Raised on the East Coast, I had never heard of snake training from a dog until we moved to Arizona, in the southwestern part of the United States. Along with “dry heat,” tarantulas, scorpions, and other creepy creatures are poisonous snakes. Poisonous snakes should be treated with great RESPECT.
At that point in our lives, we had three dogs: a German shepherd, a miniature schnauzer, and a flat-faced pug. Our new neighbors asked us if our dogs had been trained with snakes. Since we didn’t know anything about snake training, our neighbors suggested that we call the trainers who lived in a nearby town and register.
At first, we put the idea aside until we discovered that some rattlesnakes had wondered in our backyard. Rattlesnakes are protected by the state of Arizona, so an authorized person must properly remove them from your property rather than kill them yourself, for which there is a hefty fine. That’s when we made the decision to learn more about snake training, as we didn’t want any of our beloved pets to be bitten by a wary rattlesnake. The venom of a rattlesnake can seriously injure or even kill a small dog, and most dogs are very curious creatures. Snake training sounded like a step in the right direction for us and our pets.
Trainers’ notes: The trainers who offered this service were also veterinarians and trained exotic animals for the cinema. They explained how snake training worked and we made an appointment to train the three dogs. We learned that snakes are poisonous, not poisonous. And a rattlesnake has its full amount of venom at birth, so it can be more dangerous since it has not learned to control the amount of venom that is dispersed when it bites. Also, rattlesnakes are naturally shy and prefer to be left alone and not poked with a stick or the nose of a curious dog.
Training day – 1st session: On the day of our appointment we arrived at the farm and were greeted by animals and birds of all kinds. There was everything from llamas to monkeys and even a giant poodle, an old circus dog that was bigger than a Great Dane, or any other large breed we had seen before. Looking around the area, we found it to be quite an interesting place. As we walked towards the training area, the little Pug poked his nose through the bars of the fence where a flame was looking at us curiously, and the flame immediately spat it out! It’s not nice, but we certainly laughed a lot. Pug didn’t think it was funny at all.
The training area consisted of a large oval-shaped lawn area populated with some trees and a large box in the middle. A dirt road completely surrounded the oval. At the end of the oval, the dirt road continued toward a large red barn.
There were a few other people there with dogs of all shapes and sizes. When it was our turn, I went first with our German shepherd. She was outfitted with a shock collar that was attached to a very long rope (like a clothesline rope), and I was told to casually follow the dirt path to the right of the grassy area, moving toward the top of the oval. letting the dog have his freedom to roam. The leash was supposed to be very loose and we were told to move nonchalantly, allowing the dog to get ahead of me. Once we got to the top of the oval, the coach said to casually turn towards the oval and start walking slowly towards the center towards the big box. The dog and came out in front of me, sniffing down the path as we slowly made our way to the center toward the box.
How this really works and still works:
The box in the center is double-wired for added security and is filled with various rattlesnakes. First the dog smells the snakes and then she hears them. Natural curiosity draws you closer to the box to sniff more closely and see this new smell, noise, and movement. As soon as the dog is very close with his nose close to the snakes, and the handler knows that the dog has smelled, heard and seen the snakes, he discharges it at a very high level through the shock collar causing the dog move. yells when in pain that the dog now associates with snakes. The dog will not forget this!
Immediately, the trainer tells me to run to the side of the oval and comfort the dog, so that the dog never associates the pain or the “bite” with the owner. After comforting ourselves a bit, we were instructed to follow the path to the other end of the oval and begin walking towards the center again from this opposite end. Our dog immediately stopped, lowered her tail, and like German Shepherds do, blocked my path to keep me from moving on, and I heard her make a low growl.
We did this procedure with our other two dogs, and the results were the same each time with the exception that neither the Schnauzer nor the Pug blocked our path, instead they stopped in their tracks and did not advance further towards the snake box. We praised each dog and got to safety.
Training day – 2nd session: After two weeks, we returned to the farm again to see if the snake training lesson had been learned and ingrained in the dog’s memory. Only this time, they had placed the snake box on the dirt road near the open barn door. And a wheelbarrow had been tipped over to partially hide the box.
The german shepherd: The trainer tells us to take our dog on a very loose leash and start walking down the dirt road to the barn and the hidden snakes. Once again our German Shepherd doesn’t get very far before he stops and crosses to prevent me from moving further in that direction again growling to alert me to danger. At this point, I praise her and go back to the waiting area.
The Mini Schnauzer: When the Schnauzer headed down the dirt road, she stopped and turned to get away from danger. We praised her and returned to the waiting area.
The Pug: And, the little Pug came a little closer than our other two dogs, but then it stopped in its tracks and its curly tail fully uncoiled. This is the sign that the dogs know there is danger ahead and should NOT go there. It’s important to always watch your dog’s body language for signs that something is wrong. Praise and return to the waiting area.
Our trainers told us that this lesson would last a lifetime for the dogs. They also said that although it wasn’t necessary to bring them back, but if we felt like we wanted a refresher after a year or two, we could come back free of charge, but they doubted it wouldn’t be necessary. The lesson was deeply ingrained in his memory.
Results: In another case, nearly three years later, when another rattlesnake found its way into our backyard, we found that the dogs still remembered their lesson and stayed away, coming to alert us. Good dogs!
After our Mini Schnauzer passed away a few years later, we purchased a standard poodle puppy. We also train him with snakes and, as with the other dogs, he has never forgotten his lesson.
We knew our dogs would be safe as long as they were out and about, alerting us to any poisonous snakes lurking in the area, whether we were walking or just walking through the desert.
I can tell you from my own personal experience that snake training really works! However, I would not recommend anyone who has not had experience with this training method to try it on their own. Handling rattlesnakes, especially those that still have venom, and knowing what signals the dogs are sending should be handled by a professional trainer.