Pet snakes and pet dogs don’t naturally mix, and that can sometimes cause a serious problem.
However, later in this article, we will tell you how to introduce your snake to your dog in a way that maximizes the chances that they will get along.
First, we’ll give you some information about safety concerns.
Snakes in Terrariums
Some of the most popular pet snakes are perfectly happy spending their lives in a glass terrarium.
King snakes, rat snakes, corn snakes, garter snakes, and Western hognose snakes are a natural choice for a small glass enclosure with a secure lid, outfitted with heating and lighting, a sandy substrate, a hide box, a few artificial plants, and maybe a piece of driftwood that doubles as decoration and a place to climb.
Smaller snakes don’t necessarily want to leave their warm, secure enclosures.
A few snakes like Western hognose snakes are curious about the outside world and will react to what is going on around them.
Corn snakes can come to enjoy being held.
But as long as the snake is in its enclosure and the dog is, preferably, in a different room or outside on a walk or playing, the worst that can happen is that the dog barks at and upsets the snake.
Don’t let this happen. Keep your snake calm by keeping your dog in a different room.
Problems arise when snakes are let out of their enclosures, or escape from their enclosures when dogs are present.
Snakes Outside Their Enclosures
Almost every snake spends some time outside its enclosure.
Some snake owners keep a second enclosure for feeding time. It’s never a good idea to try to feed two snakes in the same enclosure at the same time, so owners take them out one at a time for feeding.
These snakes may spend a day or two in the second enclosure digesting their food. They have to be briefly outside any enclosure to be moved between them.
Snake tanks need occasional cleaning.
Owners remove feces, change substrate in the bottom of the tank, and sanitize enclosures when parasites or infectious diseases are detected.
Snakes have to be outside their enclosures for this procedure.
And owners take snakes out of their enclosures to spend time with them.
Part of the fun of owning a snake is letting it slither on you and let it join you in calm activities like watching television.
You enjoy the company of your snake, and, we can suppose, your snake enjoys the changing lights and colors on the TV screen and the warmth of your body.
Problems arise when dogs attack small snakes and large snakes attack dogs. Here is what you need to know about dog-snake dynamics.
- While dogs and snakes can see, hear, and smell each other, and most snakes can detect your dog’s heat signature, they are most strongly aware of each other by scent. For dogs, smelling is believing. They will act as if your snake is immediately present if they just detect its scent. Snakes can detect an approach dog and respond with alarm. Dogs and snakes don’t have to be in the same place at the same time to detect the other’s scent.
- Any dog that weighs more than 40 pounds is likely to be able to kill a snake that is under 5 feet long, although it may be bitten in the process. On the other hand, any snake that is over 8 feet long is likely to be able to kill a dog that weighs under 40 pounds by constriction. It is not unknown for larger anacondas, boas, and pythons to kill and eat smaller family dogs.
- Dogs can be trained to stay back from reptiles. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, for instance, trains Labrador Retrievers to sniff out invasive Burmese Pythons in public parks and to bark to alert their handlers when they find them, while leaving the snake alone.
Snakes and dogs don’t attack each other because they are “bad.”
A hungry snake that is capable of opening its mouth wide enough may swallow a disabled dog whole. A dog may protect its owners against a snake it does not know.
It is possible for dogs and snakes to be socialized to each other when they are puppies and hatchlings and to tolerate each other when the snake it outside its enclosure.
But you should not expect them to be friends.
And if your dog and your snake don’t know each other, you should keep them separated by a physical barrier at all times, and make they can’t find each other if they escape their kennel or their terrarium.
How Can I Socialize My Dog and Snake So They Tolerate Each Other?
There are some animal couplings that will never work out, like a Chihuahua puppy and a mature anaconda, or a hatchling garter snake and a Doberman Pinscher.
But if you have a pair of pets that aren’t an inherent threat to each other, you can train them to be non-aggressive even when your snake is outside its cage.
Acceptance training consists of seven steps.
Consider the Type of Snake First
The first thing you need to consider is the general behavior of the reptile you want to introduce to your dog. (Introductions work snake to dog, rather than the other way around.)
This is the most important consideration in deciding whether you want your dog and your snake ever to meet.
Snakes hiss and bite when they are afraid. If your snake has an unusually skittish nature (ball pythons often do, for example), it may be a better idea to keep it and your dog separated indefinitely.
You may be able to socialize other reptiles with your dog, but that is because they have the ability to run away if the meeting doesn’t go well.
Your pet lizard, for example, can move its little legs to flee a meeting with your pet dog.
Losing your lizard can cause other problems, but your lizard won’t have any reason to bite or try to fight your dog.
A snake, on the other hand, can’t get away fast and is more likely to strike at or bite your dog if it is afraid.
Consider Your Dog’s Personality
Most dogs have no experience with snakes.
Never having smelled a snake before, they won’t immediately know how to react.
They won’t have any experience of snakes as a danger or as enemies.
A good measure of how they would react to a smaller snake is how they react to smaller dogs.
If your dog is “all paws” at the dog park, pushing smaller dogs out of the way, tapping other dogs to let them know who is boss, chances are that your dog will be similarly aggressive to your snake.
And if your dog is a breed that was bred to hunt snakes and underground animals, like a Terrier, its instinctive reaction to your snake is likely to be to fight it.
Take Your Dog on a Trip to the Pet Store
If you have determined that you have a gentle, laid-back snake, and you believe your dog won’t be instinctively aggressive toward your snake, your next step is to test your theory with a trip to the pet store.
Take your dog on a walk down the exotic reptile aisle.
Point out the snakes behind the glass. Let your dog get a good look and a good sniff.
Practice giving your dog commands, such as stop, here, and sit, while you are in the exotic reptile aisle.
This trains your dog to give their attention to you rather than to the snake when you command it.
Then, assuming your dog’s reaction was calm, give your dog praise and a treat. Stop by the dog toy aisle and make a purchase to add to your dog’s toy collection.
Two or even three trips to the pet store to walk the exotic reptile aisle will confirm that your dog is ready to obey your commands when you introduce them to a snake.
But don’t introduce your dog and snake in person just yet.
Introduce Your Dog to Your Snake’s Smell
Dogs know other pets by sight and sound, but more intensely by smell.
Handle the snake you are keeping in one room, and then let your dog sniff your hands in another room.
Because snakes can carry Salmonella on their skin, don’t let your dog lick your hands.
Leave a cloth in your snake’s enclosure for a few hours, so it can pick up your snake’s scent.
Then hang it in a place where your dog feels safe to give your dog the experience of feeling safe around your snake.
Let Your Dog See Your Pet Snake in Its Enclosure
Now that your dog knows the scent of your snake, it is time for your dog to get to know the sight of your snake.
Take it to the room where you are keeping the snake to take a look through the glass. The glass wall of the enclosure keeps both your dog and your snake safe.
Once again, an aggressive reaction from either your dog or your snake at this point means you should probably keep them separated.
But if both are calm, it is safe to move on to the next step.
Let Your Dog and Snake Meet Face to Face
For this step, you will need a second person who is willing and capable of handling either your dog or your snake on hand to separate the animals if something goes wrong.
Making sure your snake has been fed in the last week but isn’t still digesting its food, take it out of its enclosure.
Hold it to let it “say hello” to your dog.
After about a minute, put your snake back into its enclosure.
You can leave your dog in the room to watch the snake that you have secured in its enclosure (don’t leave the lid loose!) so it can get used to the sight of your snake, and your snake can get used to the sight of your dog in the room.
Be Prepared for the Worst
Relationships between dogs and snakes are unpredictable.
Never leave your snake outside its enclosure with your dog unless you are there to supervise.
Keep both your dog and your snake safe.
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