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Enjoy Magazine

Will's Skills Professional Services for Rattlesnakes

08/08/2013 11:18AM ● By Enjoy Magazine
Cody Will gave his first entomology presentation when in first grade. Dressing up in a suit for his big day, his mom commented that he did a nice job dressing up as a teacher. He responded that he was sporting the look of a principal. Will has always taken his passions seriously, from breeding tarantulas for sale as a high school student—“a hobby that paid for itself”—to his current seasonal business of rattlesnake relocation and aversion training for dogs. “Basically, I train dogs to stay away from rattlesnakes so they don’t get bit,” says Will, 22.

When Will’s family moved to Cottonwood from Sacramento, they found themselves dealing with a lot of rattlesnakes on their property. They started out with the typical response­—the head of a shovel—but eventually Will began to feel bad and looked for an alternative solution. After careful study of rattlesnake behavior, he began capturing the snakes and releasing them far from human habitat. Word of his skills got out and soon the neighbors started calling for his help.

“It got to the point where I was getting enough calls that I started to think it would become a viable small business,” he says.

Will’s Skillz Professional Services, established in March, offers a variety of services, from rattlesnake relocation, to awareness presentations, to home audits that identify where rattlesnakes might hide. By far the most popular service, however, is the rattlesnake aversion training for dogs.

Using expertly muzzled juvenile and adult rattlesnakes found in Cottonwood, Will puts dogs through exercises that help them understand the danger of rattlesnakes through sight, sound and smell. “I always go at the dog’s pace,” says Will.

“It’s just so cool to see a dog go from where they want to play with a rattlesnake to where they want nothing to do with it,” he says.

Will uses a precise, appropriately applied jolt from a shock collar to teach. “Domestic dogs don’t really have a natural instinct that tells them that snakes are dangerous,” he says. While he never enjoys employing a shock, he is careful to register only the amount appropriate to deliver the lesson effectively. Intensity varies widely by animal. “The shock, compared to the rattlesnake bites, is absolutely nothing,” he says.

Many people believe that once a dog is bitten by a rattlesnake, it will have learned a lesson and stay away from snakes in the future. However, Will says, “A lot of the pain comes after the bite, not in the moment. The dogs don’t necessarily learn from the bite because they’re confused because the pain comes later.”

A key to Will’s safety is a pair of needle-proof gloves he imported from Britain. “I’ve been bitten on the glove three or four times now, so I know they work,” he says. The gloves give him more flexibility and agility, as he muzzles the rattlesnakes himself before each lesson.

“I don’t think he has a false sense of security. He respects the snakes,” says his mom, Denette Will. Asked how she feels about him handling rattlesnakes so frequently, she says, “I wasn’t thrilled, but he’s been handling snakes and spiders and reptiles all his life and he’s always handled things properly.” She and husband Geoff have embraced Will’s business but say, “The only reason it was supported was because he earned it.”

Will, a Shasta College graduate, is using his profits to fund his education at the University of California at Davis, where he will enroll as an entomology major this fall.

He plans to spend spring break training dogs in rattlesnake aversion, which will have them ready before the snakes come out in the summer. Then he’ll return home for the summer to get people through snake season.

“He recognized a need,” his mother says of the unique business. “He saw it going on in Southern California, but it wasn’t happening here.”

“Bottom line is, it definitely works,” Will says. “It could very well save a dog’s life.” Of the dog owners who use his service, he says, “It’s a good investment on their part, extremely rewarding on mine and obviously good for the dog.”

“I do this because I have a passion for snakes,” he adds. “But I also love dogs. It’s pretty equal and that’s why I ended up doing it.”

For such a new business, there are already many North State dog owners who are glad he did. •

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