the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Danger ahead

You guys remember when that rattlesnake in the backyard almost killed my dog and swallowed my kid? Don’t worry, animal lovers. We never found him, so I’m sure he’s living comfortably somewhere in some cozy nook UNDERNEATH MY BED. That’s why I sleep with a shovel. And a butcher knife. In my bathtub.

Marlo refuses to listen to any instructions concerning snake safety. I’ve tried numerous times to explain to her that she should avoid anything wiggling around in the grass like that, but when I get to the part where the word snake comes out of my mouth she loses her mind and squeals “STHNAAAAAKE!” Clapping her hands and jumping up and down as if I’ve just promised to get her one for Christmas.

Someday that kid is going to own one hell of a truck stop.

The vet recommended snake training for the dogs, and one night a couple of weeks ago we took them to a parking lot where they would get to meet live, poisonous creatures who headline my nightmares. We joined a group of five other unsuspecting dogs and watched as the dog trainer and snake handler defanged the snakes right in front of us:

Okay. First of all, snakes are grumpy anyway. I’m happy that they wouldn’t be able to land a deadly bite on my face, but do we really need to have them undergo unmedicated dental work? If I were a rattlesnake and you yanked out my teeth without any anesthetic and then coaxed your dog to sniff me, dude. Your khaki pants are the first pair I’m going to slither up. Guard your balls.

The gist of the training goes something like this: the dog needs to see the snake, needs to observe its movement and behavior, and then he needs to smell the snake. Its scent is the most important part because that is what the dog will associate with the electrical shock sent through a collar on his neck. Yes. A shock collar. One that shocks. A collar that inflicts pain. Please begin your hate mail with, “Dear Wondrous Being of Light and Splendor.”

I know, AWFUL, right? Horrible, awful, inhumane. SAVAGE. You know what’s worse? A dead dog.

Case closed.

So. Chuck. The resident aesthete. He who rolls his eyes at humans because they have to rely on autocorrect when texting. I walked him as close as I could to the snake and he wanted NOTHING to do with it. He observed it, cocked his head a bit, and then made it very clear that he knew he wasn’t supposed to go near it. In fact, he stood up on his hind legs, turned around to everyone watching and said, “You idiots do realize that a poisonous snake is sitting right there?”

And thus concluded his speech as the valedictorian of snake training.

However, the training required that he associate a shock with the smell of the snake. I had to physically drag him a few feet downwind of that reptile so that the trainer could activate the shock collar. You guys, Chuck is still mad about this. Really, really mad. If I die because someone threw a toaster into my tub water YOU KNOW WHERE TO LOOK. In fact, he’ll probably have written a poem about it. Someone please read it out loud at my funeral.

However, this training totally works. In fact, watching each dog learn to associate the scent of the snake with the shock was better than some of the shit I’ve seen on Broadway. Totally fascinating. One golden retriever mix caught on so quickly that during the second and third exercises when he got within ten feet of the snake (at that point hidden from view) he turned, ran, and tried to claw his way inside of a locked car. That dog is smarter than Marlo.

And then… well… the idiot dog. Good lord. Okay. I’m going to blame this more on her breed and less on the size of her brain, because she just did not get it. Shock her straight to hell, there was a foreign creature right there and I, the woman who feeds her and is her constant companion, was near it. No way was she going to leave my side. She had to protect me. If I start to think about it I’ll tear up a bit until I remember that one time she pooped on the kitchen floor while I was eating dinner.

The trainer finally had to leave Coco alone with the snake and shock her enough times that she wouldn’t stick her nose in its mouth. I won’t tell you how many times he had to shock her because you’ve already written your hate mail and I don’t want you to have to edit it.

But here’s the kicker. You guys, I stood less than two feet away from a rattlesnake and I didn’t have a heart attack. I wanted to. I wanted a piano to magically appear and fall on my head. Death by piano sounded better than the rattle of that pissed off snake. No, I didn’t have a barbaric collar equipped with an electrical current affixed to my body, but I’m pretty much the valedictorian of not shitting my pants while standing two feet away from a rattlesnake (just updated my resumé).

  • Capy_bara

    2012/06/11 at 2:22 pm

    I really don’t know why, but in reading this the only things I could think about were: why in a parking lot? WHY IN THE DARK?

  • dooce

    2012/06/11 at 2:26 pm

    Not sure why in the parking lot, but in the dark because the snake handler was over two hours late.

  • Round Rock Gal

    2012/06/11 at 2:33 pm

    No hate mail here. We are living in Austin, TX and I am sure there are bad-ass snakes who would love to bite my two dogs. I’d rather be shocked by the electric collar than see either one of them suffer a poisonous snake bite. Time to do a Google search for “dog snake training.”

    And I hate snakes too. Even the “good” ones that eat rodents.

    They scare the crap out of me.

    All hail to the Valedictorian of not shitting your pants!

  • Tricia

    2012/06/11 at 2:33 pm

    Yeesh. Just reading about it gives me the creeps. Too bad there’s no similar training for little kids– I’ve got a two year old boy, and there are days when I think it’ll be a miracle if I can keep him alive long enough for him to develop some sense of self-preservation. It has to kick in eventually, right?

    Kudos for doing what you can to keep your dogs clear of rattlers. I hope the one in your yard was just a freak occurrence and it’s long gone, never to be seen again.

  • Totah Sam

    2012/06/11 at 2:39 pm

    Just a quick question. How does one “strain a snake”?

    Do I need a special colander? :p

  • Coyote

    2012/06/11 at 2:52 pm

    Words can n’er express how in awe of you I am for your eschewing of pants shitting. Valedictorian to the nth power!

  • dooce

    2012/06/11 at 2:56 pm

    @Totah Sam good catch! Oops!

  • Sabine

    2012/06/11 at 3:05 pm

    Awww Chuck’s face in that first photo kills me. Almost as much as the description of Coco refusing to be deterred.

    (I started to type “Cocko” and I’m almost sorry I fixed it.)

  • suebob

    2012/06/11 at 3:16 pm

    To any haters – Goldie got bitten by a rattlesnake (not the one I killed in my back yard – she stepped on this when she jumped into a bush out on a trail) and the pain she suffered was waaaay worse than any shock from a shock collar. Poor dog felt like crap and had to spend the night at the emergency vet, where I had to part with $1900 to spring her.

    Yes, $1900. Four vials of antivenin, plus they totally took me – talked me into hyperbaric treatments a la Michael Jackson because I am a total sucker who does not look things up on the internet before okaying them when my dog is suffering. Yeah, I’m an idiot.

  • nakedjen

    2012/06/11 at 3:17 pm

    that training happens in the parking lot next to my house. i’m not making that up! i honestly think the snake handler must ALWAYS be late because it is always in the dark. i also am obviously not the valedictorian of any of this because i’m always certain that they’re leaving ALL THE SNAKES behind to slither into my house.

    i am absolutely certain both of my dogs are getting trained by osmosis just because it is happening right over the fence. it is nice to now know that they have defanged all those snakes that are now living in my basement!

  • Lauren3

    2012/06/11 at 3:17 pm

    I freakin’ love when you tell stories.

  • JessicaM

    2012/06/11 at 3:27 pm

    Maybe the shock collar would work for Marlo?

    *calling CPS*

  • juliejackson

    2012/06/11 at 3:28 pm

    Wouldn’t be easier (and more humane) to install an electric line around the perimeter of your property and shock the freaking snakes? They need to make electric shock collars for snakes. With little skull and crossbones on them.

  • marbenais

    2012/06/11 at 3:42 pm

    When we move to Texas, Rosalind is totally getting that training. She is protective enough that I think she would be more like Coco & refuse to leave my side (which is her reaction to the garbage disposal, which terrifies her, but is so obviously A Threat To The Human that she has to protect me).

    It would be nice if kids could learn like dogs do.

  • Circe74

    2012/06/11 at 3:51 pm

    Thankfully, I live in Michigan, where there is only one type of venomous snake native to the region, and even that is very uncommon. However, there are plenty of garter snakes, which are freaky enough because they’re pretty small and you don’t see them until you’re basically on top of them and holy crap, look, is grass supposed to move that way? My dog — part Lab, part Akita — responds to them by cocking his head then getting completely weirded out. And I think that’s the best description of what seems to happen — WEIRDED OUT. He whimpers a little, backs away, shuffles from side to side, then walks away while still watching the snake, I assume to make sure it’s not following him home.

  • ChickWhitt

    2012/06/11 at 3:58 pm

    The other day, when my four month old cried in his crib for 2 hours because I wouldn’t hold a bottle in his mouth while he slept, I thought, oh dear god, I’m raising a valedictorian.


  • i.delia

    2012/06/11 at 4:31 pm

    We had a neighbor with a very smart dog. Certified therapy dog smart. Agility course smart. Dog got bit by rattlesnake. $2500 vet bill. Dog type? Miniature Australian Shepherd

  • Jess518

    2012/06/11 at 4:57 pm

    My friend was bit by a rattlesnake when she was about two or three. Her dad grew up in Mexico and knew to start SUCKING the venom out of her leg and spitting it out. She has a huge scar on her ankle up to her calf from them having to keep her leg open at the hospital. They told her dad if he had any sort of cut in his mouth he would have died, but he saved her life!

  • dooce

    2012/06/11 at 5:04 pm

    @i.delia I just smacked my forehead.

  • tinacolada97

    2012/06/11 at 5:18 pm

    Shock collar = less pain than being bitten. No brainer.

  • tinacolada97

    2012/06/11 at 5:18 pm

    Shock collar = less pain than being bitten. No brainer.

  • labbit

    2012/06/11 at 5:24 pm

    I know they’re terribly dangerous and evil-tempered but I still feel a little bad for the toothless snakes. I get chopping their heads off when they get in your yard and all but…what happened to the toothless snakes? Petting zoo? Permanent dog trainer?

  • SPM

    2012/06/11 at 6:09 pm

    My sisters small children were playing in the back yard on the swing set a few years back. Her dogs were with her. Her son was four at the time. Before she could blink, Stella, her husky, ran in front of a water moccasin, about 5 feet away from my nephew and took a bite on the nose. The snake did not survive Stella’s wrath of daring to hurt her family. She had a serious vet appointment, but was fine. This Terrified my sister. Good for you for doing this not only for the dogs , but for the girls. Coco may not be wrong about her protective nature.

  • garrulous24

    2012/06/11 at 6:21 pm

    i’d just like you to know that i went through the rigmarole of signing up for an account on here to tell you that this might be the funniest post i’ve ever read on here. (and you have a lot of funny posts on here.) also, snakes terrify me too, so you definitely are the valedictorian of not shitting your pants while standing two feet away from a rattlesnake because i definitely would have shit my pants for sure.

  • Diorama

    2012/06/11 at 7:18 pm

    In my opinion, it is cruel. to rip a snakes fangs out, without anesthesia. They can feel pain. Shocking dogs, in my opinion should be reserved for dogs that will be euthanized if they cannot be controlled.

    A lot of homes in AZ have walled back yards to keep snakes out.

    Q: I have a rattlesnake in my backyard. What do I do?

    No hate, you did what you felt you had to do to protect your dogs.

  • big dog momma

    2012/06/11 at 8:21 pm

    🙁 Poor snake. I wonder what they did with them after the “class” because they won’t survive without their fangs. They aren’t constrictors. And if they keep them in captivity I don’t know that they’d eat a pre-killed rodent.

    That being said, better a shocked dog than a dead dog. And good for Coco for being so protective because better a snake-bit Coco than a snake-bit Marlo. My Pyr would be like Coco, I’m afraid. She’d continually go after the snake for fear I was in danger and there is no amount of shock treatment that would stop her. *sigh*

  • Scott-5x5

    2012/06/11 at 8:21 pm

    Holy crap, I cannot believe you posted this story! Only because the haters, they be comin’! Not me though. I think this is unfortunate, but your “dead dog” argument was pretty solid.

  • Katricia

    2012/06/11 at 9:10 pm

    No fear, all y’all worried about toothless snakes–I believe they can regrow their fangs. Cite my sources, you say? Here, I googled this for you:
    “Snake teeth are both acrodont (attached to the bone) and polyphydont (able to grow back when lost), and a snake may have several sets of teeth throughout its lifetime. This is necessary, because teeth are often lost while feeding. “

  • Jalima

    2012/06/11 at 11:41 pm

    I am a firm believer in Behavioral Psychology and what you did with your dogs was totally in their best interest shocks or not. (Negative reinforcement.)

    Growing up we had electric wire on the upper tier of the fences keeping the horse and cows away from the fence line. Worked for them, worked for us. A sting or two and one knew the boundries of the yard. (Not that the parentals housed us in the pasture but you get the idea 😉

    Thinking I need snake guy to come and teach my dogs (doxies) to stop freaking barking at everyone and anything that goes by the front of our house! (And yeah haters they are not locked out there, we have a doggie door and they only go out when it is sunny.) A few shocks at the appropriate moment and am sure they would be cured.

    No snakes here but hell yeah, would have done the same for my two if necessary.

  • squyks

    2012/06/12 at 1:00 am

    @Katricia – THANK YOU!! You wonderful person you, this factoid has made me so happy.

    This story is hilarious Heather, and now I don’t even have to feel so bad for the snakes.

  • Qathii

    2012/06/12 at 1:01 am

    My mother used to love to tell the story about when I was a toddler and came into my grandma’s house in rural West Texas with a handful of baby rattlesnakes.

    She said I had “luckily,” picked them all up clenched just behind the heads and had them tight in my fist. She grabbed me by that fist, securing the snakes with both our hands, walked me outside to the veranda, and helped me fling them out into the yard.

    Then she and my grandma grabbed hoes and went out to the bushes at the end of the lane (my grandma had apparently been aware all along there was a rattlesnake den in there) and killed all the snakes and then burnt down the bushes.

    This did not deter me from meddling with critters. I was always in trouble for bringing them into the house. Frogs, horny toads, snakes and mice, all come to mind. I remember putting the frogs and toads into the ceramic ashtrays when I came into the house to get a drink because I knew the coolness of the ceramic would make them stay and they’d still be there when I came back. But usually I’d just put the horny toads in my pocket because they liked to run.

    I don’t recall ever training our dogs to stay away from snakes. Most of them killed snakes. The poodle my mother had later on though, was never outside without a human armed with a hoe.

    The fence behind my mother’s house in Texas always had several rattle snakes draped across it. “For the buzzards,” she’d say.

    I suggest you give Marlo a hoe. 😀

  • MrsA

    2012/06/12 at 3:18 am

    Hey Heather, no hating here, in fact a whole lot of love for you and the crazy hounds, but I got some very good advice from dog behaviourists here in the UK on shock collars which might dissaude you from using them in future.

    Basically because dogs are not always the most logical creatures (and you surely know that more than anyone!), they don’t always make the connection between what you expect them too and the shock. So you could be thinking snake= shock and they might be thinking bloke-in-gloves-in-carpark-in-the-dark = shock, which might make them aggressive or defensive towards strange men wearing stranglers’ gloves in carparks in the dark. Which obviously would be no bad thing.

    But it might also be men who wear black gilets, or use a certain type of soap, or the particular car parked nearby, or whatever. Which means you might be walking to school with the girls one morning and a man innocently wearing a black gilet having had a shower in his usual soap comes towards you, and one of the dogs tries to bite his leg off, because he thinks he’s about to get shocked. And obviously you would never expect it.

    Just something to think on. Shock collars aren’t used by most British behaviourists now. If you want to read something interesting on doggy psychology, try The Culture Clash, think you might enjoy it.

  • Regency Romantic

    2012/06/12 at 4:31 am

    I know that the snake in the pictures is defanged, and he/she is still making my eyes tear up with fear – just from looking at the pictures. I blame Methodist Sunday school and its over-emphasis on the book of Genesis for my phobia. Living dogs and children totally trump intact STHHHNAKE!

  • Medbob

    2012/06/12 at 8:00 am

    Many of us Conservatives get a bad rap from believing in the discipline of children.
    “Getting to the seat of the problem” is so very much frowned upon in some circles.
    The concept is illustrated quite aptly in your story. You (and I) would rather that Chuck experience momentary pain in learning to avoid a situation, than the more deadly circumstances of a real life situation.
    Some children MAY require the same. In learning that choices have consequences, could it be that they can avoid Jail, or addictions, or a life less full?

  • Ezza

    2012/06/12 at 8:14 am

    Bless little Coco for sticking by your side! Snakes are freaking awesome. I love getting up close and personal with them, once i know they’re safe. Same goes with spiders and parents-in-law. The more you get to know them, the less terrifying they are.

    Good for you, Heather. A little bit of shock therapy is better than a nasty snake bite. So now, if you see the dogs running, you try to keep up?

  • peacegirl

    2012/06/12 at 9:02 am

    Great writing, Heather.

  • luv and kiwi

    2012/06/12 at 9:36 am

    Heather, you now know Chuck’s next picture needs to involve a fake somehow…

  • Aundrea

    2012/06/12 at 10:46 am

    Folks, she’s baaaacckk! I do declare! Funny shit there, Heather. My, how I’ve missed you and your hilarious story-telling.

    P.S. Fist-bump to Chuck!

  • dianemaggipintovoiceover

    2012/06/12 at 11:00 am

    what? no issues with snakes living in a five gallon bucket? now that’s just mean. 😉

  • sibhusky2

    2012/06/12 at 1:06 pm

    Did the vet not mention that there is a vacination for dogs against rattlesnakes?

  • LittlestFinch

    2012/06/12 at 1:13 pm

    I had to agree with the – what’s up with the class being in some creepy parking lot after dark? That’s how you start horror movies and adding snakes into the mix? That’s how you start made-for-TV horror movies that premiere on SyFy and have 3D, GIANT or MEGA in the title.


  • MassholeHeda

    2012/06/12 at 7:16 pm

    I think saving dogs lives is much more important then saving snakes.. ewww also this shock therepy is something you should look into for your daughter’s future dates! Or just buy a shot gun! Heather, you rock!

  • Regency Romantic

    2012/06/13 at 8:17 am

    @LittlestFinch – I would pay money to see that movie, but I would have to watch it from behind my fingers. 🙂

  • alicia6270

    2012/06/13 at 10:46 am

    Coco reminds me of my parents little dog. Although she keeps approaching the offender because she is protecting you, my parents dog does not learn from previous experience. How many times should it take getting quilled by a porcupine before realizing he does not want to play with you. So far we are on 7. There is a blind three legged porcupine that lives on our property up north and the dog just does not understand that quills mean ouch.

  • Timmys mom

    2012/06/13 at 11:48 am

    It breaks my heart to think about Chuck being shocked, but I understand the reasoning. I have my own Coco named Teddy, a Papillon. He even looks like a small version of Coco. One day, my seven dogs (yes, 7!) were causing a commotion outside. When I looked out, all seven had circled a giant rat snake, and Teddy, the crazy Papillon would lunge at it every few seconds while all the other dogs cheered him on. TED-E! TED-E! The snake was coiled and rising up like a cobra, snapping right back. When I whistled, the smarter ones flew into the house. Guess who wouldn’t come? Thankfully, a tennis ball is way more fun than a snake.

    @alicia6270 – Dang! A blind three legged porcupine is scarier than any ol’ snake!

  • megumphrey

    2012/06/13 at 11:48 am

    Dude! This is so important. Especially in light of the factoid I just read on on George Clooney’s wikipedia page:

    “Both [of his] dogs have died; one from a rattlesnake bite.”


    Yeah, uh-huh. I was just hanging out on Clooney’s wikipedia page.

  • alicia6270

    2012/06/13 at 12:14 pm

    @Timmys mom: Actually the porcupine just chills in the woods behind the house. He doesn’t do anything unless one of the dogs gets all up in his business. My brother has a dense papillion named Leo and he has been quilled 5 times so far. The big dogs just leave him alone. Apparently it is common for porcupines to have three legs, they are able to climb trees really well. They just can’t get down. Hence the broken limbs. He is huge though, and I just don’t understand the fascination of the little dogs.

  • dogmom2883

    2012/06/13 at 4:09 pm

    So glad you did this but just a word of warning – DO NOT RELY ON IT!! We took our two dogs to the training (a german shepherd and a pit bull) – and they both passed the training with flying colors. 3 weeks later (no joke, 3 WEEKS), the pit bull was bitten in the face by a rattlesnake – in my backyard. $3000 later she was cured, but not without a lot of heartache. I try to believe that at least it worked for my shepherd (who made a point of physically forcing me into the backyard to show me the snake), and that maybe it just didn’t work with Rosie because she’s young (10 months) and, as my mom likes to call her “ADHD dog.” Hope you have better luck!!

  • AshesVonDust

    2012/06/13 at 11:13 pm

    No hate for you, Heather (a head shake, but that’s all) but I have MONDO-HATE for the snake handler dude. Does he need to freshly de-fang a snake each time while it’s fully conscious? Hells to the no, but I suppose it’s probably cheaper/faster that way. That pisses me off to no end.

    They might creep people out, but snakes (to me at least) should have the same rights as any other animal (and that includes humans, meaning self-defense killing is fine, but using animals and discarding them is NOT)

  • juliemewood

    2012/06/14 at 12:54 pm

    1st of all..I hate snakes but…That poor snake! Being defanged…with nothing for the pain? Yikes!

    2nd of all… funny, funny story! Nice job!

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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