How a Utah trainer is using live rattlesnakes to teach dogs to stay away

Local aversion training uses live rattlesnakes to teach dogs to stay away kutv (1).png
Local aversion training uses live rattlesnakes to teach dogs to stay away. (Photo: KUTV)

They are some of the most poisonous snakes in the country and Utah is home to at least different species of rattlesnakes.

One bite can be deadly for both people and animals. We know to stay away, but do our pets?

That’s what a unique type of training at Barley’s Canine Recreation Center is teaching dogs.

“What we’re here for today is to introduce these guys to a live rattlesnake,” trainer Mike Parmley said to a group of owners and their dogs.

Many dogs are curious and most use their noses to verify what they’re smelling. That’s often when they get bit.

Parmley started the training three summers ago. After learning from retired dog trainer Web Parton, he saw a need here in Utah.

“We have a problem with rattlesnakes here in our state. We have a lot of them around. This training essentially keeps the dogs safe but it helps keep the rattlesnakes safe,” Parmley said.

The training is based off scent. The goal is to get the dogs to recognize the smell of rattlesnake before they can begin associating it with fear.

“They can get their nose right on top of that snake and be able to get a really good scent on them,” he said.

Parmley uses humanely de-fanged rattlesnakes that aren’t venomous. He allows the dogs to get up close to the snake while blowing a fan, spreading the scent to the dogs. Once they get acclimated to the snake, he starts using a low impulse from an e-collar to simulate a snake bite.

“They have to smell, see, hear the rattlesnake before I apply that impulse so they are making that association,” he said.

Ashlee Baer and her husband Tanner Thornton took their dog, Knox, to training after an encounter with a rattlesnake last summer.

“He was off leash and he was in front of us and I heard the rattle and immediately freaked out,” Baer said.

The snake never bit her dog, but it was enough to scare her.

“If this training, if he gets it, I’ll feel better about it and just have more confidence in both of us,” she said.

The dogs catch on quickly and start associating the smell with a simulated snake bite.

“What I like to see from the dog is once they pick that scent up is they want to turn around and go the other way,” Parmley said.

Before long, all the dogs in the class start turning around as soon as they catch a whiff.

“It is a relief to watch it click with him and just to make sure he does get it, like, ‘that things scary,’” Baer said.

The training, she said, brings her peace of mind as she gets ready to head outdoors this summer.

“I’m ready to get back there,” Baer said, “get back hiking.”

Parmley teaches several training courses during the summer.

You can find more information on the classes on Barley’s Canine Recreation’s site.