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Ray Sasser: Get a dog, avoid snakes

Now that wild quail seem to be making a comeback, a good bird dog is more valuable than ever. That’s why it makes perfect sense to enroll your dogs in a snake avoidance clinic. No Dallas-Fort Worth organization has more experience than the Lone Star German Shorthaired Pointer Club.

The club has scheduled its 37th annual Snake Avoidance Clinic for Saturday. In 36 years, this group has trained more than 3,000 dogs. This type of training was once called “snake-proofing,” but you can’t make a dog snake-proof.

A dog experiences the world through incredible olfactory senses. Studies have shown that a dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times better than a human’s sense of smell.

Hounds and other hunting dogs probably have the keenest noses. A variety of species, however, are used by law enforcement to detect drugs or explosives. Some dogs can smell a sealed plastic bag of drugs submerged in gasoline.

A bird dog does not detect odors as well as a bloodhound, which tracks with its nose to the ground and its floppy ears fanning scent molecules to the nose. A bird dog on point is much more aesthetic than a baying hound on the track.

Dogs have as many as 300 million olfactory receptors compared with 6 million for a person. A dog investigates the world through its nose. When a dog smells something curious, it investigates face-first.

If that odor emanates from a venomous snake, the dog gets bitten, usually on the head. Quail country is the diamondback rattlesnake’s domain. Most snake avoidance clinics use three primary tools. A live diamondback with its fangs removed is an important training tool. So is a canine shock collar.

The most important tool is the person in charge of the shock collar’s remote control. The trainee is hooked up to a leash and led downwind of a live snake. The dog will naturally investigate the snake’s aroma. The best reptile to use as a training tool is a snake with an aggressive disposition.

Such a snake will rattle as a warning, but the strange sound mixed with the strange smell just encourages closer inspection. When the dog inevitably gets face to face with the defanged snake, it receives a jolt from the shock collar.

Most dogs quickly learn that a snake is something to be avoided. This whole exercise may sound barbaric, but the snake’s fangs will grow back and the shock collar is adjusted for the dog’s personality. The shock is unpleasant, but it’s not like sticking your finger in a light socket. Many dogs survive a snake bite, but it takes weeks, if not months.

LSGSPC charges $55 per dog. The avoidance lessons will work on any dog. Kevin Temple, LSGSPC president, said dogs enrolled in these sessions 20 years ago were almost entirely hunting dogs. Now, he said, about 70 percent are hunting dogs and the rest are a mix of pets and working dogs that may come in contact with a poisonous snake.

Rattlers are used as training tools, but a dog that’s been taught snake avoidance will steer clear of any snake it can smell.

The reason this training is not 100 percent effective is that a dog cannot smell a snake approached from upwind.

If your dogs have had avoidance training, a refresher course is certainly in order. Temple said most dogs that have been trained in previous years make a wide circle around the rattlesnake.

Details about the event are at www.lsgspc.com. You can register by contacting club vice president Andy Gerdes at agerdes39@yahoo.com or 972-539-3563.

Calendar

Aug. 3-7 — 77th annual Texas International Fishing Tournament, Port Isabel and South Padre Island. Visit http://tift.org.

Aug. 5-7 — Texas Trophy Hunters Association’s Hunters Extravaganza at the Fort Worth Convention Center, 1201 Houston St. in Fort Worth. Visit www.ttha.com.

Aug. 15 — New hunting and fishing licenses go on sale at more than 2,000 vendors throughout the state and at http://tpwd.texas.gov.

Sept. 1 — Dove season begins in most of Texas. Visit http://tpwd.texas.gov.

 

RAY SASSER is a special contributor to the Denton Record-Chronicle. If you have an area outdoors event or big-catch picture, e-mail drcsports@dentonrc.com.