COPPERAS COVE — Like the age-old saying goes, “curiosity kills the cat,” but it also kills dogs that get too close to snakes.
“Dogs have no natural fear of snakes, so when a dog encounters one, his first instinct is to get close and smell it,” said Harlen Winter, owner and trainer at Winter Kennels in Austin and Burnet. “The dog wants to investigate, which is why so many dogs are bitten on the head, chest and face.”
Even after being bitten, Winter said, most dogs don’t consider a snake to be a danger and the pain comes so much later that they don’t connect their pain to the snakebite at all.
Winter offered a snake avoidance training session Saturday at the Animal Medical Center in Copperas Cove, where more than a dozen dogs learned to connect a snake with pain. During the training session, he exposed dogs to several types of snakes, including a rattlesnake, a cottonmouth water moccasin and a copperhead.
Using a method sometimes referred to as “snake-proofing” or “snake-breaking,” Winter has been doing snake avoidance training for 26 years and training dogs for 46 years.
Fort Hood residents Terry and Nadine Draper said they attended the training because they wanted to prevent something before it happened to their two whippets.
Winter’s approach is unique because it is safe for the dogs. He utilizes a mild shock that does not hurt the dog, but makes the necessary lasting impression. He also uses snakes that have had their venom surgically removed.
“It only takes a short time to make your dog aware that snakes are bad and that can save your dog’s life and possibly your own,” he said. “Dogs in Texas will come across a venomous snake sooner or later and they will be safer if they know that snakes can seriously hurt or even kill them.”
Dr. Kelly Henton, a veterinarian at the clinic, said the average cost of the anti-venom to treat a snake bite ranges anywhere from $500 to $1,500, depending on the type used.
“If you suspect your dog has been bitten, bring them in to be seen as soon as possible,” she said. “The sooner they receive the anti-venom the faster they will recover.”
Henton said after treating several snake bite patients in the clinic, she decided it was time to host a class to prevent future incidents.
Claudia and John Grimnes experienced firsthand what it’s like for an animal to be bitten by a snake. Their dog Kody, a Rottweiler mix, was bitten twice in one month.
“Our wallets can’t afford for mister nosey to be bitten again,” Claudia said, adding the snake bites cost them more than $4,000 in vet bills.
“We just want our dogs to learn to stay away from snakes so we don’t have to go through the experience again. I’m glad this type of training was available to us.”
To learn more about Winter’s snake avoidance training, call 512-263-2416 or go to www.winterkennels.com.