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Dogs take class, 'study' to avoid rattlesnakes

October 17, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
What dog doesn't love to romp in the wide open spaces? Poisonous snakes, however, could make the outing dangerous -- even deadly.

October is the month when most snakebites occur. There's some special training to keep man's best friend safe.

You've heard the warning about poisonous rattlesnakes and you know to avoid them, but sometimes it's your best friend that's at risk.

That's why Yorba Regional Animal Hospital is hosting rattlesnake avoidance classes.

"I get calls from people saying, 'I don't know what I'm going to do. There are snakes everywhere,'" said rattlesnake-avoidance instructor Richard Andrews.

Dogs bitten by rattlesnakes are a huge problem in Southern California because the snakes are so pervasive and they're so well-hidden. The clinic had nearly 30 rattlesnake-bitten dogs in the past year alone.

"I do some of the emergency work and have seen a lot of rattlesnake bites," said veterinarian Cathleen Johnson. "We live up in the hills, so personally I was worried about these guys."

Richard Andrews teaches the course, which usually takes less than an hour. He puts a shock collar on the dogs and lets them find snakes hidden in the brush. After a while they learn the association.

"He heard the snake and smelled the snake and felt a pain, a brief pain, and he said 'I don't want any part of that,'" said Johnson.

"I actually thought he would probably be wanting to be going around playing with them and I was very surprised at how scared he got, pretty quickly after the first introduction to them," said dog-owner Amanda Anderson.

"If a little dog is so-called 'uninformed,' runs across a small snake, he doesn't see him as a threat, and the next thing you know he is bit in the nose," said Richard Andrews.

And every time a canine walks away with a new skill, there is a sigh of relief from its owner.

"It protects us as well because we know if they smell something that we should be cautious, because there could be something in the area0073 we're walking around as well," said Anderson.

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