DWR officials talk about rattlesnake safety as weather heats up

Posted at 9:14 PM, Jun 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-07 09:42:26-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Hot weather isn't the only thing to make a comeback this June in Utah.

"What's happening right now is snakes are coming out of hibernation," said Krissy Wilson with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Part of Wilson’s job is overseeing the state's efforts to manage and protect rattlesnakes. Though the venomous reptiles create a lot of fear, bites are rare.

"I would think it's about one or two per year," Wilson said.

Most bites, she said, happen for one of two reasons.  One, a person gets too close to a snake without knowing it, or a person tries to handle a rattlesnake they find in the wild.

While human bites are rare, dogs are both more likely to suffer a bite and it's more likely to prove fatal.

"The majority of the bites happen on the face and about 25 percent more likely to be fatal to dogs than to humans," said Haley Bechard.

Bechard is the owner of a company called Utah's Rattlesnake Avoidance. Licensed by the state to handle venomous snakes, she trains dogs how to recognize and avoid a rattler.

"We go up there and we take a piece of their home and we get to enjoy it but that's where they belong. So if we can make the rattlesnakes feel safe, we can make ourselves feel safe, I think preserving Utah's wildlife is the most important thing here," Bechard said.

The training tools are simple. A shock collar or positive reinforcement depending on the owner's preference, snake skins for scent, and a live rattlesnake kept in a clear plexi-glass box with mesh windows.

Most dogs need only a few training sessions to get the lesson. Once trained, they will often hide behind their owners when they smell a snake nearby, providing an early warning for the owner as well.

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