Utah Rattlesnake Avoidance Training
My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Regular Price: $125*
*Backcountry Post members can receive an additional $10 discount for a limited time. Just tell Haley you are a Backcountry Post member.
I don't think I've ever been so excited to post a review. A few weeks back, I saw an article online about two dogs that died after being bitten by a rattlesnake in the St. George area. Fair warning, the article has a pretty awful picture of the victims in it so don't click through if you don't want to see that (LINK). In the article, I learned about Haley Bechard and her company Utah Rattlesnake Avoidance. Haley trains dogs to keep away from rattlesnakes using real, live rattlesnakes.
I'd first heard of this type of training a couple years back and went searching for it. I found one person in Utah but they hadn't offered courses in quite some time. We talked to the folks at K9 Lifeline, who we trust a lot, and they told us they had heard that it was highly effective, but did not know anyone offering it. Disappointed, we went back to giving our active dogs an annual rattlesnake vaccine as our only line of defense. So I was ecstatic when I read that Haley was offering the training right here in Salt Lake. We signed up Sage and Patina for the first class we could make it to.
The training was held at Dog Town in Sandy, Utah. Another great kennel that we've taken our dogs to in the past. We knew we were in the right place when we parked next to this car outside.
There were three dogs in our class; Sage and Patina and another couple with a very young and excited Vizsla. I believe Haley usually takes up to four dogs per class.
Haley gave us a packet full of information and started by explaining how rattlesnakes live and what types of snakes we have in Utah. She also explained what to do and what not do, if your pet is ever bitten by a snake. I was shocked to hear how much it can cost to treat a dog that has been bitten - from around $1,500 to as much as $5,000! And you still need to get them to an appropriately equipped medical center within a couple of hours while keeping their heart rate down! No, Escalante or Hanksville probably aren't going to cut it. It made me realize just how bad it could be if it happened while out on a multi-day backpacking trip where getting out even within a day isn't always possible. Or even a day hike in the desert with a 3-5 hour drive out.
Aside from the great background and information, it was awesome to see how much Haley genuinely loves snakes and reptiles as much as the more traditional furry kinds of animals. The other couple asked if the snake was de-fanged, to which Haley responded that she would never do that because it is inhumane and that snakes deserve just as much respect and kindness as any other living thing. I'm paraphrasing a bit there, but you get the point. That made me really happy to hear. After going through the course, I hopped online and learned a bit more about her and was pretty amazed at her experience with reptiles. Just go scroll through her Facebook fan page: https://www.facebook.com/haley.bechard/
The training began with a box of molted rattlesnake skins. Rattlesnakes have a unique, and very strong smell that is different than most snakes. It's not uncommon for dogs to react similarly to other snakes after the training, however.
Outfitted with an e-collar, the skins were put into the middle of the room. The smell must have been extremely strong because Sage went straight in for a big whiff. Haley then triggered the collar, adjusting it up to the point that it was effective. That's good so that little, or more sensitive dogs don't get more than they need. After a couple of interactions, Sage wanted nothing to do with those skins.
We tried a few variations, moving the box around the room, putting it in her path, and finally, Haley would bring it right to her. That box might as well have been the chirp of the smoke alarm battery dying at 3am. Sage was not having any of it!
Next it was time for the real deal. The snake was locked in a clear box with screened ports on the sides. Good for the dogs to see it, smell it and hear it, but totally safe. Speaking of hearing it, that thing was making a lot of noise!
We did many of the same tasks with the real snake, but Sage had already figured out that it was something to stay away from.
We would try but she would never get close to it at all. The e-collar was off for much of the training. I'm not 100% sure but I think it was only triggered initially with the box of skins.
These pictures might be a little redundant, but next it was Patina's turn.
The moment the e-collar 'bit' her.
Patina is both the smartest, and the most stubborn dog I've ever known. She picked it up even faster than Sage and she was hell bent on not getting anywhere near it.
At the end, we practiced standing on opposite corners of the room and having the dogs run to us. Sage took a wide circle while Patina practically crawled over things to follow the perimeter of the room, keeping as much space as possible. This was such a relief for me because Patina's favorite thing in life lately is going and checking out every single rock when we get to a campsite in Glen Canyon. I've just been waiting, hoping that she wouldn't find a snake under one. A couple years back we came across one not more than 15 feet away from the boat, after dark. Fortunately the dogs were all sleeping at the time.
At the end of the training, I was completely sold on the effectiveness. Haley even offers free re-testing to make sure your dog hasn't forgotten. It depends on the dog, but for ours she recommended next year, while for the young, hyperactive Vizsla, she recommended in a couple of months. The re-testing is done in a different location than the training so the dog shouldn't associate the location with how they should react.
This training is obviously in no way a guarantee that your dog isn't going to get bit by a rattlesnake. But for $125, a one time expense, it is an absolute no brainer for anyone with a dog that spends time outdoors. Even if they don't go hiking a lot, the situation in St. George shows that it can happen right in your yard. This is a win-win-win for all involved. Dogs stay happy and healthy, snakes stay happy and healthy and are feared less, and humans stay happy and not out thousands of dollars (or worse).
Another benefit of all this is that your dog is quite likely going to alert YOU to snakes before you encounter one, possibly saving yourself a trip to the ER. I just want to run and tell everyone I know to go do this NOW. And to make it an even easier decision, Haley is offering Backcountry Post members $10 off the already great regular price of $125. Head on over to her website at http://www.utahsrattlesnakeavoidance.com/ and book an appointment online right now. Your dog, and the rattlesnakes of the world will thank you.
Disclaimer: My dogs training sessions were given at no charge in exchange for promotional consideration on Backcountry Post, however this review is 110% genuine and completely unswayed by that fact. I can honestly not recommend this service strongly enough.