Sutter, Yolo training sessions teach dogs to steer clear of rattlesnakes

Watch out for that rattlesnake! More importantly, teach your dog to watch out.

Wildlife experts say rattlesnakes are emerging from hibernation earlier this year, their food supply boosted by winter storms. Dogs are 20 times more likely than humans to be bitten by a venomous snake and 25 times more likely to die from a bite, according to the Animal Medical Center of Southern California.

“A rattlesnake bite is likely a more serious concern for dogs because they’re so small,” said Brian Todd, a wildlife biologist at UC Davis. “It’s extremely rare for a human to be put in a life-threatening situation from a rattlesnake bite.”

Two organizations will be training dogs to avoid snakes in the greater Sacramento area over the next two weeks. The first training will be held this weekend, on Saturday, near Yuba City. Classes will also be offered April 8 and 9 in Dunnigan.

“Typically, people start seeing rattlesnakes around April and on through September, but this year rattlesnakes have been seen in early March,” Todd said. “I anticipate snakes will be very active this year.”

He said the training for dogs is timely given that snakes are now appearing in places they are rarely seen – like the Sacramento Valley floor. More typically found in the Sierra Nevada foothills, snakes have been spotted recently in Davis and Dunnigan.

Saturday’s classes are offered by a Reno-based company called Get Rattled and hosted by the Two Cities Kennel Club. “We train dogs to avoid the sights, sounds and smells of rattlesnakes,” said John Potash, owner of Get Rattled.

The training takes about 20 minutes per dog and costs $85. Refresher training is $60, Potash said.

During the training, dogs are outfitted with an electric collar. At the first of three stations, the dog will encounter a live rattlesnake on the ground – with its venom ducts removed. As the dog approaches the snake, the handler uses the collar to deliver a jolt. The goal: to make the dog associate the snake with something unpleasant.

At a second station, the dog is brought to a live rattlesnake in a cage, with shedded skin inside, to teach scent recognition. “We allow the dog’s nose to get right up to it to get a real solid scent,” Potash said. Eventually, the dog is brought to another station and placed on the other side of a snake from its owner.

“If the dog makes a big wide berth around the snake, that’s when we know the dog has got it,” Potash said. If the dog hasn’t learned at that point, it is sent back to do the training over.

Potash suggests retraining dogs every year to make sure they don’t forget. “It’s cheap insurance for dog owners,” Potash said. “The cheapest I have heard of people getting out of the vet for a bite is $800, but the average is around the $2,000 mark.”

Potash describes himself as a “snake guy” who has kept dozens of rattlesnakes for decades. He got into dog training in 2000, while doing wildlife rescue in the Reno.

He started out by training two dozen dogs a year. He now trains 500 dogs yearly. He incorporated four years ago and now offers classes throughout Nevada, Oregon and California. Business has been so brisk he is adding toad avoidance and porcupine avoidance classes for dogs. “People are really asking about this service,” said Potash. “It’s really blown up.”

At Raahauge’s Hunting Club in Dunnigan, dog owners also have been increasingly asking for rattlesnake avoidance training. “It’s catching on, and we’re doing more and more every year,” said Donna Raahauge, owner of the club.

She has been offering the classes for the last eight years and gives the training three times a year. She trains about 70 dogs yearly. The rattlesnake avoidance classes in Dunnigan will be offered for $80 per dog. The classes are given at a ranch where pheasants and partridges are placed for hunters.

“With our people, when they’re out hunting, there is a chance of a rattlesnake being in their way,” Raahauge said.

She said she encounters at least four rattlesnakes every year at the property.

“Weather changes everything,” Raahauge said. “We’ve already seen one rattlesnake here at the ranch – so they’re out.”

Edward Ortiz: 916-321-1071, @edwardortiz

Rattlesnake avoidance training for dogs

Get Rattled

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: 8560 S. Butte Rd., Sutter, 95982

COST: $85

INFORMATION: 530-674-5248

Raahauge’s Hunting Club

WHEN: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 8 and 9

COST: $80

WHERE: 25835 County Road 8, Dunnigan, 95937

INFORMATION: 530-724-0552