Hiking with your dog is like drinking at a dive bar with your slightly unhinged friend. It’s fun. It’s great to spend some time with them. But you know that they’ll end up picking a fight with someone bigger and stronger than them and you’ll be tasked with holding them back.
It doesn’t matter how small your dog is, at some point, it will fancy its chances against a grizzly or mountain lion, and if it sees a rattlesnake, it’ll treat it like a giant rattle toy.
If you want to survive the hike, you need to teach your dog about snake avoidance, also known as, “Don’t start fights with highly venomous snakes”.
Dog Training: Rattlesnake Avoidance
Snake avoidance training is not just important for hikers and adventurous dog walkers. Your pooch can also encounter rattlesnakes in your yard or at the local park, and if you live in a rural area, venomous snake encounters are much more common.
There are a few different training methods for teaching your dog to avoid rattlesnakes. These include positive reinforcement training and shock collars. We wouldn’t recommend the latter, though, and will be focusing on the former.
A shock collar can be effective, and as you could be saving your dog from a deadly rattlesnake bite, you might think that its use is justified. But it’s not always easy to use correctly and you could make your dog more anxious or scared.
If someone that you loved randomly shocked you for no apparent reason, you’d feel pretty angry as well.
The tips and strategies below can help you to effectively train your dog using positive reinforcement.
Short, Sharp Commands
If your dog doesn’t follow orders, teaching snake avoidance is going to be a struggle.
The initial training, therefore, should revolve around teaching your dog commands like “leave it”.
Hold a treat in a closed fist and invite your dog to sniff. Open your hand to expose the treat and then give them the command.
When they pull their head back, reward them with positive reinforcement (simply saying “Yes”, “Good Boy”, or using a clicker), and then give them a better treat with your other hand.
You’ll need to be patient with them as it will take some work.
You can use this method to teach them what the command means and to ensure they keep following it.
During the next steps, you should gradually increase the temptation until they listen to you when you drop food on the floor or ask them to avoid their favorite toys.
Encouraging Good Behavior
This technique encourages your dog to make the right decisions, such as walking away with it encounters a rattlesnake.
Dog owners can use fake snakes and other stimuli to simulate rattlesnakes. They should approach the fake snakes and then let the dog do its thing.
When the dog becomes aware of the stimulus, dog owners should stand still and refrain from saying anything or pulling on the leash.
When the dog eventually disengages, a treat should be provided.
Eventually, the dog learns that ignoring stimuli will lead to a treat, and the less attention it pays to that stimuli, the sooner it will get the treat.
Teaching snake avoidance in this manner can be very time-consuming and you’ll need to be patient, but it’s an effective method.
After all, “leave it” commands only work if you’re not distracted and can actually see the snake. Taking your eyes off your dog even just for a second could lead to a snake encounter and, potentially, a deadly bite.
If you live in rattlesnake country, always keep an eye on your dog when they are walking in the garden and keep them on a leash during walks in areas known to contain snakes.
Dogs don’t understand the risks of approaching a rattlesnake, so some of the responsibility falls on the dog owner.
Can I Pay Someone Else for Rattlesnake Avoidance Training?
There are a number of snake avoidance training programs in the US. These are a good way to train your dog quickly and expertly. Your dog will be trained by an expert and the classes are very reasonably priced. If you want to keep your dog safe, we definitely recommend professional rattlesnake avoidance training.
The Humane Society of Southern Arizona offers snake avoidance programs for just $105 per dog (with discounts for additional dogs). The classes are conducted in person by a local professional.
Arizona is a hotspot for rattlesnakes, so these classes are quite popular. The state is also home to companies like Rattlesnake Ready, which offers dedicated rattlesnake training for dogs.
There are in-person and online rattlesnake avoidance classes and while the price varies by state and company, you can typically expect to pay between $50 and $100 for online classes and between $100 and $200 for in-person dog training.
Are Dogs Naturally Afraid of Rattlesnakes?
Dogs don’t have an instinctive fear of rattlesnakes and may approach them out of curiosity. Some dogs understand that the rattle is something to fear, but many will happily strut toward a rattlesnake and stick their noses where they don’t belong.
You can’t rely on your dog’s self-preservation to avoid venomous snakes, as it doesn’t really have one.
How Deadly Are Rattlesnake Bites to Dogs?
Dogs are significantly more likely to die from snake bites than humans.
Your dog could suffer immensely if it is bitten by a venomous snake. Even if it doesn’t die, it could cause a lot of pain and discomfort and lead to some pretty sizeable medical bills.
What Should I Do If My Dog Is Bitten by a Rattlesnake?
If your dog is bitten by a rattlesnake, your first step is to get it to safety and keep it away from the snake. From there, simply call for an emergency vet and explain the situation.
If you can, carry the dog to the car and take it to the nearest emergency treatment center.
The vet will give your dog anti-venom and clean the wound. They may also prescribe a course of antibiotics to prevent infection.
What Happens if My Dog Won’t Respond to Training?
If your dog isn’t responding to snake avoidance training, take it to a professional. There are specialized snake avoidance classes and behavioral classes that can teach your pooch some essential habits and commands. These will make your life easier and will also keep your dog safe during hikes, walks, and even while playing in your backyard.