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Classes Train Curious Dogs to Keep Away from Rattlesnakes

VACAVILLE -- Pet parents turned out in Vacaville Thursday for rattlesnake avoidance training with Natural Solutions Wildlife Enterprises.

"Unfortunately, to most dogs rattlesnakes are a very intriguing animal, both the smell and the sound they make," said Erick Briggs, who owns Natural Solutions Wildlife Enterprises. "So most dogs will walk up and investigate almost any rattlesnake they see."

Just as Briggs predicted, it wasn’t long before the muzzled juvenile rattlesnake came within striking distance of the muzzles of 2-year-old Okie, 6-year-old Jessie and 11-year-old Vincent.

Delores and Lyle Wagner just moved to a rattlesnake-filled area of Winters. They were particularly worried about Vincent’s terrier tendencies leading to a confrontation with a snake.

"So we’re going trick him into believing that he was in fact bitten," Briggs said.

In a very basic sense, here’s how it all works. The Natural Solutions staff fit the dog with a shock collar, shock it when it gets too close to something it’s not supposed to, like the sight and smell of a young rattlesnake, the smell of the shed skin, or the sound of the rattle.

"And then the adult at the very end, when a dog’s a little distracted, try to get them to make a mistake or two that they can learn from. But if they’re being vigilant they’ll identify that animal first," Briggs said.

Briggs says typically, within five minutes, the training works. Even old dogs like Vincent pick up that new trick.

"He did exactly what he needed to do and he reacted exactly way he needed to react to the shock," Wagner said.

Briggs says dogs rarely learn from real life encounters with rattlesnakes.

"Unfortunately a true rattlesnake bite isn’t immediately painful," Briggs said. "Dogs live in the moment. They don’t think, 'Oh, I feel bad now it must have been from that experience with that little animal earlier.'"

That’s why Thursday was so important for little Otis. The puppy is fresh off a three-day hospital stay, according to his owner, Juan Clara.

"I saw a snake bit my dog on his lip," Clara said.

Clara says they were in the hills when a small rattlesnake bit Otis. The 10-month-old acted as if nothing has happened but Clara went straight to the animal hospital. He says it wasn’t long before Otis’ face and neck had swollen.

He wanted to take all steps possible to avoid another close call.

The training with Natural Solutions Wildlife Enterprises can run around $75. Natural Solutions is having another training in El Dorado County this Sunday. For more information visit their website.