Sadly, you can’t just tell your dog to avoid snakes. While dogs are pretty smart, they don’t understand this sort of complex language. Therefore, to teach your dog to avoid snakes, you must train them to. While this may sound a bit complicated, it can be pretty straightforward. As long as you appropriately teach your dog the correct response with positive reinforcement, they will often avoid snakes.
However, avoiding “snakes” in a training situation is a lot different than avoiding snakes in the real world. Therefore, it’s important to train this response well and often. You shouldn’t rely on it solely, though. It is still a good idea to avoid grassy areas where snakes may be common.
Below, we’ll take a look at how to train your dog to avoid snakes (including venomous ones). Keep in mind, this is an advanced technique. Therefore, it helps for your dog to already be trained in basic obedience.
We highly recommend your dog already be trained in basic obedience. Having your dog sit and stay is essential for this training. However, the training also assumes that your dog has a pretty decent recall and a target command. We’ll be having your dog come back to you when encountering the snake. Therefore, their recall should be reliable (or you’ll never be able to apply it to snakes).
You’ll also need to have a kennel or someplace to put your dog after the snake is encountered. Even if your dog avoids the snake the first time, you shouldn’t chance it by letting your dog revisit the snake. Therefore, we highly recommend putting your dog somewhere safe until the snake leaves the area. Of course, this may be your house, as well.
You’ll also need to get some rubber snakes. Aim for various sizes and colors, as you want to train your dog to avoid all snakes. Canisters of snake odor are also useful. You can use snake skins, urine, and even dead snakes. Concentrate on snakes native to your region. Sometimes, local zoos or nature centers may have these items available.
The 7 Steps on How to Teach Your Dog to Avoid Venomous Snakes
1. Train a Reliable Sequence
First, you want to train your dog to recall and then go into their house or kennel. If your dog already knows a recall command and is familiar with their kennel (or house), then this step shouldn’t be too difficult. Simply recall your dog when outside and then go into the safe space. Do this over and over again until your dog does it almost automatically.
You want your dog to do this step easily and efficiently. Otherwise, you may find that your canine struggles when distractions are added.
2. Move the Training to a High-Risk Area
Next, transfer this training to an area where snakes may be found. If your property is grassy and may contain snakes, then you can continue working on your property. However, it helps to practice on a nature trail and other public areas where snakes may be found. Train when distractions are likely to be minimal.
Then, simply recall your dog and take them to a safe place. In a public situation, this is likely to be your car. Of course, remember to reward your dog each step of the way.
3. Link the Recall to the Snake
Now, you’ll need to rig a rubber snake up to make it seem like it moves in a realistic manner. To do this, you’ll need an extra pair of hands. Attach the rubber snake to a fishing line, preferably long enough so that the other person can be out of view. Practice a few times to ensure that the movement and rigging work.
Once you’re ready, bring the dog into the area. Let the dog explore a bit and hang out so that they get used to their environment. Your dog will recall more reliably if they are already used to the environment. Eventually, bring your dog into the area with the snake. Move the snake across the dog’s path whenever they are within visual range. When your dog sees the snake, sound the recall cue and take the dog to the safe space.
Finally, you’ll want to practice this several times to ensure that your dog begins to associate the snake with the recall. You want the snake to be the recall signal, in other words.
4. Practice with Other Types of Snakes
We recommend practicing with several different snakes, as well. Using a range of colors and sizes helps ensure that your dog recognizes them all as snakes. Vary the movement as much as possible, as well.
Often, it takes a few tries to get your dog to re-respond after switching the visual cue. The best way to approach this is to re-train the dog when you switch visual cues. Once your dog has learned to avoid a few different types of snakes, they should reliably avoid all types of snakes.
(Some dogs have more difficulty with this than others. Some dogs automatically see all snakes as snakes, while others may need to be trained on different visual appearances.)
5. Add in the Scent
Once your dog responds to the snake visual reliably, it’s time to add in scent. Preferably, your dog should avoid a snake when they see or smell one. This prevents your dog from accidentally stepping on a mobile snake (most of the time, anyway).
Simply put the canister in a place where a real snake may end up. Once the dog sniffs it, issue the recall command. Do this over and over until your dog starts to recall whenever they sniff the canister.
To make sure your dog is trained on the scent (and not the canister), practice with several dummy canisters too. Place the real canister and several fake ones around a field. Only issue the recall command when your dog smells the snake canister.
6. Add Variety
Now, all that’s left to do is add variety to the exercise. You want your dog to avoid the snake no matter what it looks or smells like. The best way to do this is to use many different types of rubber snakes and snake scents. Use snake skins, dead snakes, and snake urine (if available). The more things your dog learns to recall to, the less likely they are to avoid the recall with a real snake.
You should use both the scent and visual in some cases. In other cases, use just one or the other.
7. Add in Some “Rest” Days
When you’re cueing your dog to recall all the time, your dog can become hyper-adjusted to the command. It’s at the forefront of their mind, making it easier for the training to succeed. However, you want your canine to avoid real snakes no matter when the last practice day was. Therefore, once your dog reliably recalls when a snake is spotted or smelled, it’s time to add some rest days.
Start by having a single normal outing where a snake recall isn’t issued. Then, practice the recall the following day. Once your dog still responds, slowly elongate the time between trainings. It helps to keep your dog as practiced as possible, but training a snake recall every day (or even once a week) isn’t practical.
Training your dog to avoid snakes isn’t impossible. However, it is an advanced technique that requires your dog to already have a strong recall. Simply put, we want to build an association between seeing the snake and your dog recalling back to you. Therefore, when they see a real snake, the dog will run to you instead of investigating further.
Creating this association isn’t difficult, but it requires a lot of practice. Your dog needs to respond to many different visuals and scents, as snakes can look and smell very different.
Featured Image Credit: haraka Wickramarathna, Shutterstock