The dog was trained to know that a snake coiled, with rattles vibrating, was not one to be messed with.
Dogs do not have any natural fear of snakes but can be taught to fear them.
Goliad County’s Tim Rideout and his wife, Carol, own Rideout Kennels, and have been snake-proofing dogs of all breeds, shapes and sizes for 30 years.
While initially meant for hunting dogs, the Rideouts said they have snake-proofed every breed from a Great Dane to a poodle to a dog so small it had to be set on the shock collar rather than wear it.
The snake proofing can prove to be lifesaving, even for those dogs that aren’t bird dogs.
With the ongoing drought in South Texas, rattlesnakes are coming closer to houses and neighborhoods in search of places to eat and drink.
Tim said the dogs are snake-proofed on sight, smell and sound.
Live rattlesnakes are what are used to train each dog. Prior to each snake-proofing session, Tim, with the help of an assistant or two and special tools, cuts the snake’s fangs so it isn’t dangerous to the dog. He also uses a special rake to rake the excess fangs out of the pouch in the snake’s mouth so another set doesn’t fall down during the session.
The snakes are unharmed during this process and will regrow new fangs.
Tim explained that each dog goes through two different types of drills.
The first drill focuses on sight and smell.
The snake’s rattles are taped so the dog will see and smell the snake but not necessarily hear it.
A shock collar is placed on the dogs with Tim being in charge of the receiver. The dog is slowly led up to the snake downwind so there is a smell in the air.
“All snakes have the same musky odor,” Tim said.
The dog is led all the way up to the snake and, as the dog is about to touch the snake or stick his nose down to sniff, he is shocked.
“Timing is critical,” Tim said.
The dog must associate the pain from the shock collar as being inflicted because of the snake.
The dog is calmed down and led up to the snake a second time.
“If he looks at the snake, he is shocked,” Tim said.
This shows the dog that touching and looking at the snake can result in pain.
The third time, the snake is placed between the owner and the dog, and the owner is instructed to call the dog. By now, the dog knows to go way around the snake to get to the owners.
The second set of drills is based on sound and sight.
“The dog is brought in at a fast trot,” Tim said.
This time it is a different snake in a different location. The snake has its rattles untaped so, as the dog approaches, he will hear and see the snake.
By this point, the dog should stop in his tracks and not proceed forward toward the snake.
Tim said the drills take about five to 10 minutes depending on the dogs.
“Younger dogs don’t retain it as well, so it takes more repetitions,” Tim said.
The Rideouts will take dogs as young as six months and as old as 10 years. He said the young dogs sometimes need a refresher course a year later, but many retain it in one session.
With 30 years of snake training under their belts, the Rideouts can happily say they have never had an accident, and that can be attributed to the precautions they take.
When holding a snake-proofing session, they have five to six people helping – two for snake watch, two for dog handling (one is the owner) one shock person, and another person just to handle paperwork.
The Rideouts hold a session the first weekend after Labor Day every year and several other times throughout the year if they can get a group of dogs together.
When holding a session, they will have as few as 20 dogs attend or as many as 100. Each dog gets his own individual time with the Rideouts and the snakes.
Tim and Carol first learned about snake proofing when they lived in Victoria. As members of the Victoria Bird Dog Club, they took their dogs to be snake-proofed annually at an event held in Victoria. Over time, they got to know the man running the event and started learning the art from him.
When it came time for the man to retire, he asked Tim and Carol to take over snake proofing, and they did.
“We wanted to quit and retire, but people just keep calling,” Carol said.
The couple have no formal website or advertising plan and most of their business comes from word of mouth.
The couple don’t seem to mind; they have a love for dogs and what they do.
The couple own Rideout Kennels at their home in Goliad. They board dogs, do pointer training for bird dogs, guide quail hunts and sell bird dogs.
Tim said dogs have always been a part of their life.