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Tips on keeping your dogs safe from rattlesnakes

Posted at 5:52 PM, May 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-10 19:52:52-04

SALT LAKE CITY — As the summer approaches, experts are sharing ways to avoid an unfortunate run-in with rattlesnakes — which, as some Utahns have learned, can end tragically for dogs whose curiosity can lead to them paying a terrible price.

A Reddit post in a Salt Lake City group is getting a lot of attention after a golden retriever was apparently bitten by a rattlesnake Monday in the Red Butte Gardens area.

With five species of rattlesnakes in Utah, it’s not uncommon to find one while recreating. But there are ways to prepare your dog for this kind of encounter.

“This time of year, they’re out on the move, looking for food and warmer conditions after a long winter. They like rocky, sloped areas,” said Faith Jolley, a spokesperson for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

While most rattlesnake safety is common sense for humans, it’s a different story for dogs.

In October of 2020, Alicia Robinson lost her dog of 10 years after he got curious and sniffed a snake that made no warning sounds.

“We were just hiking on a trail in Millcreek Canyon that we had been on multiple times and never had a problem,” she said.

Fred was on a leash and just a few feet in front of Robinson. They stayed on the trail.

“I just saw him stick his head down to the side of the trail to sniff at the ground, and in a little bit of brush there was a rattlesnake,” Robinson said.

She said it didn’t rattle until after it had bit her dog and she was trying to get around it. She managed to run down the trail with Fred and get him into a veterinarian’s office, but it was too late.

“The venom moved really quickly through his body, unfortunately,” said Robinson.

After three vials of anti-venom, her small dog still succumbed to his injuries. The vets guessed it was likely from a clot that formed from the venom.

Robinson is sharing her tragic experience to help other dog owners prevent this from happening to their best friend.

READ: Utah wildlife officials offer tips to stay safe near mountain lions

She’s now advocating for classes that will teach dogs to avoid or avert danger. She had no idea these classes existed until after losing Fred and doing some research.

“I really wish I did," Robinson said. "I mean, it would have saved my dog's life at that point, I believe."

She has since put her dogs through the training, which uses live snakes, and encourages other owners to consider the same.

Laurie Schlossnagle with Side By Side Dog Training began offering this rattlesnake avoidance class last spring. She said most training focuses on aversion, but theirs is different — focusing on avoidance instead.

“We are positive reinforcement trainers, and we teach the dogs to actually avoid and go away from the rattlesnake," Schlossnagle said. "Obviously the further away they are from the snake, the less likely they are to be bitten. Just seeing that there was a need for something different, a need to teach the dogs what to do, instead of just being afraid of it."

Rattlesnakes are a protected species in Utah, and it is actually illegal to kill one. The only exception is if you are at risk or in danger, but otherwise, you could face a misdemeanor charge if you kill one. Also, DWR says most injuries happen when people get too close, attempting to kill one.

More information about rattlesnake safety classes for dogs can be found on Side By Side's website.