Snake Avoidance Training
Seth Pywell originally developed our CSAI Program for Working & Hunting dogs, later modifying it to suit Search & Rescue Dogs. Such dogs by their very nature are extremely forward going and inquisitive of new environments (Good nerves and well driven).
This program has been continually refined using up-to-date, scientifically sound methods to maximise your dogs’ potential for learning.
Live snakes MUST be used during Snake Avoidance training. The majority of training principles for snake avoidance are the same as those that govern reliable scent detection training. Snake droppings, shed skins and/or toy snakes will not teach your dog to avoid real snakes, they will only teach the dog to avoid those specific items which is of no use. You must remember that a human can see a toy snake and get scared because we first understand what a snake is and that engaging it can bring an unpleasant consequence. Dogs do not know what snakes are which is why they must investigate them in order to learn. Bear in mind that smell is a key sense use by dogs to understand the world around them. Live snakes have a distinctly different odour to snake droppings, shed skins and toy snakes, nor do they behave the same. If humans weren't first taught what a snake actually is, a toy snake would hold no meaning; it would be nothing more than an oddly shaped piece of plastic. By the same token, snake droppings and shed skins hold meaning to humans because we know where they originate; this is obviously not the case with a dog. It is also important to note that snakes do not create homes, they deficate and shed while moving around over vast areas. Training a dog to avoid articles such as droppings and shed skins, which do not put the dog in danger, installs fears that will cause unnecessary stress. Should these articles appear on your property, they will stay there until they are physically removed or decay. While your dog may initially avoid these articles (if correctly trained to do so) over time your dog will be spurred on by its natural curiosity to investigate (instinctive drift) and eventually overcome its fears, meaning the training was a waste of time and money. A live snake will try to get away from your dog and use the time provided by the Avoidance Training to leave your property. Snakes do not want to get into confrontations; it compromises their survival by potentially leading to injury or death. It should also be mentioned that deceased snakes cannot be used because they too have a different odour to a live snake. The moment an animal dies, it begins to decay. This is why cadaver search dogs used by police must be trained using samples from actual cadavers.
Laws of generalisation state that for a dog to properly understand what it is being taught, in this case Snake Avoidance, it must be exposed to a minimum of 8 different samples in 8 different locations and 8 different situations. Reliable Snake Avoidance simply cannot be taught with less.
Due to the way dogs learn, in addition to the minimum requirements mentioned above, odour and movement avoidance must be taught separately as well as combined. Without this a dog may be bitten while sniffing a snake hidden in long grass (no visual) or approach a snake that is downwind (no odour). To expect a dog to endure the training required to teach proper Snake Avoidance in one session would overwhelm the dog and would not be as effective as breaking up the training.
The Self Discovery aspect of this training is very important and cannot be overstated. Due to the fact that it’s impractical to monitor a dog 24 hours per day, our training has been designed to allow our dogs to learn from their own decisions. For obvious reasons Snake Avoidance training should not be dependent on the presence and interference of a human.
Employing any Snake Avoidance training techniques that require constant interference from humans is extremely lacking and impractical to say the least.
Animal welfare has always been a core value in the development of our program, which is why both a CSAI certified dog trainer and professional snake handler are present at every session. In addition to these professionals providing firsthand safety of both the dogs and the reptiles, CSAI also maintains a number of mandatory safety protocols followed throughout the training process.
This training is provided as a preventative measure, designed to safely educate our dogs to the consequences of engaging venomous snakes. It can be said that learning takes place when the expectation differs from the outcome. Most dogs clearly expect interacting with a snake to be somewhat interesting and enjoyable as they are generally very curious and quickly engage the snake. After learning that engaging a snake brings an unpleasant consequence, our dogs demonstrate that learning has taken place by their future decisions to avoid the snake. While no one can guarantee all the decisions your dog will ever make in the future, we draw a similarity between learning the road rules and road safety. Learning the road rules is not a guarantee that accidents will never happen, but they certainly have a dramatic effect on reducing the risks of road accidents. CSAI recommends all dogs completing our Canine Snake Avoidance Program undergo a $70 annual refresher to test your dogs’ retention of the training and improve the probability of avoiding snakes in the future.