The topography in Arizona is gorgeous---the rattlesnakes, not so much.
Having three Labrador Retrievers who think everyone is their friend, we decided to get them rattlesnake trained. A month ago, we took them to the training location, at which the aversion trainer used a shock collar to teach the girls to avoid the pesky rattlesnakes. The drill goes something like this:
1. You take your dog to sniff a rattlesnake-scented towel (who doesn't want that new fragrance--Eau du Rattlesnake?), after which they are supposed to quit sniffing the towel (one of our girls rolled on it and didn't want to leave it) and walk towards a live rattlesnake without rattles.
2. As soon as your dog moves close to the rattlesnake, the trainer applies shock to the collar and the dog yips, jumps, or tries to run away or some other unpleasant reaction.
3. Next, you walk your dog over to a bucket of rattlesnakes with rattles (the goal was to teach the dog to not just listen for the sound of the rattles but also to be aware of the smell). I must admit that Dave and I did very well with this aversion training---we wanted nothing to do with the bucket of snakes. :)
4. Again, as soon as your dog gets close to the bucket o' rattlers, the trainer applies a stiff shock to the collar. Your dog yelps, jumps, or both.
5. The last part is the "test"----you walk your dog past a rattlesnake that is lying in the middle of the roadway and the trainer "checks' their reaction. He noted increased heart rate, nervous-jumpy gait and tension-filled face---oh wait, that was from the humans. No, seriously, the dogs all alerted by completely turning the other way or jumping a bit as soon as they saw the rattlesnake in the middle of the road. Test passed. No more shock.
Fast forward to last night when Dave and I walked the girls on the golf course near our home. Beautiful summer evening in Tucson (translated, that means it finally cooled down to 99 degrees by 7:00 but the sunset is stunning!), and all of a sudden, Dave stops dead in his tracks and says, "Isn't that a rattlesnake?" and points to the biggest, ugliest, anaconda-looking creature I had ever seen. In truth, it was about 4 feet long and looked a bit like this:
Here's the problem---while Dave's alerting skills were spot-on, the three yellow Labs were still saying NOTHING! They were actually much more interested in the bunnies that were hopping from one end of the 17th fairway to the other.
"Why are you not alerting us?" Dave asked our oldest, a bit severely.
"You just had the aversion training a month ago!" I scolded our youngest.
No answer. Except the thunk, thunk, thunk of her tail as she watched a baby bunny hop-hop-hop into the sagebrush.
Dave took our middle girl even closer to the snake (not completely sure about the wisdom of that move, but I understand the motivation) to see if she would get the scent.
"Worthless!" Dave remarked as L.N. cocked her head to the side. Maybe "worthless" sounds like "biscuit" in dog language.
What's the lesson, here? Besides, of course, the need for follow-up rattlesnake aversion training?
We count on the use of non-verbal behavior and "alerts" in communicating with others, so much so we are nervous and frustrated when we don't get it.
This is one of the perils of the use of email. As a school principal, I could write a quick email to say to a teacher, "Could you come by and talk with me during your planning period?" and inevitably, i would get a phone call 10 seconds after I pressed "send"---"Is everything okay? Did something happen? Did a parent call you?" No, no, no I would try to reassure the worried teacher. It might have been some grant for which I thought they might want to apply. Or I wanted to let them know their carpet would be cleaned the next week.
But without the assistance of tone of voice or non-verbal communication, a vague email like that could freak people out. Imagine the difference if I catch the teacher in the hallway, smile and say, "Hey can you stop by for a second during your planning time? I have a quick question." They see my smile, they can see I am relaxed and all of that "alerts" them that this is a non-threatening request.
Maybe just for today, we can remember that non-verbal communication, body language, and tone of voice make a huge difference in our communication (and the secondary lesson may be: make sure your rattlesnake aversion training "took" and get an update if it didn't). :)