Toys & Training

Don’t Fetch, It’s a Rattlesnake! Snake-Security Class Is the Scorching Factor for Canines


CAVE CREEK, Ariz.—On a latest toasty morning, a pointer named Lua trotted fortunately round a fenced enclosure, stopping to take a look at one thing she had by no means seen earlier than: a coiled-up rattlesnake.

Wagging her tail, Lua bent down to analyze—then jumped straight up within the air, letting out a yelp. Coach Cody Will had simply zapped Lua with an digital collar, sufficient to assist make her keep away from the venomous reptiles.

“That’s not a lizard, is it?” Mr. Will mentioned.

The Arizona desert is crawling with rattlesnakes, generally often called rattlers. They’re more and more coming into contact with curious canines that moved together with people to Maricopa County, which incorporates Phoenix and Cave Creek and skilled an 18% inhabitants enhance between 2010 and 2021, to 4.5 million folks.

To maintain the animals safely aside, a cottage trade of snake-avoidance courses has sprung up. Fitted with digital collars, canines are turned free to face off with rattlesnakes, some in cages and a few slithering within the open.

The courses price round $100 per canine and are so fashionable that Mr. Will’s six-year-old enterprise, Rattlesnake Prepared, is booked strong into fall. One motive for the demand, native veterinarians say, is storms final summer season left a bumper crop of rattlers, leading to a spike in encounters between man’s finest buddy and considered one of his most-reviled enemies.

Arizona is house to 13 rattlesnake species, essentially the most of any state, in keeping with the Arizona Recreation and Fish Division. The granddaddy of all of them is the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, which measures as much as 7 toes lengthy and is among the many most deadly within the U.S. Arizona rattlers chunk on common greater than 200 folks a yr and untold canines. Whereas deaths are uncommon, venom spreads via the bloodstream and may trigger issues resembling inside bleeding.

Naturally inquisitive, canines get bitten as they observe their nostril to analyze the creature making a rattling sound, mentioned Arizona Animal Hospital’s Brett Cordes, who goes by “Brett the Vet.”

Snakes not stored in cages are muzzled with security tape at Rattlesnake Prepared, which presents snake-avoidance courses in Arizona.

“Canines typically mistake a snake with a stick or a hose,” mentioned Christopher Oosthuisen, proprietor of Companions Snake Avoidance, additionally in Cave Creek, which trains 1,500 canines a yr. His father, Leighton, began the coaching 20 years in the past for search and rescue canines and enterprise expanded as extra folks began having snake encounters in neighborhoods, he mentioned—notably desert-area ones resembling Cave Creek, a suburb 30 miles north of Phoenix.

Snakes like backyards, which have water and hiding locations, mentioned Bryan Hughes, proprietor of Rattlesnake Options, which matches on as many as 20 calls a day to take away rattlers.

The snake-avoidance faculties have desert enclosures that resemble native yards. At Companions Snake Avoidance—“The place good canines change into nice”— canines are allowed to smell round till they encounter one. Though all of the rattlers are caged, canines study to keep away from them anyway, after a handler triggers a shock collar to create a adverse affiliation.

Whereas the small shock startles the canine, Dr. Cordes mentioned it’s higher than letting the animal undergo the agony of a snake chunk—to not point out the agony for house owners of hundreds of {dollars} in medical remedy.

At Rattlesnake Prepared, snakes not stored in cages are muzzled with security tape. Mr. Will himself was bitten as soon as on a finger whereas dealing with one. “It didn’t damage too dangerous,” mentioned Mr. Will, who retains 80 rattlers in a herpetarium together with a Gila monster and different scaly inhabitants.

The snakes take turns scaring the canines, normally on shifts of as soon as per week “to reduce the stress,” he mentioned.

Cody Will brings out snakes for rattlesnake-avoidance coaching.

A canine named Newton investigates the coaching space together with his proprietor throughout rattlesnake avoidance class.

Mr. Will, 31, acquired his begin in Northern California 10 years in the past, the place his love for reptiles prompted pals to ask him to show their canines how you can avoid rattlers. His father-in-law satisfied him to relocate to Phoenix as a result of there are such a lot of snakes. Now, he trains greater than 2,000 canines a yr.

“We get an occasional failure story,” Mr. Will mentioned. ”Earlier than they’re midway performed telling me, I’m pondering, ‘I wager this can be a poodle.’ ” Poodles, he added, are among the many most clever canines and don’t all the time settle for coaching.

Some canines arrive for snake coaching with a swagger, like a pit-bull combine named Newton who was Mr. Will’s first scholar one morning final month.

“Dude, that canine could be very opinionated and never afraid of something,” warned his proprietor, Brett Tossell.

Mr. Will grabbed two crimson buckets marked “Hazard, Venomous Reptiles,” and instructed Mr. Tossell and his 15-year-old daughter, Katherine, to fulfill him in a fenced-in patch of desert.

As they led Newton on a romp, Mr. Will pulled a Mojave rattlesnake named Paul out of a bucket and discreetly positioned it subsequent to some rocks.

“No strain, Newton,” Mr. Will mentioned, because the canine approached the snake—now rattling furiously.

The canine jumped again in alarm when he acquired a jolt. Two extra instances he acquired zapped, when sniffing at a discarded snake pores and skin and trying out a loud rattling sound from an orange speaker wedged between rocks.

Newton left with a whimper, darting for the exit when class was over.

Hanna, a Czech German shepherd, was extra skittish as house owners Ian and Wendy Bond led her in for coaching, saying they needed their canine to soundly accompany them on hikes.

“Hello Hanna, can we get your necklace on?” Mr. Will mentioned, slipping the shock collar on the animal.

Hanna explored the grounds exterior, quickly ending up in entrance of the primary rattler. She leapt again with a bark after getting her first jolt. ”Good woman!” Mr. Will mentioned.

After getting zapped twice extra in different snake encounters, Hanna was prepared for her ultimate examination: steer clear, with no shock this time, of a Western diamondback named JJ blocking one of many exits. She handed with flying colours, racing away to attempt to climb over a piece of close by fence.

Afterward, Ms. Bond proudly held Hanna’s “snake college” diploma. “We’re going to body it,” she mentioned.

Hanna throughout rattlesnake-avoidance coaching.

Write to Jim Carlton at jim.carlton@wsj.com

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