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Dogs get snake training at Hart Park

Canines were taught to avoid the sights and sounds of deadly reptiles

Posted: July 29, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 29, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

Local dogs went to rattlesnake school Sunday and although none were bitten, all are now shy of the deadly, venomous reptiles.

More than three dozen dogs showed up at William S. Hart Park with their owners to learn how important it is to stay away from rattlesnakes.

At the Rattlesnake Avoidance Training Clinic for Dogs, each dog was fitted with a collar through which a tiny electric charge could be delivered whenever the dog ventured too close to the snake.

Fred Presson, who owns and runs High On Kennels with his wife Tracy, escorted each dog on a leash to a lawn dotted with four rattlesnakes.

Dogs, owners, trainers and farm animals kept in nearby caged pens heard the loud buzzing rattle of the snakes on the lawn. As a precaution, each snake’s head was covered with a protective hood.

Some dogs pulled back and expressed a reluctance to go near the lawn. Others jumped back when they suddenly realized how close they were to the rattlesnakes.

Some, however, appeared oblivious to the danger as they sniffed, poked and, in one case, stepped on the snakes. Those were the dogs that had to be taught.

Overly complacent dogs were zapped with a harmless — but noticeable — electric charge.

“This is behavior modification,” Presson explained. “The trained dogs will appreciate, ‘Every time I get near that thing I’m going to get penalized.’”

In a final post-lesson test, dogs were coaxed to enter a six-foot wide corridor occupied by a rattlesnake.

Many of them refused to enter the corridor. Those were the graduates, Presson said.

Dog owner Diane Adler, whose shaggy Australian shepherd Timber aggressively pulled away from the snakes, was pleased with the course.

“I find it an amazing service,” she said. “We have too many snakes in the canyons around here.”

Adler was also pleased with Timber’s performance. “He didn’t want anything to do with them,” she said referring to the snakes.

Santa Clarita Valley residents — and their dogs — must learn how live with the natural wildlife around them, said Debbie Sharpton, executive director of the Mountains Restoration Trust, the group that hosted Sunday’s clinic.

“We are trying to make people more comfortable living within the natural ecosystem around them,” she said.

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