Snake Avoidance-Making Wise Choices

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
Neither your family nor your dog is safe from venomous snakes. Many snake bites to dogs occur on their own property. 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 There are no spray or scatter products that have proven to be effective.

Penny Di'Lorento offers No Shock Snake Avoidance in the San Diego area at

Penny DiLorento offers No Shock Snake Avoidance in the San Diego area at K9 Dog Park.

Exercise and Activities

Don’t allow your dog to walk or roam in known snake infested areas. Some dogs have an inborn aversion to snakes, others do not and are fascinated by them. 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.” Keep your companion animal safe and happy by providing exercise in safe environments such as an agility class, swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, surfing, dock diving, paddle boarding, shopping with you, or join a flyball team. Use a Manners Minders, play upstairs fetch, chase a lure toy or have your dog fetch your tennis serve into the pool! Remember, it's against the law to have your dog off leash except in a very few select areas, such as dog parks and dog beach.


The Vaccine

If you live in or frequent areas where rattlesnakes roam, get the vaccine. It’s generally effective for most venomous rattlesnakes in San Diego and side effects are rare. The vaccine costs about $20 and may dramatically reduce the effects of venom, the cost of treatment, and recovery time in the hospital. Bites should always be treated immediately as a veterinary emergency. Make sure your vet carries antivenin. Details are here:


Snake Avoidance Training
What’s really best for you and your dog? Many snake bites occur by inadvertently disturbing a snake. No amount of training can prevent that. Still, promotional claims, anecdotal reports, and unverifiable statistics abound about the benefits of shock training for your dog. However, there is no empirical data to support the efficacy of this training--that it does what it promises to do. It may give people a false sense of security. It may have serious and permanent side-effects. 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. According to Stephanie Shain, Director of Outreach for companion animals, "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 to find another, safer way. For example, Penny DiLorento, owner of offers Snake Avoidance classes using rattlesnake sight, sound, smell, simulations and pyrotechnics as an alternative to programs that use shock, prong and choke collars in the San Diego area.


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 in Tucson, Arizona at Seize the Leash facility and in Austin, Texas at The Canine Center for Training and Behavior. For example, the sound of a rattle is the cue to come to you. As Penny says, “Learning should never hurt”.

Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist,” MA, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.WOOF (9663) or by email:[email protected] for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at

Copyright2013. All rights reserved. Original publication UT San Diego, Pet School, Scratch 'n Sniff.

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Positively Expert: Linda Michaels, MA

Linda Michaels is a VSPDT trainer, dog training columnist, and owner of Dog Psychologist On Call in Del Mar, CA. Linda holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology with research experience in Behavioral Neurobiology. She is a Behavioral Advisor for the Wolf Education Project (WEP) in Julian, CA and Art for Barks in Rancho Santa Fe, CA.


23 thoughts on “Snake Avoidance-Making Wise Choices

  1. Linda Troup

    Penny's methods of training are so kind and respectful of the dog. She has worked with my highly reactive dogs and made progress far beyond what we thought possible.

  2. Allison Voet

    Penny is nothing more than amazing at what she does! My dog, Murphy, went through her B.A.T. training (behavioral adjustment) after being attacked. I truly believed that I would never see my "old" dog again. He was scared of every dog that crossed his path. Thanks to Penny, Murphy has made HUGE growth though her positive reinforcement techniques. He even got to have some play dates with new friends, which brought tears to my eyes knowing the real Murphy was back.
    I took the snake avoidance class for another excuse to go hang out at K9 Dog Park for another evening but was once again, amazed at what Penny does for our furry friends. Murphy is naturally curious and thought for sure he would go right up to the snake and bring it to me but in just one evening, he proved me wrong! Now, he won't even get near anything that looks remotely like a snake!
    I recommend K9 Dog Park to anyone and everyone for dog training, snake avoidance, grooming, or simply to go hang out with some awesome people.

  3. donna willard

    I want to highly recommend Penny to anyone whose dog needs training and actually that would include all dogs. She worked with my Ginger for three weeks and oh my...what a difference there was between when she first got Ginger and when I brought her home. (Due to circumstances Penny took Ginger home with her at night)/. I've been able to use the B.A.T. (Behavior Assessment Training) with Ginger and it has really been a positive help with my little girl. I plan on doing S.T.A.R. Puppy Training as I know that will be very helpful in getting Ginger learning how to sit, come, stay, etc. I want her to be a respectable dog to be around me and and if she doesn't get the correct training there is no way she could be around other people given what dogs like to do...jump, lick, bark, etc. . I give Penny and her staff a 100% on training, grooming, products, etc.

    Again, thanks Penny and Staff!

  4. Tegan

    Thanks for this post.

    In Australia, we have a lot of highly venomous snakes. I know people who have spent a lot of money 'snake proofing' their kennels or yards, only to still have snakes come in and kill their dogs. I know some people who keep their dogs in kennels with a mesh base (so the dogs are walking on mesh), as they find this reduces snake bites, and I know some people who pretty much keep their dogs inside all summer in fear of snake bites.

    I am involved with terriers, who actively seek out snake as 'prey'. I don't know anyone who has undertaken any type of snake aversion class, and so don't know how effective any training method would be in curbing a terrier's natural instinct to kill animals like snakes, especially when left unattended.

    So, I am grateful for this post, but would like to know more about training snake aversion positively. And, if there's any Australian examples, I would find them all the more relevant.

  5. Linda Michaels, MA

    Yes! Penny is doing something truly innovative by offering No Shock Snake Avoidance classes. It it my hope that other trainers will respond to the call, and provide more alternatives to the prolific shock training monopoly in this area of dog training for our pet parents who so sorely need this service.

    Hi Tegan, it's a big problem and a difficult one. I'm in SoCal, but imagine Australia has even more snakes than we do. Yikes!

    I'm afraid I didn't find any Australian examples in my research, although I fielded international dog trainer FB pages but that doesn't mean they're not there.

    Here's the link to the Tuscon group, who has the most extensive program I found. The owner is very kind, and may be willing to provide you with additional information.

    Dos who are fascinated with snakes must be taught an alternative behavior, however, prey driven modal action patterns, with breeds who are bred specifically for hunting prey are particularly challenging. However, no dog would be safe if left unattended, if not in a safe environment.

    We're going to keep at this and hopefully we'll find better ways and means to protect our beloved animals...they simply cannot be trusted to protect themselves 🙂

    Warmest wishes, Linda

  6. Mary Harrell

    I have a Baja beach house on the Sea of Cortez, about 150 miles south of Calexico, south east of San Diego. This is a desert area and is known for sidewinders.

    My 11 month old Chocolate Lab, Coco & I spend about 2 weeks a month there. If Coco was bitten by a rattle snake, I would have a 30 minute drive to try and find help. It is Mexico and I have no guarantee that a vet would be available, so it is very important that I do whatever I can to help protect Coco.

    Coco and I attended the K9 Rattlesnake Avoidance class on May 13, 2013. Because Coco was only 9 months old, I wasn’t sure how much she would learn and remember from the class.

    The first part of the class we saw a video about different snakes. This video included the rattling & hissing sounds of snakes. Coco wanted to crawl into my lap when she heard the snake sounds! This video was very informative and Penny is extremely knowledgeable and was able to help us all understand the options available for keeping our dogs safe and healthy.

    At the end of the evening, after Coco had many encounters with the scent of the snakes, I knew she “got it!” Coco and I were the first to leave at the end of class. Penny held Coco’s collar at one end of the room and I went across the room to the exit and called Coco to “come.” Coco walked all the way around the “snake pit” Penny had set up in the middle of the room! There was NO way Coco wanted to get anywhere near that snake pit!

    Two weeks later Coco and I headed south to Baja and I was feeling pretty confident that Coco would avoid snakes. Because of my need to protect Coco, I NEVER throw or encourage her to fetch sticks! I never wanted her to mistake a snake for a stick. I did like to throw the empty small plastic water bottles and she loved fetching them. Sometimes I would put a couple of small rocks in the plastic bottles so that I could throw them farther. After the class, when I put little rocks in the bottle and threw it, Coco ran after it. She picked it up and started to run it back to me. Next thing I know, she drops the bottle and RUNS back to me as fast as she can! I am wondering what happened??? In tow seconds, it dawns on me she heard the rocks rattling in the plastic bottle and drops it and runs to me! OMG! It worked!

    Needless to say, water bottles with rocks in them are now with the sticks, on the do not throw and fetch list!

    Coco has a strong sense of her “leave it” command, so that really helped in this class. I love that this class didn’t use a shock collar, I totally appreciate that.

    Many thanks to Penny for giving Coco the tools to avoid snakes and giving me the confidence that she can and will avoid them!

    Mary & Coco

  7. Debbie Porter, CA

    This is a testimonial for a snake avoidance class that Cale and I participated in at K9 Dog Park. I would like to say that the Snake Avoidance class that Penny teaches is fabulous. I have a yellow lab named Cale that loves to go on walks and we are always walking in snake territory. I have looked into other facilities in the past for snake avoidance classes but they all used shock collars and I do not believe in shock collars. So I never went to one until I found a class at K9 Dog Park. When I saw that she was offering a snake avoidance class without the use of a SHOCK COLLAR I knew I was in. This was Cale's first snake class that we both have taken. Penny uses real snakes (frozen) and has snake scents, sounds of snakes, great props, rocks, grass that makes you feel like you are walking in a park and or hiking atmosphere. About 2 weeks after the class Cale and I were hiking around a lake area and all of a sudden Cale stopped and looked at me and did his thing and warned me away from a rattlesnake at the edge of the road. I am scared to death of snakes but as you know labs have a great nose and I could tell he smelled the snake and heard the rattle before me. So the CLASS worked. I would recommend this class to everyone that walks their dog in a snake environment, it also would be helpful for homes that are in the same type of areas. This class is for dog walkers. I have taken my dog back every year for a refresher class to ensure his safety and mine.


    Cale and Debbie Porter

  8. William & Joyce Biffar

    Penny is one amazing teacher! She has worked with both of our dogs and their behavior continues to improve. We signed our older dog up for the snake avoidance class. Now we are both trained as to what to look for and what to avoid -- it is as valuable for people as it is for dogs. It was a great class to proactively protect our 4 legged family members and I highly recommend it to everyone I know that has a dog.

    Thank you Penny and Staff!

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    I've been very interested in exploring SAT in Cape Town. We see plenty dogs being bitten by snakes, especially puff adders and Cape cobras but there is very little out there to prevent this. I've been hesitant about shock methods - I think you're on to something!!

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  18. NJ

    We live in New Mexico, where the risk of
    rattlesnake bites is moderate to high in some areas. We are also positive
    trainers and handlers, who advocate against aversive training methods. That
    being said, we would like to respectfully clarify a few points from your

    First of all, thanks for the good tips about
    exercise and activities. Many dog parents are not fully aware of the risks. You
    are right that supervision and avoiding high risk situations (snake hangouts) are
    critical to a dog’s safety in high risk regions.

    Next, let’s talk about the rattlesnake
    vaccine. We consistently collaborate with a very experienced, 30+ year
    veterinarian who has extensively researched the rattlesnake vaccine. After more
    than a year of research, he has concluded that the vaccine has not been proven
    to be sufficiently effective, and considering the wide-ranging reported side
    effects, he does not recommend the vaccine. His explanation was that it created
    a false of security. He also stated that many of the side effects go unreported
    as they are sometimes not correctly associated with the actual vaccine. The
    risk apparently outweighs the potential benefits for dogs living in most low to
    medium risk regions. The only exception may be for a herding-type dog that works
    outdoors in a high-bite risk area.

    On the other hand, we have found that dogs
    completing aversion classes from REPUTABLE companies that utilize a well-timed
    shock (via collar), have a much greater chance of avoiding a rattlesnake than
    trying to engage one. We have seen two different companies perform this
    training locally where the company professionals handle the dogs to ensure there
    is no negative association with the pet parent, and the professional handler
    can optimize the shock timing when the dog encounters their “staged” snakes. Also,
    the dog’s parent(s) must remain out of sight as another way to avoid the incorrect

    They also utilize sight, sound, and smell in
    combination for the most effective results. Incidentally, the smell of a snake
    can be a key factor to avoiding the inadvertent disturbance of that snake as a
    properly trained dog may likely avoid an area where it smells a snake.

    Please understand that rattlesnake aversion
    training is the only circumstance in which we recommend aversive training
    methods on a dog. We have found that effective aversion training cannot be
    accomplished with clicker training or other highly effective positive training
    methods; these will not create an avoidance reaction in your dog to keep them
    safe when they encounter a rattlesnake.

    We would be interested in viewing the results
    of any studies/empirical data proving that professional and reputable shock-based
    rattlesnake aversion training does not work and conversely that positive
    training methods are actually effective. Do you test your dog’s following the
    completion of their positive aversion training on a real rattlesnake? Is the
    dog’s reaction a true aversion response?

    Thanks for your article. It is very important
    that dog parents living with rattlesnakes to consistently educate themselves
    about the best way to peacefully and safely coexisting.

  19. A10TOES .

    I've read where garlic oil....its a spray keeps snakes a way. My house sits near the river. I have killed one snake here in the yard in 14 years, later found out it was non poisonous. I have removed flower beds & always the fallen leaves since I have 3 dogs who love to play outdoors in the fenced yard. I feed the birds & squirrels, but think I will move the feeders outside the fenced yard.

  20. Keeper

    Beyond the fact they are playing on the emotions of the owners to provide a sub-standard training that will give the owners a false sense of security, I would never support any place that does harm to the snakes. Just
    the fact that they say a couple seconds of uncomfortable stimulation to the dog
    is such a horrible thing, yet they are willing to kill an innocent animal is
    morally reprehensible. No matter how much a person fears or loathes the snakes,
    they are living, breathing, feeling, animals and should be treated with just
    as much respect as the dogs and any other living being.

  21. Amy Nye

    My dog had a VERY bad reaction to this injection about 4-5 days after receiving the 2nd injection. She has no history of vaccine related reactions and is a 2 year old otherwise healthy pit mix. We live in AZ and after seeing many rattlesnakes on the trail decided to get this vaccine at Raintree Pet Resort in Scottsdale, AZ. A golf ball sized lump showed up 4 days after the second injection and she was overall acting tired and sick.
    The day before the lump appeared I was talking with a dog owner at the local hiking areas about the injection and before I told him I already had it done to Lucy (our dog) he informed me his dog passed away 6 months after receiving the vaccine due to cancer associated with a tumor found at the injection site.
    When he tried to report this to the vaccine manufacturer they would not take a report as an adverse reaction due to there being no "proof" of correlation. I understand the risk of a rattlesnake bite but after seeing the reaction my dog had to the vaccine I would never get this particular injection again. Especially because there are treatment options if a dog gets bit. I know it's a tough process nonetheless.

    Snake aversion is far less physically risky long term than the vaccine.

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