Saturday, August 11, 2007


Saturday morning, Zack the Wonder Dog and I rose with the chickens and were out at the shooting range by 7 a.m.

Today was the annual Llano Estacado Bird Hunting Association’s “De-Snaking Clinic”, which was organized by R. L. Orth, Mike McKinney, Curt Sievert, Sean Carter, Tom Atkins, and other club members. What is a desnaking clinic, you ask? Well, it’s just what it is an organized event where dogs are exposed to rattlesnakes so the dogs will understand the danger of such and learn to avoid the deadly creatures. Most hunting dog owners bring out their dogs to go through the training, and many dogs were there for a refresher. Everyone’s getting ready for the upcoming hunting season, and as such, this is a timely clinic. Venomous snake bites translate into huge vet bills, long recovery time, and sometimes can be fatal.

Dogs are, by nature, nosy creatures. Dogs have a natural curiosity about snakes, and most often, will not naturally avoid them. Zack, by virtue of his breed, is a hunting dog. He stays pretty much nose down anytime he is outside. Chances are good that he will stumble across one of those ornery snakes at some time, and we want him protected. Sometimes, dogs will survive a snake bite, but just as often, the snake bites are deadly. (There is also a new Rattlesnake Venom Vaccination (a series of two shots, a month apart) which lessons the toxicity of the venom, should a dog suffer a bite.)

Here’s how the clinic is set up. First, registration and release of liability is executed. Your dog is put on a lead, fitted with a shock collar, and then released to the handler. Two rattlesnakes are planted in the field. Their mouths are sewn shut so there is no chance of a bite or venomization. The handler (in this case, Ray Grappe, a renowned hunter trainer from Levelland, Texas) takes your dog to one snake, which is out in the open. Depending on your dog’s reaction, if the dog is curious and gets close to the snake, a shock will be administered. The dog will associate the shock with a rattlesnake, and won’t get close to it, should he happen on a rattlesnake in the future. The snakes also have handlers – as the day progresses, and warms up, those snakes want to move around. Those snake handlers had their hands full today, as temperatures soared close to 100 degrees.

Zack smelled that snake and wouldn’t have anything to do with it. He didn’t need any shock treatment at all. Zack tried to put the handler between himself and the snake, even at times leaning on Ray's leg. Zack reacted the very same way to the second snake hidden in the field. To my knowledge, Zack has not yet been exposed to a snake. Ray said that some dogs are smart, and just know that rattlesnakes are dangerous and won’t go around them. I was proud of Zack.

We were third in line, so afterwards, Zack and I helped with registration. There were 87 people signed in before I left at 10 a.m., and many of them had multiple dogs. This wasn’t just for hunting dogs – I saw Daschunds, Corgis, Westies, Schnauzers, all sorts of breeds. One young man brought an albino deaf Aussie. It was doubly important that this Aussie be de-snaked, since she couldn’t hear. She was going to have to go strictly on smell. She performed very well in the training.

There were hilarious moments, as well. One huge black lab saw that snake, and took off the other way, dragging the unsuspecting handler about 30 feet. The lab raced back to his owner, causing everyone to laugh, even the handler.

It was fun to meet all the dogs and their owners, see each dog react differently, and know that each dog learned something today. And they’ll all be safer when they’re exposed to the deadly rattlesnakes. The Llano Estacado Bird Hunting Association did a great job, and I commend them for their service to this community.


Rach said...

Who knew there was so much involved? Good on Zack!

Bleu said...

Last year my little 12 yr old chihuahua was bit by a rattler in our backyard in the evening. They struck her right above her right eye, her side of her head and neck swelled immensely, so off to the emergency vet we went. She came through just fine, laid around and didn't eat or do much for about 3 days then poof she was back to being a ball of energy. The vet did warn us that this time of year in the early evening is when snakes come out to feed. I never did find that snake or it would have been a dead snake.

Karen said...

See, I knew that Zackster was one smart boy!

Rattlesnakes, eeekkk. That makes my skin crawl.

Geo said...

Hey Janie, thanks for sharing that. I thought about going out there just to watch but ended up doing something else.

I'm so glad you wrote it up. Almost like being there.

Eric said...

Can't remember if I blogged this or left it somewhere in comments, but it should be again noted that the snake vaccine is not guaranteed protection, depending on the size of the dog, the snake, and where the bite occurs. My brother just lost his favorite dog (a small dachshund/chihuahua mix) to a rattler, despite being vaccinated. The bite was to his side, near his heart, and that was exactly the wrong place, according to the vet.

Janie said...

Rach - he did do good. He was cute!

Bleu - I'm glad your chihuahua made it...not all dogs do.

Karen - Zack is smarter than his mom, I promise. He's got us all figured out!

George - it was a neat deal to watch, I promise.

Eric - I didn't know that, I'm glad to hear more about the vaccine. Sorry about your nephew dog...that had to be a hard loss.

Geo said...

Oh, I forgot to ask - how much did it cost the dog owners?

Janie said...

George - it was $30 for a new dog, and $20 for refresher dogs.

Ricë said...

thanks for this post--i sent a link to a friend of ours whose dog got bit just recently--everyone who lives around here needs to know about how to protect their dogs, for sure--