Ventura, Calif. Michael is a quick learner.
Following a little rattlesnake avoidance training, when the German shepherd even caught a whiff of the menacing reptile, he bounded for the opposite direction and into the waiting arms of his owner, Cheryl Anderson Ney.
Michael was one of some 40 dogs attending a training at Conejo Valley Veterinary Clinic in Thousand Oaks, spending one-on-one time with veteran dog trainer Patrick Callaghan.
The canines learned a valuable lesson: Sniffing around rattlesnakes is not a good idea.
Callaghan, based in Norco, traveled throughout Southern California during rattlesnake season, March to August, teaching dogs, cats, horses, llamas and the occasional goat, to avoid rattlesnakes.
He got calls for training from just about every area that has open space providing a hospitable place for the poisonous snakes.
"I do more dogs than anything just because there are more of them," Callaghan said.
His services were so popular, clinic manager Nancy Wohl said she reserved Callaghan for the sessions nine months ago.
By using live rattlesnakes that have been defanged and muzzled for safety, and a remote controlled collar that offers a slight sensation, the dogs were taught to avoid the snakes by sight, sound and smell.
The owners observed as their dogs were led by a neutral handler to three different snakes at three different locations, where Callaghan activated the collar. By the third stop the dog had gotten the message, and wanted no part of what was rattling around in the grass.
Malibu Hills resident Gig Rackauskas has taken her Jack Russell Terrier Hillary through the avoidance clinic twice. The dog had been bitten in the past and immediately afterward swelled up, started drooling, became lethargic, and her heart pounded abnormally fast.
"Luckily we were right there on the spot and took her to the vet right away and got the (antivenin)," Rackauskas said.