Q: It’s spring in the desert and rattlesnakes are getting active. Does my dog need snake training?
A: Snake avoidance training, also known as snake training and snake breaking, can be a helpful tool for dogs that spend unsupervised time in Arizona’s deserts and woodlands.
Canine Outdoor Enthusiasts–dogs that participate in off-leash activities like hunting, field trialing, and search and rescue–may benefit from snake avoidance training. I don’t recommend snake breaking for house dogs–or even those who join their owners for hikes as long as they’re on a non-retractable leash six feet long or shorter.
Snake avoidance training uses negative reinforcement, specifically a shock collar. Without argument, negative reinforcement can be a very effective technique. But it hurts, and research has shown that using negative reinforcement training techniques can contribute to the development of other fearful or aggressive behaviors. And even though the end result of snake avoidance training is useful in specific circumstances, it’s simply not needed for dogs living in most suburban areas of Arizona.
The best way to protect your dog from snakebite is to pay close attention to your surroundings in the outdoors, control your dog with a sturdy leash, and limit off-leash exercise in the desert during warmer months (generally from mid-March until late November). If you decide snake avoidance training is right for you, hire a professional and don’t forget that training isn’t permanent. “Refresher” training is usually recommended on an annual basis.