Dogs can smell many things. Their sense of smell is so finely tuned that they can smell termites underground, rats hiding in tunnels, and snakes slithering in the bushes. Dogs have an amazing olfactory system and although their brain is one-tenth the size of the human brain, their sense of smell section is forty times larger than ours!
Dogs are often curious about snakes. This curiosity leads to most snake bites happening on the dog’s face or nose, as they try to sniff out the snake they have found. Many snakes give off a bad smell when they are disturbed to warn their enemies. Dogs pick up that scent and want to investigate.
Signs That Your Dog has Sensed a Snake
Dogs are naturally curious about their environment. Going out on a walk is going to be their opportunity to smell and sniff out old and new smells. They can retain a memory of the smells they come across and will be scent marking to put their smell out there too.
Most snakes will be at ground level and although they give out various warning signs, a dog could easily be the target for a striking, venomous snake. You will notice signs of curiosity and a lot of extra sniffing in an area that is potentially the hideout for a snake. Snakes are seasonal and many of them do hibernate, so the chances of seeing snakes are heightened in the spring and summer months.
Some snakes make warning signs like the rattlesnake, but your curious dog may not necessarily heed the warning. Some snakes emit bad odors. The coral snake makes a popping sound like a ‘fart’ from its cloacae. This is an opening at the end of the snake’s tail and some snakes expel bad air from this opening.
Your dog would be interested to find the source of this bad smell and interesting sound. Dogs would also be alerted to the sound of hissing and slithering in the grass as they can hear these sounds on the ground. You may see your dog whining or even barking to alert you to the presence of some other creature. Your dog may wait on your command if he or she is unsure of what to expect and, depending on the breed of your dog, there may be time for you to keep your dog by your side. But if their prey drive kicks in, your dog may just want to find that snake!
- Tail up
- Ears up
- Whining or whimpering
- Looking intently at one spot
- Excited behavior
History of Dogs Sensing Snakes
Dogs are naturally protective of their owners and their families. When humans first decided to welcome dogs into their family life, protection was one of the key values that dogs brought to the homes of people.
There are many stories of dogs saving families from snakes - especially young children who may be playing in the garden and unaware of the dangers hiding under the bushes or under rocks. The snake's most important form of defense is their camouflage, so it is not surprising that they go unnoticed.
A hero dog named Jewels saved her owner's daughters and two friends from a deadly water moccasin snake in Southern Mississippi. The girls were out playing in the garden near some bushes when Jewels flew across the garden knocking the girls over to dive into the bushes. She sensed the danger from 50 yards away. Jewels came out from the bushes with the snake attached to her mouth. Luckily, Jewels survived the venomous bite and now she protects her family by patrolling the bushes whenever the girls are outside.
This is a true case of a dog sensing the snake from a fair distance and going all-out to rescue the girls from danger. How did Jewels know the snake was there? Was it smell, sound, or that unquestionable sixth sense that dogs seem to have?
The Science of Dogs Sensing Snakes
Scientists have been impressed by the canine sense of smell and investigations have shown just how special this sense really is. We know that dogs' sense of smell is far more sensitive than many other animals, but scientists tell us that dogs have a special chamber in their nasal system that can collect scent particles.
The scent particles stay there, in the chamber, even after the dog has exhaled. Dogs have a special organ called Jacobson’s Organ and this extra sensory organ allows the dog to taste the smell. This makes a dog’s sense of smell extra special.
They have a memory for smells. Dogs become masters at recognizing the smells in their surrounding area and like to ‘read’ the signs of new smells as they explore and remember the smells of their area.
Training Dogs to Sense Snakes
The first step to take would be some obedience training to ensure your dog pays attention to your command if they should meet a snake. Knowing the command of ‘leave it’ or ‘stay’ would be very important if you like to take your dog on country walks or hiking.
There are some areas of the outdoors that are more susceptible to having snakes in their surrounds. Find out what to expect from the area you are planning to walk in. Dogs will usually get bitten on their noses and faces as they curiously sniff out the snake they sense.
It is possible to get desensitizing training or what is also known as aversion training to stop your dog from going after snakes. It is probably best to get an expert or a behaviorist to assist with this kind of training and it may be hard to go through with shock collars and intense aversion tactics. However, if there is a real danger from snakes in your area, it may save your dog’s life. This would be a personal choice, but aversion training would prevent your dog from wanting to tackle a snake because they remember what happens when they are near a snake.
Labradors have been trained to sense the presence of pythons in the Everglades to solve the Everglades' problem with the Burmese Python. The Auburn University Eco Dog Detection program has trained Labradors to use their swimming skills and their sense of smell to detect the invasive pythons.
The dogs have been trained to approach the pythons safely and their track record is impressive. A 92% success rate and added to that the Labrador can swim for 5 miles before having to stop. They have been top dogs on the team for search and trapping the pythons.
Safety Tips for Dogs Around Snakes:
Do not let your dog go off-leash in areas where dangerous snakes are known to live.
Brush up on your dog's "leave it" and "come" commands - in case you need to call them off of a snake.
Know the snakes in your area so that you can identify harmless or dangerous snakes.