It's a very short session for each dog. The dog is fitted with a remote-control shock collar. A "neutral handler" takes the dog on leash and approaches a rattlesnake. When the dog acknowledges the rattlesnake (e.g., looking at it), the main trainer gives a shock and the handler turns with the dog and runs away from the snake, praising the dog for running away. They start with the dog upwind of the snake so they first have to look at it rather than smelling it; they also start with the snake's rattles taped so that there's no sound. They progress through 3 different snakes from different angles so that the dog is eventually exposed to sight, smell, and sound.
|Rattlesnake stations; snake under bucket to the right; there's a loose snake about 10:00 of the yellow cone that the guy's about to cover up until the next dog. (I can't find the snake even in a high-res photo.)|
Tika caught on pretty quickly. First, she obviously noticed the snake from several feet away (other dogs had to get pretty close before they even paid attention the first time). Then she'd directly acknowledge the snake from a LONG way away on additional approaches, so the main trainer I think had to give her a shock only perhaps three times for the first couple of snakes. I saw at least one dog take 5 or 6 shocks before his reaction was to turn and move away rather than try to approach the snake.
On the 3rd snake, they approach & then turn the dog loose while you stand on the opposite side of the snake and call your dog. So you can see how the dog avoids the snake. As Tika eventually came back to me (she headed away from the snake but it was in a fenced field so she very hesitantly followed the fence line back to me past the snake--probably 30 feet from the snake--she suddenly shied away again. The trainer's wife pointed out that a lid from one of the snake buckets was sitting on the ground there and Tika had apparently reacted to the snake smell on the lid.
So that's a good thing.
They were processing dogs through at one about every 5 to 10 minutes, I'd guess, at $65 a shot. That's a pretty good morning's haul. And I did have to sign a waiver that said that there's no guarantee that this will prevent the dog from getting bitten by a rattlesnake. But I think Tika took the lesson to heart.