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FORSAKE THE SNAKE

Snake-aversion training can help any dog avoid a serious or even fatal bite

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Universal Uclick

Has your dog passed his SAT? Snake-aversion training, that is.

If you live in an area where venomous snakes are common or frequently take your dog hiking in such areas, you may want to look for a class that will teach your dog to avoid the scaly "slitherins." The training can also teach dogs to avoid toxic amphibians, such as the Colorado river toad and cane toads. It's especially useful for active, inquisitive dogs, or those with a high prey drive, but any dog can benefit if there's a chance he will come face-to-face with a rattlesnake, copperhead or water moccasin.

Jackie Brown of San Clemente, California, often saw rattlesnakes while hiking with her dog, but it wasn't until she saw a nonvenomous snake in her yard that she realized Jager, a miniature poodle, could encounter snakes anywhere.

"I worried about what he would do if he came across a rattlesnake," she says. "Would he try to play with it? Chase it? Corner it in the yard? I didn't want to leave it to chance, so I decided to look into snake-aversion training, which I had read about in a dog magazine."

Dogs learn to avoid snakes once they smell, hear or see one. The training, accomplished with the aid of an electronic collar, helps them to keep a safe distance. It takes only a few minutes to teach a dog that snakes are better left alone.

The session usually involves exposing the dog to the sound of a rattlesnake's rattle, snakeskins and live snakes -- mouths banded closed -- in different environments, such as sun or shade. If the dog approaches the snake, the trainer activates the electronic collar to simulate a snakebite. Collars are set on low -- enough to create a negative association, but not enough to cause pain or distress. (Be sure to try it on your own skin first to make sure it's working correctly before it's placed on your dog.) Some sessions have a final test with a hidden snake. The class should be repeated every year or two to reinforce the lesson.

Depending on where you live, sessions are not always easy to find. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation, or look for fliers at your local pet supply store or animal shelter. Hunters and other outdoorspeople are usually familiar with snake training. Ask to observe a session first, and choose an experienced trainer who uses the collar carefully and makes sure the dogs feel comfortable and safe. Excellent timing and the ability to observe changes in the dog's behavior are critical.

"It is a specialized field, and I would not trust my dogs in the hands of a rookie," says dog trainer Connie Kelly of Carlsbad, California, who has had her Australian shepherds snake-trained.

Watch how the handler treats the snakes as well. You want someone who handles them kindly and respectfully and always makes sure they are safe.

People who don't understand the process may consider it cruel or abusive. That's a mistake, says Eric Christensen of Oro Valley, Arizona, whose English springer spaniels and flat-coated retrievers have all undergone snake-aversion training.

"It is neither (cruel nor abusive) if done correctly, and is, in fact, a potentially life-saving gift."

Jager? A few months after training, he and Brown came across a dead rattlesnake on one of their walks. As soon as he smelled it, Jager jumped back about three feet, Brown reports.

"It made me feel better knowing that he would try to get away if he came across a live one," she says.


Q&A

Ear mites affect

dogs and cats

Q: I always thought that dogs didn't get ear mites, but my puppy has just been diagnosed with them. What's up with that? -- via Facebook

A: It's true that ear mites (otodectic mange) are more commonly associated with cats, but an infestation of these parasitic insects is one of the most common problems we veterinarians see in puppies and young adult dogs. The tiny critters are easily transmitted between puppies, and they are also contagious between cats and dogs. (Bunnies and ferrets can get them, too.) The general rule of paw is that if one pet in the household has ear mites, all of them should be treated. Otherwise, they'll just keep passing the bugs around.

If your pup has an infestation, you can bet that his ears are mite-y itchy. Scratching constantly at both ears instead of just one is a good clue that you're dealing with ear mites instead of an ear infection. Another sign is an accumulation of what looks like coffee grounds in the ears. If you remove a sample and look at it under a magnifying glass, you might be able to see tiny white specks -- the mites -- moving around. All that scratching can cause your pup to develop red, raw skin or hair loss around the ears, and bacterial infections can be complications as well.

To treat ear mites, your pup's ears will need a deep cleaning by the veterinary technician, followed by a systemic medication or ear drops prescribed by your veterinarian. Ear mites under attack can flee the ears and move to other parts of the body (they're especially fond of the base of the tail), heading back to the ears once you're no longer medicating them. To prevent that from happening, it's important that your pet be on a whole-body parasite prevention product. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.


THE BUZZ

Top 10 ways to

prevent dog bites

-- It's National Dog Bite Prevention Week. To help avoid dog bites, the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends that children and adults never pet a dog in the following situations:

If the dog is not with his owner.

If the dog is with his owner, but the owner does not give permission to pet the dog.

If the dog is on the other side of a fence (or if the dog is tied up to something).

If a dog is sleeping or eating.

If a dog is sick or injured.

If a dog is resting with her puppies or seems very protective of her puppies and anxious about your presence.

If a dog is playing with a toy.

If the dog is a service dog.

If the dog is growling or barking.

If the dog appears to be hiding or seeking time alone in his special place.

-- Has your senior cat begun having seizures? He may be reacting to loud, high-pitched sounds such as keys jangling, tin foil crinkling or a metal spoon banging against a pot, according to a study published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. Called feline audiogenic reflex seizures, the condition occurs mainly in cats older than 10 years and may cause a sudden pause in movement or brief jerking motions that may last several minutes. Researchers believe cats' ultrasonic hearing range may be why they are sensitive to high-pitched sounds.

-- After last month's devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Nepal, the World Vets Disaster Response Team was quickly on the ground to provide field rescues, veterinary support for injured animals and aid to local animal welfare groups. Among the animals helped have been dogs displaced from their homes or injured in fights over food, a pig injured by falling bricks, and horses, donkeys and other livestock. If you want to help, donate to their International Disaster Relief Fund at worldvets.org. -- Kim Campbell Thornton

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

COPYRIGHT 2015 UNIVERSAL UCLICK


CAPTIONS AND CREDITS

Caption 01: Creating a negative association with snakes can save a dog's life. Jackie Brown and Jager participated in snake-aversion therapy. Position: Main Story

Caption 02: Learn dog body language. Dogs don't like having people, including children, right up in their faces. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 1
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