As humans, we don't often particularly like running into reptiles in the wild. While many people keep a plethora of different types of reptiles as pets at home, often, reptiles in an uncontrolled environment can typically mean chaos for you - and for your pup.
Dogs are typically one step ahead of us when it comes to reptile detection, especially if they're a breed with an extra knack for sniffing out danger. Many reptiles, snakes included, will give off particular odors that might be undetectable to us - our dogs, however, with their 300 million sensory receptors on their nose, are far more susceptible to pick up the scent of a reptile that lay in wait.
It's possible that if your dog picks up on a reptiles scent, he or she will try to give you some kind of heads-up, so make sure you know the signs your dog is trying to alert you to! Check out some of the signs below, and figure out the best ways to keep your dog from tracking down dangerous reptiles.
Signs Your Dog is Sniffing Out a Reptile
While there's no conclusive evidence that every dog will be able to pick up on a reptile's scent, the odds are, if your dog is a good sniffer, they'll be able to tell when a snake or some other type of reptile is around. He or she may not exactly understand what they're smelling, but they'll certainly pick up on the odors that the reptile is emitting.
If you suspect your dog might be trying to tell you that he or she is sniffing out a reptile, look for signs of pointing - this will include a stiff tail, a paw up, and a nose facing toward the direction the scent is coming from. It's also possible that your dog will take off running toward the scent, bark excessively, raise their snouts high in the air, and sniff obsessively.
You can also potentially expect your dog to growl, howl, bite, nip, or lick at objects where they find the scent, which, unfortunately, can be incredibly dangerous when it comes to reptiles - especially snakes.
The History of Dogs Smelling Reptiles
As you probably know, dogs have been trained for centuries to sniff out bombs, guns, other weapons, drugs, and even cancer and significant illnesses. This has been a practice since the early days of World War II and was even implemented when the London Police were trying to find the infamous Jack the Ripper.
But did you know that dogs have also actually been trained to sniff out certain reptiles - snakes, in particular? According to Time magazine, trainers at Auburn University have been teaching Labradors to sniff out and help hunt down Burmese pythons in the Everglades.
The dogs are taught how to do this through fringing, a method where a dog follows a smell toward the source, but is trained to stop before they actually happen upon the source itself - this is said to keep the dogs away from harm. It's also been noted that specific breeds are perfect for reptile sniffing, especially dogs like Jack Russel Terriers, Bloodhounds, Labradors, Basset Hounds, and Beagles.
The Science Behind Reptile Scent
All kinds of reptiles put off a particular scent, which is one of the reasons your dog is likely able to detect their presence before you are. With their olfactory cortex that dwarfs ours by about 40 times, there's not a lot of scents that dogs cant smell.
Snakes and other reptiles are equipped with special cloacal glands that are situated on their tails. These glands open, vent, and manufacture pretty smelly substances that snakes will emit when they're frightened, bothered, or feeling threatened. Snakes and reptiles will rub this scent off on their enemies or their surrounding environment and will typically emit this to make themselves smell less appealing or delicious.
Unfortunately, your dog, who is led by his or her nose, will not find the reptile smell less delicious, just far more interesting.
Training Your Dog to Stay Away from Reptiles
While people have been training dogs to hunt, sniff out things, and track certain smells for centuries, we certainly don't recommend training your dog to sniff out snakes or other reptiles - especially not without the help of a professional. Although this has been done before, we suggest training your dog to stay away from snakes as best you can as opposed to using your dog's abilities to hunt down a dangerous reptile.
Experts, typically, will capture a snake, rub the snakes scent all over coffee filters or a similar object, and then teach the dog to sniff out that particular scent, rewarding them with treats, love, affection, and a particular toy for playing.
If you prefer to take the route to avoid teaching your dog to hunt reptiles, we suggest ensuring that the area you let your dog roam is frequently cleared of harmful reptiles. If this area is far too large to do so constantly, train your dog to walk on a leash or mingle with other dogs at a dog park in order to keep them safe from reptiles.
Additionally, teaching your dog basic obedience commands like, "no," drop it," or 'leave it" will work wonders for your pup - especially in a circumstance where you see your dog headed straight for a reptile that could potentially harm them!
By a Great Dane lover Hanna Marcus
Published: 05/15/2018, edited: 04/06/2020