Nothing can ruin a great time outdoors with your dog like a run-in with poisonous snake. If your dog tangles with a snake, the results can be deadly—for the dog.
A variety of poisonous snakes can be found throughout the U.S., with rattlesnakes being the most common in the West, Midwest and Southeast; cottonmouths found most often in the South, and copperheads located in the East. All of these snakes prefer to be left alone and will only strike if they feel threatened. Yet all it takes is a single bite from one of these reptiles to seriously injure or kill your dog.
So what can you do to keep your dog from coming into contact with a poisonous snake? How can you teach him to stay far away from poisonous snakes? The answer is snake aversion training.
Snake aversion training (sometimes called snake avoidance training) teaches dogs to fear snakes without actually putting them at risk of being bitten. Dog trainers who specialize in this type of conditioning help the dog associate something unpleasant with a poisonous snake.
“It’s imperative that the dog learn the scent, sound and sight of a live rattlesnake,” says Southern California dog trainer Megan Kelly with SoCalK9 Training. “Most strikes occur when the dog doesn’t even see the snake. If the dog knows the scent and the sound before the snake is even in sight, they stand a good chance of avoiding the snake all together.”
Although studies are being done on purely positive methods for training snake aversion, most avoidance courses are taught using electronic collars that provide a mild shock to the dog to teach him to fear snakes.
“Our course is set up with live rattlesnakes in cages, placed under shrubs and brush, in areas a dog would typically encounter a snake on trail,” says Kelly. “Once the dog has been through the course and picked up on the scent and sound of the caged snakes, they are presented with a live snake uncaged at a safe distance. At this point, 98 percent of dogs are already averse to the sound and scent, and want to get as far from the loose snake as possible.”
Just because a dog has been trained in snake avoidance doesn’t mean he has been snake-proofed for life. Most dogs will need their training reinforced at some point.
“Generally speaking, adult dogs—especially those with formal obedience training—will carry the rattlesnake avoidance training for several years,” says Kelly. “It’s recommended that puppies 6 months to 1 year of age attend the training again the following year or sooner if their response to the snake and e-collar stimulus was minimal.”
Kelly notes that rattlesnakes in different regions of the country carry a different scent, so if your dog was trained in one area of the country, it is recommended to re-train your dog if you move to a different region.
Whether your dog is a trusted companion or hunting partner, if you live in snake country, it’s good idea to consider snake aversion training. It may save your dog’s life.