Wednesday, July 3, 2013

June Methow weekend - rattlesnakes and mountain bikes

The last weekend in June, we headed east on Highway 20 for a quick Methow getaway.  The objective of the weekend was to put the dogs through a rattlesnake aversion training class, so that they could learn to steer clear of rattlesnakes on our many Eastern Washington adventures.  

Though we had intended to do this training for quite some time, it was an encounter with this guy over Memorial Day weekend, on a hike in the Tieton River Valley, which solidifed our decision:   

Moments before this picture was snapped, we nearly stepped right on this baby Northern Pacific Rattlesnake. Chase was already a ways up the trail, and the snake wasn't in a hurry to get off the trail, which posed a bit of an issue in terms of reuniting our hiking party.  Luckily, we were able to pick the snake up with a long stick and relocate him to the undergrowth on the side of the trail.  We turned around and exited the area without incident, but the presence of this diamond-backed critter was a necessary wake up call. I immediately signed both dogs up for the training.  

Saturday afternoon we arrived at Methow Valley Veterinary Hospital and were introduced to the dog trainers, as well as the snake handler and one of his sidekicks:  

Photo belongs to the Methow Valley Veterinary Hospital (thank you!). 

As you can see, the snake was very much alive, but also wearing a tiny rattlesnake muzzle to ensure there would be no biting. 

Dogs were led through the training one at a time, outfitted with a long training lead and a shock collar.  Each dog's initial encounter was with a muzzled baby rattlesnake, loose in the grass.  It was interesting to watch each dog react to the snake- some noticed it immediately, while others had to be shown the snake.  In any case, the moment the dog expressed any interest in the snake, it received a mild correction with the collar, which discouraged any snake curiosity.  

The second encounter was with a recently shed rattlesnake skin, which apparently still carried a lot of rattlesnake scent.  Again, dogs were zapped upon sniffing the skin.  

The third encounter involved a snake inside a fake plastic rock.  The trainer would tap the rock, which made the snake rattle.  The dog would then get a shock upon hearing the rattle, to train them to negatively associate the classic rattling sound with danger.  

The fourth and final snake encounter was a test to see if the dogs had sufficiently learned to avoid snakes. A snake was placed in the grass, between the dog and owner. The trainer instructed us to call the dog, in hopes that the dog to identify the snake, then go out of its way to avoid the snake on its way to us. 

It was simultaneously funny and sad watching our dogs go through this somewhat torturous experience.  Lexi, our super soft, sensitive little girl, predictably let out a very dramatic yelp upon being shocked for the first time, then proceeded to cry every time she was shocked.  The trainer told us later that by the second and third encounters, she was actually yelping before he shocked her, in anticipation of the agony that she knew was coming because of the presence of those nasty snakes.   Chase, on the other hand, didn't yelp, but he had some pretty spectacular jumps when he got zapped. 
For the final test, both dogs immediately noticed the snake, and give it a very wide berth as they raced fearfully back to us.  Success!  

We came away convinced that this training had worked, as both dogs got a lot out of it.  Chase, in fact, even made the local press (like the spelling of Chad's last name? I  blame my poor handwriting!).  

Later that day, we celebrated with a lovely, mellow mountain bike ride on the Sun Mountain Trails.  We opted for the scenic and not-too-difficult Black Bear loop, which rewarded us with some breathtaking vistas:  

We ended the ride at Patterson Lake, a perfectly enticing spot for a post-ride, late afternoon swim.   The water was the perfect temperature- not shockingly cold, pefectly refreshing, quintessentially summer.

It was starting to get dark, so we meandered up the Chewuch River Road, found a lovely place to spend the night, and set up camp.

We cooked a delicious taco dinner by lantern light and enjoyed some company of the entomological variety.

Taco fixins

Camp cooking!

Pine Sawyer Beetle

We woke up next morning to sunshine and the sounds of babbling Boulder Creek.

We packed up camp and made our way to the Rocking Horse Bakery in Winthrop, where were enjoyed some coffee and treats while gazing across the river to Spring Creek Ranch, the site of our wedding.  Pure Methow weekend bliss!

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