Monday, April 24, 2017

Death from Snake Bite Before Discomfort?

The real world of forest, field and fen presents a lot of serious aversive consequences for the wild animals that live there and the farm animals, humans and pets that visit.

Mother Nature is not a clicker trainer!

In the clip, above, an African Spitting Cobra teaches an adult male lion about the consequences of approaching too closely.

In the clip, below, a Puff Adder gives the same message to a Honey Badger who apparently just survives his ordeal.

Here in the U.S., of course, we have snakes that are every bit as dangerous as the Spitting Cobra or the Puff Adder -- Mojave Rattlesnakes, Western Diamondbacks, and Eastern Diamondbacks.

A dog that gets bit by a rattlesnake has a reasonably high chance of being dead in short order and a very certain chance of being in a lot of distress requiring expensive veterinary intervention.

The one thing that reliably works for dogs that hunt in territory frequented by rattlesnakes is snake-aversion training, and the best snake aversion training is done with an e-collar.

Of course the pure click-and-treat crowd does not really care what works. The most extreme in this crowd have slipped into cult-like babble that is as immune to fact, reason, observation, and experience as anything you will hear from a born-again Christian, Mormon, or Scientologist.

Apparently the message of the Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training Behavior (which despite the grand name is simply an unaccredited dog training school with no buildings) is that your dog is better off dead than discomforted by being trained to avoid snakes.

Really? Karen Pryor salutes that? Hard to believe, but that, at least, is the message of Nan Arthur who is an instructor with the Karen Pryor Academy and who, when asked about snake-proofing dogs, had no training advice at all other than to tell The North County Times that no one should ever take their dog off-leash in an area where there might be a rattlesnake -- which, of course, includes most of the United States.

So no bird hunting, eh? No rabbit coursing, no terrier work, no pig hunting.

And never mind that in California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Florida it's not entirely unlikely that you will one day find a rattlesnake in your backyard.

I suppose in those states no one should ever let their dog off of the living room rug!

Ms. Arthur goes on to tell us that e-collars simply do not work.

"There is no scientific evidence whatsoever that shock collars teach anything to dogs."

Right. Apparently Ms. Arthur is as as well informed on these matters as a parakeet. People are paying her for training advice? Each to his own, of course, but as you are driving to a Karen Pryor Academy seminar (loans are available!), you might pay attention to all the cows by the side of the road that are carefully standing behind electric fencing. Those cows seem to have learned quite a lot from electric fencing, even if Ms. Arthur has not!

But, of course, it's not just cows.  My own working terriers (like millions of other dogs) are contained behind a simple Invisible Fence system and never mind the parade of raccoons, fox, deer, possum and squirrels that travel through my yard at night.  Invisible Fence has trained and taught my dogs that they are not to follow, and that training has been every bit as successful as the lessons taught by spitting cobras to adult lions.

But, of course, the observational success of e-collar training does end there, does it?

Scores of thousands of working bird dogs have learned and lived happy and productive lives with e-collar instruction.

Ditto for dogs that work Schutzhund and Ring, search and rescue, and even simple obedience.

All of this is completely new information to Nan Arthur, of course. Blinders on, her essential message to the world is:  Snake death before discomfort!

Ms. Arthur goes on:

We live in snake country. That's just a fact. Horses get bitten, children get bitten, cats get bitten, and nobody's putting shock collars on them.

Right. Good point. Deep thinking going on there.

A horse weighs anywhere from 10 to 100 times the weight of a dog, and kids are warned about snakes, while cats rarely move more than 100 yards from a house.

So, really good points being made there Ms. Arthur. Thanks for sharing. Now what brand of shovel would you recommend I use when I bury my dog?

Death before discomfort? Oh yes, please tell us more!


And these are the dogs that lived!


BeachDog said...

I left a training forum that I belonged to when I caught a huge ration of poo for telling folks I took my dog to snake avoidance training. We live in the home range of the Mojave Green Rattlesnake. We see them all the time. My dog was unacceptably curious. I was given claims that there was "a guy back east" who had reliably snake trained his dog with a frozen snake skin, a clicker and treats. "Great," I said, "give me his info so I can contact him." [crickets] Despite all strenuous claims that clicker snake avoidance training existed, no one was able to provide a link. When I pushed they fell into the Pryor company line of death before discomfort. One suggested I move to a place in North American that had no venomous snakes like where she lived... in Colorado.


M said...

Trashbreaking via e collar is probably one of the more unpleasant methodologies one can use to teach their dog to leave deer, snakes, cars, and the like alone. That said... it's pretty darn effective where it needs to be and communicates on a level dogs can easily get most of the time.

There will always be the dog however where prey drive overrides any stim they get. It is unfortunate when that happens because you end up with dogs who will dive headfirst into a porcupine, car, or rattlesnake again and again. Darwin has ways of making these sorts of things work out in the long haul.

PBurns said...

I don't trash break by simply turning the collar up -- it's done with a long line and an e-collar, and I find most dogs can be busted pretty quickly with very little stimulation -- a setting that is not much more than a tap on the shoulder. I do not believe I have ever turned a collar up higher than 3 -- and this on a working terrier that is as game-driven as any dog I have known.

Bartimaeus said...

I have used gopher snakes (they do a good imitation of a rattlesnake, but are not venomous) and verbal/body language reprimands to teach my dogs to avoid snakes. I think snake avoidance training is a good idea, and the vaccine is no substitute. While Red Rock biologics has demonstrated that the antibodies produced by the vaccine can neutralize some varieties of rattlesnake venom in limited quantities, it is certainly not a good idea to rely on the vaccine alone. At one veterinary conference shortly after the vaccine was released, a company representative said they had no plans to do a controlled trial because the animal rights activists would not like it. Basically they did not want any bad publicity from animal testing with actual dogs. It may give a little extra protection, and sometimes snakes don't rattle until you or your dog are standing on them and it is too late to get away, but it certainly should not be represented as reliable, 100% protection.

Lisa K said...

Well I have heard of people using a gopher(bull) snake to train their dogs to avoid snakes, but I'm pretty sure that would be considered just as evil as using the e-collar since the dog gets bit by the non-toxic snake. On the other hand I know dogs who have become crazy about porcupines after being quilled (they go after them rather than leaving them alone) perhaps that would happen with the bull snake lesson? I don't know, I think I'd rather trust my e-collar.

Kaz Augustin said...

Love your site and you know I occasionally comment here, so may I humbly somewhat disagree on this point.

We get spitting cobras as well in these parts (Malaysia) and one of our mini bull terriers spotted one on her nightly toilet run. Cookie is quick and she and the cobra were tumbling around in the grass in the snake with a black-patched dog. Great.

We did NOT train for such encounters (where would we reliably find such animals, for a start?), but we DID train a reliable clicker-reinforced "COME!" command. Cookie disengaged and ran back to us and, after checking her over and restraining her, WE despatched the snake. Everyone still alive. Whew.

Bartimaeus said...

@ Lisa; the gopher snake never bit my dogs, just coiled up, hissed and did it's best to imitate a rattler. I also hissed and said NO and glared at them as if I was going to bite too. It seems to have worked. I do realize that the positive-only folks probably think that is equivalent to a beating, but my dogs don't seem to. They do get a verbal reward and attention for doing what we want, and have really good recall because of it, but they know to look to us for cues, and pay attention to the negative ones as well.

PBurns said...

Kaz Augustin --

I am VERY glad the dog is well, and congratulations on having a solid recall. Excellent.

That said, calling the dog off AFTER the snake and the dog have had had an encounter is exactly why you do deterrence work -- because often enough, those first few second when the cobra or rattlesnake are tumbling around in the grass or the dirt, is when a fatal bite occurs. Your dog escaped this time, but it was LUCKY, with the luck helped a great deal by your recall and its obeyance.


Lisa K said...

@ Bartimaeus; your post wasn't up when I posted mine. I understand why he's screening the posts, but it gets a little mixed up at times.

Anonymous said...

I have a very juicy tid bit of information for the owner of this page. A purely positive celebrity dog trainer that appears on animal planet (ahem) has s while cult of followers. They are the exact people you are talking about. what's funny though, is on one of her episodes, she has a trainer from Lake Norman, NC as a guest speaker on her show because he is an explosive detection trainer. The funny part is, his reputation around here is shot because he fries all of his clients dogs on the ecollar...even zapped one so long it bit it's tongue OFF completely. he only uses remote collars. but damn me to hell if I mention that interesting little piece of information on this celebrity's Facebook page. I love your perspective on training.

Erika said...

Do you have a source you can share for your info about Karen Pryor using an invisible fence and not being able to let her dogs off leash? It would be very handy in the battle against the legislation banning any "aversive or unpleasant" training that is trying to be passed in several places.

PBurns said...

Sure. Karen Pryor herself!

Karen notes that she uses (or used) an Invisible Fence on her own dogs in "Don't Shoot the Dog":

"The same principle is at work in the Invisible Fence systems for keeping a dog on your property. A radio wire is strung around the area in which you want to confine the dog. The dog wears a collar with a receiver in it. If the dog gets too near the line, the collar shocks it. However, a few feet before that point, the collar gives a warning buzz. The warning buzzer is a discriminative stimulus for "Don't go any further." If the setup is properly installed, a trained dog can be effectively confined and will never receive an actual shock. I used such a fence when my terrier and I lived in a house in the woods. An actual fence would have been a perpetual invitation to try to dig under it or escape through an open gate; the conditioned warning signal and the Invisible Fence were far more secure."

The story about the squirrel is here.

"Going from that collie to terriers in the woods is just a shaping staircase; if you want to do it, it can be done, but it involves a lot of steps. For me, that's too much like work. My practical solution is a mix of training and management. The backyard is fenced, and there the dogs can bark and chase squirrels all they want. Outside the front door, on the sidewalk, we enjoy a shaped behavior of stalking squirrels, with an occasional brief 'chase' reinforcer. In the woods, my poodle, whose lust for squirrels is mitigated by his general timidity, can be off-leash, because he was quite easily shaped to come when called, even from squirrels. My 17-year-old border terrier, however, stays on-leash in the woods. From her standpoint, it's a lot better than no woods at all."

Bottom line: this woman cannot train a terrier to not chase a squirrel, AND she has successfully used an Invisible Fence.

Erika said...

Awesome, thank you so much! I appreciate it!