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Your learning has commenced

Firstly, I need to compliment you on reading this section.

While it is more detailed, and goes into what makes for an effective training system for your pet, it also indicates a willingness on your part to learn.

And reading up on others is the first place to start.

When I started snake proofing dogs about 12 years ago, we all used a HANDLER BASED, DEFANGED SNAKE SYSTEM.

This system allowed owners to bring their dogs up to a defanged snake laying on the ground.
If the snake struck at the dog;
or the dog showed interest in the snake;
or the dog was in the vicinity of the snake;
Then the instructor would shock (nick) the dog with an electronic collar.

This system is still in use by many trainers, but is considered to be problematic due to the number of potential variables.



So lets take a look at some of the systems in use their pros and cons, and what makes them work.

I should stress that as a behaviorally trainer, I look at what works and why; believing that we need to constantly seek out the best training methods. Over the past 30 plus years many of the techniques I have used have been adapted through trial and error, as well as seeking out other trainers that have developed better results.

I live by the code we are constantly in a state of learning, and that the more we observe, evaluate and adopt, the better we become.

So if I criticize another system, it is done in a positive and educational manner.

Likewise if I find something that works, I am more than happy to compliment and learn from others.



Firstly, defanging a rattlesnake is cruel. I don't believe that cutting the fangs out of a snake should be necessary in order for us to train our dogs.

Yes, I know they grow back, but the point is the same.

Secondly, even a defanged snake can cause a bite, which can become infected or septic to your dog.

And thirdly, training a dog to associate the strike of a snake, with the nick from the e-collar, could cause the dog to think all snakes strike, which is not true.
When a strike strikes it takes about 1/10 second, which is faster than most dogs can react, so we don't want the dog to learn to respond to a strike.

One advantage of the defanged method, is that the dog is in the open, with no cage. This is what the dog could encounter in the wild, so is a good thing.

Problem is that sometimes a dogs ability to recognize visual objects is diminished, so many times they will not even SEE the snake.

So the method of using a defanged snake striking at the dog, is no longer in use by serious training schools.


One method used is allowing handlers to hold their dogs, or lead their dogs to the the snake.

Sometimes the snake is defanged, and sometimes the snake is secured in an enclosure.

I don't like this method as it changes the association in the dogs mind.

The handler often unintentionally "cues" the dog.

Sometimes handlers will actually give a command, or "correct" the dog, trying to introduce the idea that the dog must stay away from the snake.

The problem here is that the dog is learning to listen to the handler, and in some cases will trust the handler (owner) to provide guidance.

What if the handler is at work, or walking behind the dog on a trail.

What if the owner does not see the snake (which often happens) and the dog then thinks all is fine.

Also, the point of training is that the dog learns to associate the negative with the snakes odor or sound.

The handler should not be involved at all, and in fact should be completely neutral.

Finally, our system teaches the dog to run away from the snake.

Their is a risk to this, as the timing has to be PERFECT, and the dog will sometimes trip up the owner in an attempt to "escape".

Another reason we say that snake avoidance training should be left to professionals.


A dog is a highly intelligent animal. Their scent and hearing is far superior to humans, and a dog can easily discriminate between a real and a fake (rubber) snake.

While involved with training bomb and drug detection dogs, I tested many different masking agents, chemically duplicated and variations of specific odors.

It was astonishing to see how dogs were able to detect trace elements of scent, and how masking or hiding scents had little effect on the efficiency of scent within dogs.

A tracker dog can easily track one odor (person) within a group of other odors (people).

A drug dog can find drugs which have been masked (hidden) within other odors such as coffee, oils and perfumes.

So a dog that has been trained on a rubber snake, will be great at finding other rubber snakes, but not an actual rattlesnake.

What about visual recognition?

Yes, there is some merit here, and we have successfully trained and tested some dogs on realistic looking rattlesnakes.

Problem is that "sight" is often an ineffective association, as dogs are often not using their vision, and many times, see any similar looking object as a snake.


As discussed above, using anything other than a real live rattlesnake, is a bad idea.

Sometimes dogs that have been trained on live rattlesnakes will FAIL to alert on a dead rattlesnake.

During tests we have found that for a period of about 3 to 5 hours, a recently killed snake will continue to emit an odor that dogs will alert on.

Factors that influence this are heat, humidity, the dog and how recently the dog was trained.

Some dogs will alert on dead snakes days after they died, others will not.

I believe it has more to do with the exact association the dog has and how they process this information.


This subject comes up all the time. Sometimes dogs can be trained using a non-venomous snake such as a bull snake.

There is some debate as to whether there is a difference in odor between the various species of snakes.

Personally I believe there is, and have tested this on a number of occasions.

I wish we COULD use non-venomous snakes; less risk, easier to handle, and I could let the dog approach the snake outside of an enclosure.

But the problem is they are different.

They also sound different, and yes, a bull snake has a fake "rattle", but it is very different.

So if you want to do it right, use the real thing.


Citronella is an odor that when sprayed at or around a dog, causes discomfort, irritation and therefore a negative association.

Certain types of e-collars, instead of using a mild shock, called a nick, use a short burst of this spray to create a negative association in the dog.

If you have a MAJOR issue with using collars that nick the dog, then by all means use one that emits a spray.

Keep in mind that the stimulus (shock) is not as everlasting, and that you may need to do the training more often.

Also, their is a possibility the dog will "cross-associate" the citronella with the snakes odor, causing what we refer to as cross contamination.

Thus the snake in the wild does not have the citronella odor, and therefore the aversion is not the same.

I have trained a few dogs using this system, with limited results.


USING WATER TO TRAIN (As suggested by the Humane Society in Phoenix)


A few years ago I was interviewed on Channel 3 TV here in Phoenix Arizona.

There was an incident of a dog dying from a snake bite, and I was discussing the benefits of snake avoidance training.

One it can SAVE your dogs life, and two, it can SAVE your life too.

As we use e-collars to train, the question was raised as to how much pain the collar could cause.

Well, after interviewing us, the reporter went to the Humane Society to get their "take" on snake proofing.

The "Public Relations Officer" stated on camera that using an e-collar was cruel and caused pain and potential injury to a dog.

She went on to state that you should "spray your dog with water" to teach your dog aversion to a rattlesnake.

To say we were stunned, is an understatement!

Firstly, it will not work, as many dogs LOVE water, and being sprayed brings feelings of joy and excitement to a dog.

Secondly, even if you are able to associate the SNAKE with the WATER being sprayed, it is unlikely your dog will retain the connection; as:

a. You are the one spraying the dog, not the snake. Thus you are the "bad guy" not the snake.

b. There is absolutely NO CHANCE your dog will get ANY scent, while they are being "drowned" with water.

c. There is absolutely NO CHANCE your dog will get ANY SOUND from the snake, as their rattle emits a different, or no, sound when wet.

Thirdly, every time you open the garden hose, your dog will run away from you.

And finally, every time you, or your groomer, tries to bathe your dog, he will freak out an may even bite you.


I am the first to say I support the Humane Society and animal rescue groups. Every year we donate countless hours and dollars to rescue groups.

But when someone who is speaking on their behalf, and thus representing a professional opionion, states something as rediculous as that, it is irresponsible.

I doubt that this person as EVER trained a dog in snakeproofing, far less used that method.

And of course, an e-collar is one of the safest training tools in use. Like anything it is effective IF USED APPROPRIATELY.

In 30 years and thousands of dogs, I have never hurt a dog with an e-collar.

And next time someone tells you they are a professional, ask them how many dogs they have trained, and speak to their clients to verify this.


I'm not sure if I need to elaborate, but every few years I get asked some insane question like this.

Rain sticks may sound like a snake to you and I, but not to a snake.

Likewise a can filled with stones, coins or ....

A snake skin may look like a snake, but there is no odor, no sound and obviously does not behave like a snake.



Please note that the above opinions are based on my experience.

Some of the comments are generalized, and may differ when applied to specific situations.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me.





Images and Text are the property of Leighton Oosthuisen. All Rights Reserved 2009.