How can you keep your dog from being bitten by a venomous snake? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer and there are no guarantees.
Seal Your Yard. Many, if not most, snake bites to dogs occur on their own property. Neither your family nor your dog is safe from venomous snakes. Remove food sources, such as: rodents, mice, birdseed, crickets, pet food and secure garbage cans. Remove habitats where they may hide, such as: woodpiles, vegetation, underbrush and rocks. Seal holes and block entrances under your house. Install rattlesnake safety fencing. (See Wikihow.com for suggestions). There are no spray or scatter products that have proven to be effective.
Exercise and Activities. Some dogs have an inborn aversion to snakes, others do not and are fascinated by them. Don’t allow your dog to walk or roam loose in known snake infested areas. The San Diego Natural History Museum herpetology research center advises, “Common sense is the best defense. Cultivate an attitude of alertness. Never let a dog run loose; always keep a dog leashed no matter how good it normally is.” It’s against the law to have your dog off leash in many counties except in a few select areas, such as dog parks and dog beach.
Dogs need to run and sniff. Keep your beloved dog safe and happy by providing safe-environment exercise activities such as agility class, swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, dog-surfing, dock diving, paddle boarding, or join a flyball team. Take your dog shopping with you. Use a Manners Minders®, play upstairs fetch, chase a lure toy, or have your dog fetch your tennis serve into the pool!
The Vaccine. Bites should always be treated immediately as a veterinary emergency. However, if you live in or frequent areas where rattlesnakes roam, get the vaccine. It’s generally effective for most venomous rattlesnakes and side effects are rare. The vaccine costs approximately $20 and may dramatically reduce the effects of venom, the cost of treatment, and recovery time in the hospital. Make sure your vet carries antivenin. More dog vaccine details here…
Snake Avoidance Training. Many snake bites occur by inadvertently disturbing a snake. No amount of training can prevent that. Promotional claims, anecdotal reports, and unverifiable statistics abound about the benefits of snake-aversion shock training for your dog. The use of shock collars in dog training has become the standard for snake aversion “training” despite the lack of evidence for its efficacy. This oversight has led to inaccurate conclusions regarding the benefits of positive punishment by pet parents, trainers and some scientists as well. Empirical evidence is requisite to the scientific method. An assumption of efficacy regarding shock snake aversion training has far-reaching and possibly dangerous consequences. It may give people a false sense of security. However, it may have serious and permanent unintended and undesirable side-effects. Shock snake-aversion training seeks to instill the flight response. However, the fight or flight response is often erratic and unpredictable, i.e., the dog could “freeze”, the dog could “fight”, or the dog could easily panic and get bitten by the snake. Dr. Karen Overall PhD VMD MA DiplACVB tells us (2007), “There are no scientific studies on whether shock teaches dogs to avoid snakes, in part because the population data on the range of “normal” canine responses to snakes are lacking completely.” Snake aversion “training” has not been shown to be either a valid or reliable method of snake deterrence (see also Pages 32-34).
Science must ask and seek to answer the obvious questions: Does shock “training” do what it purports to do? What are the side-effects? On whose scale would the benefits outweigh the risks and cost to the dog and, moreover, to public safety? Behavior experts tell us that shock is easily misapplied and can traumatize animals. The San Diego Humane Society and SPCA does not endorse rattlesnake aversion training for companion animals. Stephanie Shain, director of outreach for companion animals, advises that “If people choose to work with a trainer, they must be sure that the trainer’s methods are safe. Trainers should never use electronic aids like shock collars which will hurt your dog and can damage your bond with him.” Alternative, less aversive training methods are springing up because of the need and the cry from dog lovers to find another, safer way.
Penny DiLorento owner of www.K9DogPark.com offers Snake Avoidance classes using rattlesnake sight, sound, smell, and simulations as an alternative to programs that use shock and live snakes that have had their fangs pulled out with pliers, or mouths sewn or taped shut. New courses that teach your dog to alert you immediately upon encountering a snake, similar to basic service dog training and real life scenarios of an outdoor hike, are underway with Jaimie Robinson at SnakeAvoidanceWithoutShock.com in Tucson, Arizona. For example, the sound of a rattle is the cue to come to you. We agree with Penny DiLorento, “Learning should never hurt”.
Linda Michaels, M.A, Creator of the Hierarchy of Dog Needs, and speaker is rated one of the top ten trainers in the U.S, She may be reached at 858.259.9663 or by email:LindaPositively@gmail.com for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com
Originally published in the U~T San Diego countywide newspaper, Pet School column. © All rights reserved.