes cool and moist, and the dogs are not allowed to physically harm the snakes in any way. Our members are stewards of the environment and lovers of nature, who provide their own snakes for the clinic. We are confident that by providing this service we are saving the lives of dozens of dogs and certainly hundreds of rattlesnakes and other various snakes. We hear numerous stories each year from those who have attended our clinic and no longer fear a surprise encounter from a rattlesnake. Instead, the clients tend to leave the rattlesnakes alone vs illegally or unnecessarily dispatching of them, as they did in the past. The dogs are now aware of the potential danger and telegraph to their owners the presence of a snake. They do this by refusing to go forward on a trail, refusing to go to the creek for a drink, putting their tail between their legs, or standing behind their owner. They might also alarm bark or even refuse to come near you if you are standing close to a snake. This level of confidence calms some people’s natural fear of snakes thus allowing them to respect and appreciate these wonderfully adapted reptiles.
All of our snakes are wild caught then pen raised Gopher snakes that belong to our members. We do not catch snakes in the wild and then release them back into the wild. The practice of releasing wild-caught snakes that have been in captivity back into the wild is illegal in Idaho because it is a potential threat to the native population of snakes. At times we may utilize a special permit from Idaho Fish and Game in conjunction with a veterinarian to release snakes into the wild, but this is an uncommon practice.