Sunday, April 21, 2013

Rattlesnake Avoidance Training + Beauty in the Sonoran Desert

Hi all, Dianne here.  We are just north of Phoenix, Arizona at Cave Creek Regional Park, a Maricopa County park.  The above photo shows the view from our site.  This park is a gem!  There are miles of hiking trails right from the site, and interesting desert plants, including lots of saguaro cactus.  

We have a very nice patio area with a beautiful desert view, and Roger wasted no time in setting up our Sport-brella for a shady nook.

Springtime in the desert has a beauty different from anything Roger and I grew up around in the midwest.  It's all still new to us, so bear with us and enjoy a few more photos of the beauty surrounding us here:

I love these tall ocotillo plants.  Much of the time they look like dead sticks, but when they receive water they are covered in tiny green leaves and beautiful plumes of color.
Most of the photos were taken right around our camp site, but the two ocotillo photos were taken with my iPhone during a brief hike we took with the dogs this morning here in the park.  

Our stop here near Phoenix had a very important
 purpose.   Our two dogs are very inquisitive, especially Tequila.   She is obsessed with lizards and is constantly looking for them.  Last summer she had a close encounter with a rattlesnake.  (To read that entry, see this blog link: Pa'rus Trail Hike, Zion National Park).

My friend, Sue, in Texas has a lot of knowledge about both dogs and deserts, and she encouraged us to take our dogs for rattlesnake avoidance training.  I had never heard of that before, but it sounded like a really good idea, especially with all the hiking we do with our dogs around the country, and the fact that there are plenty of rattlesnakes right there in our Texas neighborhood.  

We contacted Jim Walkington, the person who trained Sue's whippets and also our friend Brenda's little dogs, and made a reservation for the time that we would be passing near Phoenix.  Today was the day!  After our short hike this morning, we put the dogs in the car and made the short drive to Viper Voidance.  Bandido went first.  The first step was to put on the shock collar...

Next was to introduce the dog to an empty cage which had never held a snake, so that they wouldn't associate the upcoming shock with the cage, just the rattlesnake smell and sound.

Then he was introduced to the first cage of rattlesnakes...

Here's a peek inside the box, in case you're curious!
They were coiled and ready, and rattling away!  The training shock happened so quickly I didn't capture it on film, but let's just say that Bandido got the point.  When encouraged to approach the second cage of rattlers, Bandido said "No Thanks!"  
What I really wish I'd gotten a photo of was the "test" at the end, where Jim dropped a recently shed rattlesnake skin out of a wastebasket in front of Bandido.  As soon as he got a whiff of the skin, he jumped straight up in the air about three feet!  Jim explained that from now on, they will smell rattlesnakes and be able to differentiate that smell from lizards and other snakes. 

Next it was Tequila's turn.  
 I did capture Tequila's "moment of truth" on film.  If you look closely, you'll see that two of four legs are off the ground.  She didn't react as much as Bandido (he did a four-legged leap), but she did get the point!  
This was money well spent, and could well spare our dogs' lives (or ours!) if we encounter a snake in the wild.  Sue said she has learned to always trust her dogs' reactions because time and again they have proven to be correct.  Bandido was so well trained that after he was put back into our car, he got upset the moment he saw Roger and Tequila approach the first snake cage.  Everyone I have spoken to about this, vets and dog owners alike, highly recommend this training if you are in an area where you or your dog might encounter rattlesnakes.  Here's a link to Jim Walkington's web site: Viper Voidance.  He also has an upcoming book due out in a month (more info can be found on his web site; the Kindle version will be available on Amazon).  The description on his web page (under the heading "movie snakes" is below:

       "The book uses the process of snake proofing dogs to show how truly amazing dogs are. The stories in this book range from funny to fantastic. This book is a celebration of how quickly dogs can learn something new and put it into practice in unusual and astonishing ways. The dog stories are all true and happened during training at Viper Voidance." 

Instead of a pet photo of the day, here are a few more photos Roger took of some of the local saguaro cactus:

This morning we had a special treat; about a dozen hot air balloons lifted off near enough for us to watch from our windows.  Roger went outside for a better look.  

We plan to be "off the grid" for a few days (no electricity), so we'll check back in in a few days from sunny California.  Check back soon!


Two Greyhound Town said...

I have never heard of such training. It definitely sounds like it is worth it. I will be following along to see if they react to any rattlers on hikes.

Brenda D said...

Lucky has had this training with a follow up one month later. As Dianne knows from my stories, we didn't encounter a rattlesnake for months afterwards, but when we did,Lucky was aware and presented with behavior letting us know we had one close by. Sure enough a 5 foot - 11 button rattler was coiled up in our yard not 20 feet from the front door.

Unknown said...

I'm happy you enjoyed Cave Creek County Park ! I actually passed by a rattler with my lab on the Clay Mine Trail when we were there last month. Our furry friends can be bit so easily. Taking the class is a great idea. Happy travels in the next few days ! Sounds like you are heading our way (California) ! The weather is wonderful !

Bill and Nancy said...

Interesting...never realized training like that was available. Amazing how quick they learn!!