ELKO — Rattlesnake bites vary in potency, but shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“The snakes can regulate how much venom they inject,” said Get Rattled Reptile Specialist John Potash.
Canines, especially, don’t always recognize the warning signs before their curiosity gets the better of them. With five species of rattlesnake in Nevada, Potash has made it his job to train dogs to stay away from rattlesnakes.
Get Rattled, based out of Reno, hosted a rattlesnake avoidance training Sunday at the park on Fifth Street.
“This won’t ensure they don’t get bit,” said dog trainer Willie Stevens Jr. “What I’m trying to do is make sure they don’t get bit in the face.”
During the training, each dog was brought before a de-venomized Western Diamondback rattlesnake, loose in the grass. If the dog showed curiosity in the snake, it received a shock from a Dogtra collar around its neck. On a second, or sometimes a third, encounter with the snake, most dogs left it alone.
Stevens said he does not enjoy causing the dogs pain, but finds it to be the most effective way to teach them avoidance. In comparison with a rattlesnake bite, the pain of the shock is minimal.
“Typically, your smaller dogs are a lot tougher than your bigger dogs,” said Stevens, speaking from 11 years of experience.
The Elko Vet Clinic contacted Get Rattled to visit Elko this year, Potash said. Get Rattled came to Elko before about three years ago.
Since Western Diamondbacks are found in the southern region of Nevada, Potash also used a Great Basin rattlesnake and snake skins in a cage to train the dogs. Great Basin rattlers are native to northeastern Nevada.
Another element of the training was getting the dogs to stand between the snake and their handler.
The turnout at Sunday’s event included dog owners from as far away as West Wendover and Battle Mountain. Seventeen pre-registered for the training, which cost $75 per dog. Others registered the day of the training.
Several owners wanted to take the precaution because of their dog’s curiosity and energy level.
“I don’t want my dog to die,” said Robert Lemke of Battle Mountain. “She has high energy and likes to run around a lot.”
Other dogs had already encountered rattlesnakes, such as 5-year-old Conttessa, a Chinese Shar Pei.
“She found a rattlesnake last year and got very interested,” said Conttessa’s owner Randall Soderquist, of West Wendover.
After the training, the owner brought Conttessa back for another test. The dog wanted nothing to do with the snake.
“I enjoy doing it in the sense that I’m helping dogs,” Stevens said.
While Stevens reccommends a second training, dogs often remember the lesson for years afterward.
Get Rattled does trainings in Nevada and California, with hopes to expand into Oregon, Utah and Colorado. Potash, who has a commercial possession permit, catches his own snakes in Nevada.
Potash said the company will soon be looking into porcupine and skunk avoidance training as well. Get Rattled already has a porcupine license. Since skunks are prohibited as pets in Nevada, Potash said he is working on getting an exemption.