How to Teach Your Dog to Avoid Snakes (Aversion Training)

Do you live in an area infested with venomous snakes? You are probably worried that your dog may encounter one when taking it out on a walk or while strolling alone in your yard.

Most snakes will not bite unless provoked. But since your canine is naturally curious, the sight of the moving reptile will instinctively make them want to play, chew, or kill it. That will force the snake to respond to the threat through biting.

Fortunately, there are several methods you can use to protect your dog from such life-threatening situations. Below, we provide a step-by-step guide on two effective techniques you can apply. Read on to learn how you can teach your dog to avoid snakes.


How to Teach Your Dog to Avoid Snakes

Method One: The “Leave It” Command

“Leave it” is one of the key commands you can teach your dog, as far as their safety is concerned. It relies on the positive reinforcement approach and can be particularly helpful when training your dog to avoid snakes.

In the first stages, you will train the dog to avoid attractions such as foods and toys by rewarding it with higher-value treats whenever it obeys. Once it learns to associate the cue with the reward, you can make the exercise more challenging by replacing the attractions with an actual snake.

Follow the simple steps below.

1. Offer Treats

Woman showing treats to a dog
Image Credit: Pezibear, Pixabay

Place a treat in your open palm and offer it to your dog. Then close your palm and say, “leave it” when it comes close to eating it.

Once it turns its head away, reward it with a higher value treat and say, “yes” or “good.”  You need to be patient in this first step since it may take a while before the dog turns away.

Repeat the process until the dog learns to withdraw upon hearing the words. If successful, proceed to step two.

2. Leave the Treat on the Ground

Raise the stakes by placing the treat on the ground with your dog on a leash. When it approaches to investigate, say, “leave it.”

Say “Yes!” or “Good!” and reward the canine with a higher-value treat if it obeys the command. But if it ignores it, pull the leash in your direction, and repeat the command.

Repeat the procedure until the dog learns to obey the command. Then proceed to step three if successful.

3. Introduce a Snake

Tricolor hypomelanistic Honduran milk snake
Image Credit: Gearsolid RT, Shutterstock

Replace the treat with a muzzled snake and repeat the procedure in step two. But remember to repeat the process until the dog learns to react to the snake by retreating.

Alternatively, you can use a plastic snake if you can’t find a real one. However, you need a rope to tie the toy and an assistant to wiggle it, imitating the movements of an actual snake.

Command Method Drawbacks

The problem with the “leave it” command is twofold. First, it can only work effectively if the dog encounters the snake in your presence. Secondly, you should see the danger before your dog notices the snake or at least be close enough to react before your dog puts itself in harm’s way.

Of course, you will not be close to your dog every time. So, what happens when it encounters a snake when wandering off on its own?

You may have trained the dog to retreat whenever it sees a snake. But there is always a limit to what positive reinforcement can achieve. In many cases, the dog will not succeed in fighting off the urge to play with the snake.

The answer to this problem lies in our second technique, which combines both positive and negative reinforcements.

Method Two: Using a Remote Electric Collar

Today, many people are shifting to softer training techniques, such as the one we described above. But although the methods are favorable to the dog’s welfare, they are unreliable.

There must be consequences at the end of the day. The dog needs to know that approaching the snake will worsen the situation for them physically. Otherwise, you will not succeed in dissuading it from engaging.

The remote electric collar device causes slight discomfort when you activate it. You can use it to condition the dog to recognize and avoid the snake. Reward it with food treats, toys, or pats to reinforce the behavior whenever it avoids the snake.

You can employ this technique by following the four simple steps outlined below.

1. Use a Baby Snake

Honduran milk snake winding in the hand
Image Credit: Aleksandr Klochko, Shutterstock

Place a muzzled baby snake in the open, where the dog can easily spot it as it moves. Then let it get close on its terms.

Activate the collar and pull the leash towards you when the canine gets a good “whiff.” And repeat the process until it starts avoiding the baby snake.

2. Use Shed Skin

In this second step, you will teach your dog to avoid a nearby snake by recognizing its smell. That will help when the dog is poking inside a hole, beneath a log, or any other hiding place.

Place the shed skin in the open and let the dog approach it. Then activate the collar and pull it back towards you when it gets too close.

The dog may stay away from the skin even before you activate the collar if it has a good sense of smell. That’s because it will already be familiar with the scent from step one.

3. Use Snake Sound

woman listening to a music with her dog at home
Image Credit: Monkey Business Images, Shutterstock

Teaching your dog to recognize snake sounds will keep it safe from snakes hiding in tall grasses or behind bushes. You can use a device with a snake sound recording, including your smartphone.

Place the device on the ground. When the dog approaches, play the sound while simultaneously activating the collar. If you repeat it enough times, the canine will associate the sound with discomfort and avoid it in the future.

4. Use an Adult Snake

This final step will expose the snake to a muzzled adult snake. Most dogs will need no correction at this point since they will avoid the snake without help.

Here, you can take the opportunity to vary the approach by placing the snake in difficult-to-spot areas. The training is complete if the dog wants nothing to do with the snake.

Remember to complete each step with positive reinforcement. Reward the dog with toys, food, or pats whenever they avoid the snake.

Electric Collar Safety Concerns

dalmatian dog wearing a collar outdoors
Image Credit: RebeccasPictures, Pixabay

Many hesitate to employ this technique because they fear harming or hurting their canine friends. Some rumors even claim that the collars can shock the dogs.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Many collars use sounds to help deter dogs from doing things they should not. Some collars only provide a mild static sensation and will not physically harm the dog.

Nevertheless, mistakes can still occur if you’re not careful when employing this technique. For instance, you must use the right level of intensity for each specific dog and demonstrate compassion and empathy. Timing is also critical when activating the collar.

Failure to do that can lead to behavior problems. It can fuel pre-existing fear, anxiety, or aggression. Furthermore, poor timing can make the dog associate the discomfort with other things, such as the trainer or the environment.

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How to Keep Snakes Away from Your Dog

Training your dogs to avoid snakes is essential. But you can still take additional precautions if you live in an area heavily infested with snakes.

Follow the steps below to keep the native snakes in your state at bay.

  • Erect a snake-proof fence
  • Keep the grass in your yard short
  • Remove debris and other possible hiding places
  • Remove any vegetation growing over your fence
  • Fill gaps in your fence
  • Fill holes under your house
  • Keep the rodents away
medical treatment of sick husky dog in vet clinic
Image Credit: Pressmaster, Shutterstock

Does an Already Bitten Dog Require Training?

Yes. You should train your dog to avoid snakes, whether they have suffered bites or not. It may take a long time for the symptoms to appear after the attack, and your dog won’t understand that it got unwell because of the bite.

Do You Need to Use Venomous Snakes?

No. You don’t need to use venomous snakes when training your dog. That’s because the canine won’t distinguish harmless snakes from venomous ones but will stay away from all.

divider-pawFinal Thoughts

80% of dogs can survive a snake bite if treated early. However, you might not be around to respond promptly, and survival is not guaranteed even after making it to the vet. Therefore, training your dog to avoid snakes is essential.

Training your dog to respond to the “leave it” command whenever it encounters a snake is one straightforward method you can use. But the technique is unreliable if you are not present during the encounter.

On the other hand, the electric collar will allow you to train your dogs to avoid snakes even when alone. It uses a combination of positive and negative reinforcement. Although reliable, you should be careful when employing the technique since complications can occur.

Featured Image Credit: Tharaka Wickramarathna, Shutterstock

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