By Mike Cook
Professional Dog Trainer Terry Chandler of Las Cruces will host a Rattlesnake Aversion Clinic for Dogs and Dog Owners beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday, April 16 at the Talavera Fire Station, 8500 Achenbach Canyon Road in Las Cruces.
The cost is $85 for registrations completed before April 9 and $100 for registrations accepted after April 9 and up to the day of the clinic, which will be open as space is available.
Chandler said he has been training dogs professionally across the country for more than 40 years and has conducted rattlesnake aversion clinics for more than 30 years.
Through trial and error, Chandler said he found that the only way to train a dog to avoid rattles is to use a live rattlesnake outdoors.
“I had to learn how to make the rattlesnake harmless to man or beast,” Chandler said.
That means milking and defanging the snake, “which is a very complicated procedure,” he said, because it involves removing not only the fangs in use, but also up to four sets of “backup” fangs.
“In our clinic, we take the snake out into the desert. We ask the owner to put the dog on a leash and walk to the snake,” Chandler said. About 90 percent of the time, he said, the dog is curious and “will come up and put its nose on the snake.”
For training, the dog wears an electric collar, Chandler said. When the dog comes in contact with the snake, Chandler activates the collar, giving the dog an electric shock.
“The dog is convinced the snake hurt him,” he said. And, after that single scare, the dog will avoid future contact with rattlesnakes.
“What we do at the clinic is remove curiosity and replace it with abject terror,” Chandler said. “After my clinic, they are no longer curious about rattlesnakes; They don’t want to get close to them.”
It also helps protect humans from snake bites, Chandler said.
Because dogs have more sensitive vision, hearing and smell than humans, they can detect the presence of a snake sooner than a person, he said. And, after aversion training, their behavior will alert humans that a snake is nearby.
In one example, Chandler said, a Las Cruces man who had taken aversion training with his German shepherd was cutting brush in his yard when the dog, also in the yard, started barking and ran back into the house. The man spotted a four-foot diamondback rattlesnake nearby “‘that would have gotten me in a few more seconds,'” Chandler was quoted as saying.
A Rio Rancho man whose dog had received the training was saved from three snake bites by his dog, Chandler said. In one case, the man was reaching for a bale of hay in his barn when the dog started barking. The man moved the bale with a rake and discovered a five-foot rattlesnake.
“I have hundreds of stories like that,” Chandler said.
Chandler said the training takes just a few minutes per dog. The shock collar provides “a mild stimulation” that is painful for the dog, but does not cause permanent damage, he said.
And no matter what species of rattlesnake is used in training, it will make dogs afraid of all rattlesnakes, he said. Some dogs will be scared of all snakes as a result of training, Chandler said, along with garden hoses and “anything that looks like a snake.”
Chandler said only a handful of dogs have been bitten by rattlesnakes after aversion training, and in each case it was because the dog was running or for some other reason didn’t know the snake was there.
“As long as they know it’s there, they’re not going to come near it,” he said.
Chandler said that training is beneficial for dogs of any breed and age.
“It lasts forever,” he said. Dogs that have received the training have come back for re-testing 10 years later and “the dog still hadn’t come near that rattlesnake,” Chandler said.
After training, Chandler said that the rattlesnake that was used broke loose. She said her fangs will grow back “in a week or so.”
To register for the clinic, call Kim Ramsey at 575-640-8526. If you have questions about aversion training, please call Janet Chandler (Terry’s wife) at 575-496-4575.