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Sssnakey Wakey!


Orange sign on gated entrance to off-leash dog are that says "snakes share these paths".

Snakes: living in Australia, especially rural areas, they are part of life. But those of us living in urban and city areas still need to be aware of the dangers these little guys pose to our besties.


Did you know that snakes DON'T hibernate in Winter?! They are just semi-dormant and still pop out, for warmth. They just come out to grab more rays, food + water in Spring + Summer, than at other times of the year. This is because their bodies warm up with the temp, making them more active. And they apparently get frisky in Spring!


Seeing a snake is nothing to be alarmed about, if you have your dog under control / on leash. They will usually just pass in their own time. Generally, they are less feisty in the warmer months than the cooler months.


How to try + keep your dog snake safe:

  • Pay attention to your surroundings + the path ahead [put the phone away].

  • Just generally, make noise [stomp / play with your dog] when you are in bushland... noise vibrations will deter snakes.

  • Don't let your doggo wander into long grasses or dense vegetation, unsupervised, particularly if you are near a water source.

  • If you spot a snake, give it space, keep calm + wait for it to pass, when it is ready.

  • Always do obedience / trick training of some form with your dog [you shouldn't need reminding about this one]. A dog is *more likely* to listen if you have a good working bond with it and it's familiar with commands.

  • Know [or learn] dog first-aid for snake bites.

Now, these are all great tips, in a perfect world. That is def NOT what I had going on when Lulu went straight up to the snake to investigate. I was looking for a poop in the grass [not paying attention], she was off leash - up ahead of me - and I was most def, NOT CALM... although, I was logical, in my hysteria. The only boxes I ticked were the "obedience" and "know first aid for snake bites". Fortunately, I didn't need to use the first-aid knowledge. But it served as a reminder to pop the first aid kit back in the car.


I saw Lulu approach the wriggly black snake, as I took my eyes off the grass next to me, to check in with her. In auto-pilot, I yelled - in that extreme high pitch only dogs can hear - our obedience cues. I used the commands I use nearly EVERY DAY with her:

  • our recall;

  • "stop";

  • "leave it"; +

  • "back".

I tried a recall first - I was just too late, she was walking basically on top of it as I called her. Then the snake moved and she went in for a close up, I thought she was going to pick it up by the tail. I used "stop" to get her to stop moving - and she did, taking a tiny step away! At this point she was standing on the opposite side of the snake to me. But then the snake moved, again, popping its head up towards her [I feared this is when it would bite] - and she was curious in the movement again, going in for another close up, close enough to grab it with her mouth. That is when I yelled "back". This is her command to walk backwards. I've never been so happy to have taught her this previously, utterly useless command. I think I also threw in a few "leave it" calls. All I know is she backed about 1m away from the snake and stood still, listening to me. I've never been happier in my whole life.


The snake popped its head down and slithered off into the long grass, I met Lulu, clipped her on-leash and she got every treat I had on me, for doing what I asked of her, when it mattered the most.


So I'm not saying obedience/training will stop a snake bite because dog's aren't robots and won't do as you say, 100% of the time - they have natural curiosities, instincts and impulses. But having a good working bond with your pooch might just give you an advantage. You don't need to attend obedience school to build this bond with your dog - 5 min a day, learning some fun tricks or incorporating them into your daily walks is enough [just make sure you pay the work with rewards please!!! You don't go to work for free do you??!!].


The commands I used when we saw the snake are the commands I use on our morning walks. I don't insist on a sit at a street corner, we use stop. "Stop", to Lulu, means halt and don't move until I say it is ok to move. This has been a hand command for off leash walks, when I just want her to hold up. "Leave it" is used a lot when she is in scavenger mode - she rarely listens to this one but she knows what it means. "Back" is a party trick... often kids want to play with/touch Lulu so we do some tricks and I let kids reward her. Walking backwards is one of them [as is sit, drop, shaking, talking, sneezing, kissing, coming "closer", booping my hand or objects, going through my legs, around my legs etc. you get the idea!].


What should you do if you see your dog get bitten:


It is ESSENTIAL that your dog receive immediate veterenary treatment.


Now, if you know what to do when a human is bitten by a snake, the good news is - it's pretty much the same for our doggo's! [And the compression bandage in a human first aid kit is suitable for your dog.]


First aid tips for snake bites:

  • Do not panic - keep your dog calm.

  • Attempt to reduce your dog’s movement and activity - carry them to the car. Do not allow them to walk, wherever possible. This assists in stopping the venom from spreading through the lymphatic system which means more time for your dog.

  • Try and remember what the snake looked like [colour/pattern] - a picture is great but don't put yourself at risk trying to get a pic or find it if you didn't get a good look. The vet can test for the snake type +/or administer an anti-venom for the most common snake types, as a cover-all.

  • Phone the closest [or emergency] vet clinic and let them know you are on your way. Some clinics do not stock snake anti-venom and they will be able to point you towards a clinic that does. Phoning the clinic also allows them to have testing and treatment ready for your arrival.

  • If possible, apply a pressure/immobilisation bandage above, below, and over the site of the bite - if you know where your dog has been bitten [usually around head, neck or front legs]. Sometimes the bite is not evident - there is no need to look for it. Do NOT apply a torniquet.

  • If the bite wound is on the face or neck, remove your dog’s collar as the area may swell.

  • If your dog is unconscious, you can perform mouth to nose on it - hold the mouth closed, cover their nose with your mouth and breath into their nose, once every 5 seconds.... EXCEPTION: unless they were bitten on the facial area. Do not put your mouth near the bite as venom may enter your body, putting you at risk also.

There are some other great resources in case you forget this - Pet First Aid apps you can download - just head to your app store and search for 'pet first aid'.


Signs your dog may have been bitten by a snake:


Did you know that snake bite signs can occur up to 24 hours after a bite, however most show signs within minutes.


Snake bite reactions can vary based on factors including the type of snake, volume of venom injected, the time of year and the dog's size.


Immediate signs of a bite include:

  • a small yelp [but not always];

  • collapsing or vomiting immediately after a bite;

  • followed by an apparent recovery.

If you haven't seen your dog actually be bitten, it is useful to know that dogs will often show signs of a "recovery". They may even continue to run and eat! You may not find any bite marks either, so knowing the symptoms above/below + early treatment are key for a positive outcome.


Additional onset symptoms may include any of the following:

  • skittish or sulkish behaviour;

  • anxious pacing;

  • lethargy;

  • drooling;

  • panting;

  • pale gums;

  • dilated pupils;

  • vomiting;

  • tremors or shaking;

  • neurological signs such as: loss of normal body functions [blinking, licking, smiling, shallow breathing, walking etc], unresponsiveness and paralysis;

  • irregular bleeding from orifices;

  • loss of bladder/bowel control [or blood in urine].

Reading this back, these last few symptoms look rather grim. But hopefully by reading this, your pooch won't get to this stage because you can identify that your dog is in need of emergency treatment. Still follow the same first aid steps listed above, if you suspect a snake bite.


Just one more thing: Snake Avoidance Training. This is where you spend hundreds [?] of dollars to inflict stress and pain on your dog through the use of a shock-collar [usually worded as "operant training" or "aversion training"] in the hope they won't go near a snake if they see one. Do you want to test that theory out on your dog who is not wearing a shock collar, 5 years after doing a couple of days of shock collar exposure?


If you know anything about shock collars, you will know they are not a positive training method, they are a punishment. Some dogs will walk away from this training with unintended consequences including aggression, seeing you as an aversive, fear, anxiety and other negative emotional responses [shut down, lack of confidence to explore]. Also, it is simply not in the best welfare of your dog to inflict the level of pain / stress, which is needed, to create this desired behaviour. You don't have to agree with these comments, however I would personally never, ever, inflict this on Lulu.


UPDATE:

We have since become aware of a 100%positive training model for snake avoidance - it is available online and can be self paced. For more information, head to: https://karenpryoracademy.com/live-classes/snake-avoidance-training-with-ken-ramirez/

 

Want to do a little snake breed research? Head here: www.whatsnakeisthat.com.au

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