Class teaches dogs to stay away from rattlesnakes

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DENVER -- Every year, dozens of dogs get bitten by rattlesnakes along Colorado’s Front Range. Bites can costs owners thousands of dollars in veterinarian bills and sometimes cost their pets’ lives.

“He’s everything. He’s our son. He’s our boy,” dog owner Stephen Conyers said.

Conyers has a 6-year-old boxer named Otis. Two years ago, Otis was bitten by a rattlesnake while on a morning walk.

“He stuck his nose in a bush and we weren’t really sure what happened until he started dragging along,” Conyers said.

Otis’ snout swelled up where there were two puncture wounds. His owners said he was not himself and that he did not recognize them.

Otis recovered from the bite after spending three days at the vet and racking up thousands of dollars in vet bills.

“We probably see 20 to 30 snake bites a year,” veterinarian Todd Rezac said.

Rezac said rattlesnake bites in Colorado usually aren’t deadly because the type of venom is less potent. The poison does kill muscle and skin tissue around the bite though.

He said preventing a bite is much easier than treating one. And experts agree the best way to train a dog to stay away from snakes is to train dogs with snakes.

Julian Weslow, a dog trainer from Texas, has been coming to Colorado for almost 25 years to teach special “de-snaking” classes put on by the Colorado Gun Dog Club.

“We teach the dog to build a circle around that snake,” Weslow said.

During the class, he lets the dogs get within inches of live rattlesnakes that have had their venom removed. Dogs are naturally attracted to a rattlesnake’s scent.

When the dog goes in to smell the snake, Weslow applies a shock from a shock collar. The shock teaches the dog to stay away when it smells or hears the snake. The process takes less than 10 minutes.

“He got the message. When we walked past the snake he didn’t want anything to do with it,” Conyers said of Otis after the course.

Weslow has trained thousands of dogs over the past three decades and has likely saved countless lives. Dogs trained to avoid snakes can smell a rattlesnake long before a human can hear one.

“It can save your dog, but it can also save you because they’re going to let you know it’s there,” Weslow said.

Weslow’s snake avoidance courses will be going on at the International Sportsmen’s Expo at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver through Sunday. CGDA will also put on another snake avoidance course in June in the Denver area.

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