Hiking tips

Tips for keeping your dogs safe from rattlesnakes

SALT LAKE CITY — As summer approaches, experts share ways to avoid an unfortunate encounter with rattlesnakes — which some Utahns have learned can end tragically for dogs whose curiosity can cause them to pay a terrible price.

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

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

“This time of year they are on the move, looking for food and warmer conditions after a long winter. They like rocky, sloping areas, said Utah Division of Wildlife Resources spokeswoman Faith Jolley.

While most rattlesnakes are common sense to humans, that’s a different story for dogs.

In October 2020, Alicia Robinson lost her 10-year-old dog after being curious and sniffing a snake that made no warning sound.

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

Fred was on a leash and a few yards ahead of Robinson. They stayed on the trail.

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

She said he didn’t vibrate until he bit her dog and she was trying to get around him. She managed to walk Fred down the trail and into a vet’s office, but it was too late.

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

After three vials of anti-venom, her little dog still succumbed to his injuries. The vets guessed it was probably a clot 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 for staying safe around mountain lions

She is now advocating for classes that will teach dogs to steer clear or avoid danger. She had no idea these classes existed until she lost Fred and did some research.

“I really wish I had done that,” Robinson said. “I mean, it would have saved my dog’s life at the time, I believe.”

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

Laurie Schlossnagle with Side By Side Dog Training started offering this rattlesnake avoidance course last spring. She said most trainings focus on aversion, but theirs is different – focusing on avoidance instead.

“We are positive reinforcement trainers, and we teach the dogs to avoid and move away from the rattlesnake,” Schlossnagle said. “Obviously the further they are from the snake the less likely they are to be bitten. You just have to see that there was a need for something different, a need to teach dogs what to do, instead of just be scared.”

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

More information on rattlesnake safety courses for dogs can be found at Side By Side website.