How to Teach a Dog to Avoid Snakesby Adrienne Farricelli
The inquisitive nature of dogs makes them prone to encounters with friendly and not-so-friendly critters. While a random vis-a-vis with a porcupine may lead to a prickly situation and a quick rendezvous with a skunk may lead to a stinky scenario, an encounter with the wrong type of snake in the wrong type of mood may lead to serious trouble. If you live in an area where snakes abound, you may want to work on snake-proofing your dog.
Educate yourself about the types of snakes in your area and how to avoid them. You don't need to become an expert herpetologist -- just try to avoid hiking with your dog in areas with tall grass, bushes and brush and keep nighttime walks to a minimum in the summer when most rattlesnakes become nocturnal to avoid the peak temperatures of the day. Most of all, manage your dog by keeping him on leash so he cannot nose around by the many bushes and holes, recommends Allison Titcomb from Tucson Herpetological Society.
Polish your dog's recall command. Should your dog spot a snake despite your precautions, you want him to reliably come to you before he gets into trouble and risks getting bit by a grumpy fellow. Practice this life-saving command as much as you can in different places and with different distractions, possibly with the aid of a reputable dog trainer.
Train the "leave it" command. Start by holding one treat in your hand and several in your pocket. Show the treat in your hand and close your fist the moment your dog tries to get it while firmly saying "leave it." At this point your dog will display a variety of begging behaviors. Ignore them. When he starts giving up, praise and give him the treat in your pocket. Next, try holding the treat in your open hand and saying "leave it." When your dog ignores the treat, praise and reward him by giving another treat from your pocket. Build up to training your dog to ignore a treat on the floor, toys, shoes, sticks and other distractions.
Place a fake snake in the middle of a big room and practice walking by it with your dog. As soon as your dog shows any interest towards the snake say "leave it" and then praise and reward him for following you. As your dog gets good at this, further proof the training by leaving the snake in outdoor areas and near tall grass. Try using different types of fake snakes, and if feasible, have a helper tie a long string to the snake and drag it around tall grass while you further practice the "leave it" command.
Upgrade by using a live or dead snake. This step is important since fake snakes have no real "eau de snake" smell and you want to train your dog to recognize and stay away from the sight, sound and smell of snakes. A non-venomous species such as a bullsnake may be used for practice sessions. Walk by the snake and proof your training by using the "leave it" command along with your recall. The sight and smell of the snake should become a cue to ignore it and come to you. With careful management, loads of practice and a polished recall and leave it command, you should up the chances for Rover to stay safe and out of trouble.
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- Plastic snakes
- Dead or live snake
- High-value treats
- Snake avoidance training takes time and does not happen overnight.
- Minimize the chances your dog may chase or kill snakes. Always praise lavishly and reward your dog when he comes when called.
- If you can't practice with a live snake, place the fake snake in a tank with a real snake so it acquires some real snake scent.
- Mow your grass often and remove shrubs and other plants that attract snakes. Install a snake-proof fence or protect your yard from snakes by using a snake repellent product that is safe to use around pets.
- If you live in an area inhabited by rattlesnakes, consult with your vet about having your dog receive a rattlesnake vaccine and research who carries antivenin in your neck of the woods in case your dog is ever bitten.
- Understand that no training will ever be 100 percent effective.
- Never use the "come" command with an angry tone of voice or to punish your dog.
- Avoid allowing your dog to rehearse snake-chasing and -killing behaviors as this will only reinforce interactions with snakes.
- Consider that traditional snake avoidance training using shock collars can be very stressful for both dog and owner.