Desert Road Trip Tips
Keep your dog safe from rattlesnake bites

lucky1206“Approximately 300,000 dogs and cats are bitten by venomous snakes each year in the United States. Rattlesnake venom can cause serious injury and even death.”


Summer is in full swing.  The days are longer and we spend more time doing things outdoors.  If you take your dog on hikes and on road trips you need to make sure they are comfortable and safe.  This includes the heat as well as dangers you may encounter on the trails such as rattlesnakes, scorpions and other hazards.  This tip is about how to keep your dog safe from rattlesnakes.

When out on the trail, dogs love to romp and play in the bushes and nearby streams.  These are the areas where they may run into rattlesnakes.  The snakes like to hide in the shade under bushes, in holes, under rocks and in areas where there is water.  

To avoid snakes . . .

– Keep your dog on a leash
– Stay on the trail or path
– Don’t let your dogs dig in holes
– Keep your dogs away from piles of debris, logs and rock piles
– Be careful around the banks of ponds, creeks and streams

It is not always easy to keep your dog on a leash and out of trouble, especially when your dog has a ton of energy and wants to go explore, but a leash may save your dogs life.  Especially if you are in a remote area far from emergency services.

Snakes typically find shade on sunny days and come out at dusk when the temperatures are cooler and when their prey is most active.  Rattlesnakes tend to be more active in the spring when they first come out of hibernation and in the late summer, early fall when they breed.

If you frequently go out on the trail with your dog in areas where rattlesnakes are common or if you live in an area where rattlesnakes are abundant, you may also want to invest in snake avoidance training in addition to the rattlesnake vaccination now available in the U.S.

When hiking with your dog remember to take the following things with you . . .

-Make sure you have the phone number of the closest 24-hour emergency vet service if you are hiking or walking after hours or on the weekend.

-Pack a lightweight towel or blanket to use as a sling in case your dog needs to be carried back to your car.

-Always carry water and a bowl (collapsible) for your dog to drink water during your hike.

If your dog gets bitten by a rattlesnake you will need to get your dog to a vet as soon as possible.  If you have a small dog they may react faster to the venom than a larger dog.  If your dog is too heavy to carry you may have a problem.  Dogs can go into shock within minutes of a rattlesnake bite.  If there are two adults, a towel or blanket can be used as a sling to carry your dog back to your car.  Don’t cut the dog to try and suck out the poison.  Do not put ice on the wound as it will damage the tissue around the bite area.  You can use soap and water to clean the wound.

Snake Proofing aka avoidance training
There are professional dog trainers who can teach your dog to avoid rattlesnakes.  The techniques are a combination of shock collars with live snakes that have had their fangs removed.  It is important to choose a trainer with a good reputation for humane training techniques.   Trainers who use the highest level on the collar first are not taking the dogs responsiveness into consideration.  They should use a low level on the shock collar and increase it only as needed to get the response of avoidance from your dog.  Trainers who pull the dog towards the snake when the dog does not want to go near the snake is also considered inhumane.  The rattlesnakes should have their fangs removed for training purposes. They can grow a new pair of fangs within hours of initial fang removal.  Gluing or suturing a snakes mouth shut is considered inhumane.  Check references when taking your dog in for training.  You should also be involved in the training so you can learn what to do when you do encounter a snake with your dog.

Rattlesnake Vaccine
There is a new rattlesnake vaccine that helps a dog develop antibodies that help prevent an allergic reaction to the bite of a Western Diamondback Rattler.  The venom of other venomous snakes in the United States is similar to the venom of the Western Diamondback.  Because of these similarities, this vaccine also provides protection against the venoms of the Western Rattlesnake (including the Prairie, Great Basin, Northern and Southern Pacific Rattlesnakes), Sidewinder, Timber Rattlesnake, Massasauga and the Copperhead. This vaccine provides partial protection against the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake.

Dogs who are vaccinated have less pain, less swelling, less tissue damage and recover faster when bitten by a rattlesnake than dogs that are not vaccinated.  Even if your dog is vaccinated, a rattlesnake bite still needs medical attention.

Dogs who live and play where rattlesnakes are found are candidates for the vaccine. The vaccine is only available through a licensed veterinarian, so check with your vet to see if your dog should be vaccinated.

For more information about the vaccine please visit the Red Rock Biologics Web site.

Snake Encounters
If you and your dog encounter a snake you should remain calm and act cautiously.  A rattlesnake can strike up to half the distance their length when coiled.  If they are on a ledge or on higher ground they can strike even longer distances.  If you are in striking distance get your dog to sit or remain still.  The snake will try and get away from you, but if you are too close or make a lot of movement they may strike at you or your dog in self-defense.  If you feel you can back away cautiously, do so slowly without any sudden movements.   If you are not in striking distance turn around and move away from the snake.  Let the snake clear the trail before continuing.  If you can go around it on another path, then do so at a safe distance.

Do NOT provoke the snake.  Do NOT poke it with a stick.  Do NOT try and catch it.  Do NOT tease it.  More snake bites occur when people or dogs try to play with the snake.  Be smart and leave the snake alone.  Keep your dog safe!

Happy trails!


  1. Some of it is good, and some of it is bunk…here’s the bunk:
    A rattlesnake cannot strike one and a half times it’s length…The answer is one half to one third it’s length.
    Also, it’s a little too early to promote the rattlesnake vaccine….Considering the complexity of rattlesnake symptoms, it is highly unlikely that it even works.
    They remove the fangs for avoidance training? hahaha! Not likely!

  2. Thanks for the correction on the strike distance. I’ll update the article.

    As for the vaccine dog owners should talk to their vets about it to see if it is the right solution for their situation.

    As for the removal of rattlesnake fangs, the the research indicated they do remove the fangs during the training. Some training facilities had this fact noted in their brochures/web sites. Each training facility is different. Check with the trainers, get references and do your homework before selecting a training facility.

  3. Our miniature poodle was bitten in the face by a Prairie Rattlesnake earlier today. She almost died of shock, which began within minutes. We rushed her to the nearest vet who was able to stabilize her with IV fluids. Then they transported her to an emergency vet clinic where they are giving her antivenin. She’ll be hospitalized with 24 hour care for probably 3 days.

    This dog had been through rattlesnake avoidance training, but I’d have to say that it didn’t work as she put her face right down towards the snake. The training used snakes that had not been de-fanged, but were in a cage. The trainer had us walk our dog past the cage, and once the dog showed interest in the snakes, it was shocked. The trainer has an excellent reputation and claimed that the training is very effective. We’ll have an interesting conversation with her later.

  4. Sorry to hear about your dog. I’m glad you were able to get her to a hospital fast enough.

    No matter how much training we did with our dogs when they saw a coyote or other animal they would go nuts. I thinks some dogs just get too excited and forget their training. Our dogs would run through their invisible fence (controlled by electric collars) when a coyote was nearby. Most of the time they respected the fence, but when they got excited it didn’t stop them from running through it.

    Keep us posted on how your dog is doing. I hope she gets better soon.

  5. This is great and it’s accurate. Just because another person’s experience is a little different doesn’t make something “bunk.” In this subject it’s important to be inclusive and not all-knowing.

    Rattlesnake avoidance training does work. I live in the CA coastal mountains and there have been rattlers in my yard; two of my dogs were bitten and because the dogs were more than 10 years old and not in the best shape, I had them put down. When I got new dogs, I took them to the best — Patrick Callaghan, who, unfortunately for dog owners here, passed away a year or so ago. His snakes were not de-fanged; their mouths were taped shut. They were released back into the wild after a each training weekend so the snakes would not lose their natural fear and aggressiveness and their treatment could not be considered inhumane. The trainers were very experienced.

    I took my new dogs the first spring after I got them. They rode to the training in the back of my red pick up. I returned the next spring for a refresher. One of my dogs only had to hear the rattle and she made a beeline to the first red pickup she saw. Unfortunately, I’d traded the pick up in the meantime, and my dog tried to jump into the back of some guy’s truck with his two dogs! They say dogs don’t see colors, but she didn’t try to jump in the grey or white pick up; she picked the red one.

    I try to retrain them every year. If a snake is in my yard, I want a warning and that’s one of the benefits of snake-trained dogs.

  6. Correction — Patrick Callaghan kept the snakes for two weeks and no longer so they would not lose their wild scent.


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