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Canine Snake Avoidance Training

It’s the old saying “prevention is better than cure”. But how do you truly and reliably prevent dogs from being bitten by snakes? In reality, a snake is like the most amazing, stimulating and irresistible chew toy for most dogs that they can’t help but be curious to examine, play with and sometimes try to kill.

A few months ago, we published an article by Mark Pelley, the Snake Hunter about understanding how to identify and generally prevent and manage snake bites in dogs. This was extremely well read across Australia and as a result, this follow-up will discuss proven training methods that teach dogs to avoid snakes and what such training is all about.

The Importance of Canine Snake Avoidance Training

Your dog is your best friend. They are loyal to you for their entire life and do everything they can to please you, including showing you the great job they did chewing up your favourite blanket. 

But your dog, like you, also resides in Australia whereby we have the most venomous snakes in the world and there are a lot of them! Snakes easily crawl into our homes and backyards on a regular basis or can otherwise be readily found where you take your dogs for a walk. Therefore, the likelihood that your dog will eventually encounter a snake is high. 

When it does so, your dog will be driven to approach the snake. If your dog is not properly trained to avoid snakes, the cost of treating a dog for a snake bite is typically between $4000 - $7000 (2017/2018) and there is no guarantee of survival. By preventing snake bites in dogs, you are able to help save your pocket, emotional heartache and your best friend.

How does Canine Snake Avoidance Training work? 

Effective canine snake avoidance training is focused around helping dogs comprehend, both cognitively and emotionally, that snakes are to avoided at all times and in all circumstances. 

The dog needs to first intellectually understand that even though it wants to approach a snake, that the snake will cause it more discomfort greater than the desire to go near the snake. 

At the same time, the dog needs to understand through operant conditioning, that there is a reward associated with avoiding the snake and this process is repeated until the lesson is learned. 

Once the dog understands what it is to do, and not to do around a snake, more reliable outcomes are obtained when we combine learned behaviour through classical conditioning with an involuntary emotional response. This reinforces the desired behaviour whereby active avoidance is demonstrated by the dog who vigorously pulling away from the snake. This process is repeated until it is established within the dog to avoid snakes no matter what. 

In other words, training includes both reinforcement to increase the desired behaviour as well as punishment to decrease the undesired behaviour (approaching snakes). 

Please note that there is no cruelty involved in the training. When you weigh up the serious health, financial and emotional aspects of losing a dog to a snake bite, you recognise the importance of dogs learning to avoid snakes through operant and classical conditioning.

Training occurs with different snakes over two separate training sessions and includes both visual and olfactory cues for the snake. Dogs are taught on a individual 1:1 basis or in small groups depending upon the specific needs of the owners and the canine. 

The training typically occurs at a dog training facility or at the client’s own home and places where walks are frequent. There are set breaks during training as well as a break between the two sessions to maximise the effectiveness of the learning in tried and tested conditions.

Why Reward Only Training Does NOT work (in Canine Snake Avoidance)

Both reinforcements and punishments are core tools through which behaviour is modified. Reward only training, while effective in certain circumstances, does not produce the reliability required in life threatening situations involving snake bites in dogs. 
Behaviours, such as the strong desire to examine a snake, cannot be extinguished in dogs through the withholding of rewards. Instead we need to utilise a system that has reliable outcomes. 

Reliable Training 

Almost any trainer can teach a dog to avoid snakes when the owner is present (most of the time). How do you know that the dog will continue to avoid snakes when it is home and you are away at work? 

What makes training ‘reliable’ is when the dog continues to apply such training, despite the owner not being present. This can only be achieved when the dog truly understands during training that snakes are to be avoided regardless of the presence of the owner and in all situations and circumstances. 

#1. Remote Training Collars

Since learning and undertaking canine snake avoidance training, one of the biggest misunderstandings in the dog industry appears to be related to remote training collars or “e-collars”. These are often misunderstood as “shock collars” whereby it is perceived that trainers deliberately cause harm to a disobedient animal by electrocuting them. 

Otherwise, a common mistake by dog trainers is the incorrect use of remote training collars which cause the dog to have fear or at least become wise to the collar. This can create a dog that is obedient when the collar is on but disobedient when the collar is off. 

When used properly, remote training collars are an extremely effective tool in teaching dogs to avoid snakes. Having tried a remote training collar on myself, I can attest that when applied correctly, they cause a strange discomfort but not actual pain. It is critical that the use of e-collars is done through compassion, empathy and a deep understanding of fear in an animal so as to not exploit this fear. Minimal dosage to achieve the desired outcome is to be applied at all times whereby the dog is taught slowly, deliberately and with compassion. 

If incorrect dosages are applied, the dog will become fearful, shut down emotionally and refuse to explore. Furthermore the dog can become intensely location sensitive and associate correction with the area as oppose to the snake or incorrectly associate correction to environmental objects and not the snake such as: leaves, grass, leash pressure or the trainer. Therefore it is essential to use only those thoroughly trained in the use of remote collars to ensure that your dog is taught properly and with compassion.

#2. No Previous Training is Required 

A frequent question I’m asked is whether or not the dog needs to be previously “trained” to a certain level of obedience before it can undertake canine snake avoidance programs. Instead, before any training begins, we assess the dog to see if it is suitable for training. This includes an assessment of the dog’s emotional state, stress levels, aggression levels and general temperament. It is more the dogs personality which is an indicator as to whether it is suitable for such training as oppose to its current level of obedience training.

#3. Why a Dog previously Bitten by a Snake still Needs Training 

If your dog has previously been bitten by a snake, it will not likely understand that it was the snake that caused it to become extremely unwell. Due to the time difference between the snake bite and onset of symptoms, the dog will usually not make the association between snake and the suffering. As such, snake avoidance training is still required for dogs previously bitten.

#4. Using Venomous Snakes 

It is a common misconception that training needs to include venomous snakes for dogs to learn to avoid those specific sub species. Dogs perceive the world predominantly through smell and sight. 
When a dog sees a snake, it does not comprehend the difference between a red bellied black snake (venomous) and a green tree python (harmless). 

The dog only sees a snake whether it be big, small, fat, skinny, the dog only understands that this is a snake of some variety. Similarly, when a dog smells any creature, the dog predominantly identifies an animal in three ways:

1. Individual (as in – this is Mark, or this is Joe).
2. Gender
3. Species (this is a dog, this is a snake, this is a human).

As such, as long as the dog understands it needs to avoid snakes, any type, gender, size or pattern, then your dog learns to avoid all snakes, not just specific varieties or only venomous snakes.

#5. Using Rubber Snakes 

A final common question I’m asked is whether or not the dog is at risk from snakes during the training. It is important to remember that training occurs in a controlled environment whereby the dog and snake are both under supervision and are being handled. There are no venomous snakes used so your dog cannot get envenomated. Usually due to the owners fear about snakes, I could be asked to use rubber snakes to teach dogs.

Rubber snakes are a brilliant and effective tool to teach dogs to avoid rubber snakes. However as stated above, the dog will be able to see and smell the difference between a moving live snake, and one made of rubber. As such, the training will be completely ineffective to teach dogs to avoid live snakes.

How to Arrange Canine Avoidance Training

Remember that training is not available in all states and territories of Australia due to local legislation. If interested to undertake canine snake avoidance training, you can contact Mark PelleyThe Snake Hunter in Melbourne, or alternatively Seth Pywell from Perth Dog Trainers, a dog behaviour consultant in Perth. 

This specific training method of teaching dogs was originally discovered by Seth Pywell who was the founder of Canine Snake Avoidance Training in Australia. If you’re not based in Victoria or W.A, we may be able to refer you to your closest canine snake avoidance recommended practitioner.

written by Mark Pelley, March 2018 (all rights reserved).

About Mark ‘ The Snake Hunter’ Pelley

Mark – The Snake Hunter is a Melbourne based venomous snake catcher who regularly features in media for catching dangerous creatures in everyday life scenarios. 

He is frequently consulted by about how to better understand and keep safe around snakes. Mark offers specialised snake avoidance training for dogs in Melbourne. 

For more information, go to Facebook @SnakeHunterAus or

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