Should You Snake Break Your Gun Dog?
It's painful, but so is the alternative.
Half of the U.S., if not more, is home to poisonous snakes, typically rattlesnakes. If you’re hunting in rattlesnake country, your dog is in danger of being bitten.
Many rattlesnake bites aren’t fatal, but a significant number are, and in either case, a snake-bit dog will almost certainly undergo considerable pain and extremely expensive veterinary bills. It makes sense, then, to have your dog avoid these creatures like the plague. Most hunting dogs are naturally curious, and by the time they’ve crept close to a rattler, run the risk of being bitten.
Snake breaking is safe and almost always effective. But there are drawbacks.
Trainers who specialize in snake breaking use a variety of methods to result in a snake-proofed dog, but all that I know of expose the dog to a live, defanged snake and then correct the dog with an e-collar (often more than once).
If it’s your dog getting conditioned, it’s probably a good idea to let a trusted friend handle it, because it can be a tough experience.
Still, every dog I’ve seen bounces back quickly, with no long-term detriments. Many are wagging their tails within a few minutes. And from that point on, with only a few exceptions, your dog should avoid rattlesnakes for life.
Does it always work? No. There are a small number of dogs who don’t get the message the first time around and need a refresher course. I actually owned a dog like that, which ultimately pointed a rattler and was subsequently bitten. But the bite turned out to be dry (or the snake missed), and the dog was none the worse for wear. And although dogs that have been put through a snake-breaking clinic almost always avoid snakes that they smell, it’s always possible for a dog to stumble into a snake downwind that it isn’t aware of.
Still, the odds of a snake-broke dog avoiding snakes once and for all are quite good. If you live in snake country, you owe it to your dog to give a snake-breaking clinic serious consideration.