SALT LAKE CITY – Snakes on trails and wagging tails can be a recipe for disaster, and a program is helping train dogs and their owners to avoid rattlesnake encounters.
“Get Rattled” aims to help dogs learn how to avoid those dangerous situations.
“He didn’t figure out that that was a snake that should be avoided right away, I’m like, ‘Well, where are your instincts?!’” dog owner Elise Zoller said.
One of the dogs taking the training Friday was named Ash. Like many dogs, he simply gets curious and didn't fully appreciate the danger of snakes, until this training.
“Essentially what we’re doing is we’re focusing the dog’s attention on the sight, sound and smell of rattlesnakes,” said John Potash, owner of Get Rattled.
Dogs are taken through different stations, sniffing and looking. And, thanks to a tiny and non-harmful shock through an electric collar, they become startled at the sight of a snake.
And while these snakes look dangerous, Potash said they actually aren’t.
“We have some snakes that have been surgically altered to make them venomoid,” he said.
These snakes aren’t venomous anymore, but Ash doesn’t know that.
“Once we’re convinced that the snake is not a good thing, we’ll do an owner recall... We watch that the dog doesn’t just run to the owner, and makes a big wide circle to get to them,” Potash said.
Zoller was grateful for the experience.
“It was great to see that that he did eventually focus on what was going on, and then when I called him to me twice, he gave that snake a big berth; he definitely noticed it,” Zoller said.
And this not only protects Ash, it protects his owner as well.
“If a snake’s on a trail, what you don't want to do is step over him because he can strike upward,” said Dave Jensen with Wasatch Snake Removal.
Jensen helped handle the snakes at the training program Friday, and he reminds people that killing snakes is illegal in Utah. He said the best thing for everyone to do is simply give the snakes some space.
"It does make me feel safer because I know when I go for a walk he’s going to spot the snake before I do," Zoller said.