Do snakes slither or crawl?
When I wrote my book, What The Lord Said About Labs, I used the word “crawl” to describe how rattlesnakes move.  My editor corrected me and substituted the word “slither.”  It wasn’t enough to argue about so I went with slither. However, I think either word is acceptable.  I still use Klauber’s two volume books on rattlesnakes when researching many rattlesnake items.

In volume I,  page 363, Klauber uses the word “crawl” numerous times.  He goes on the describe the various methods of snake movement, e.g.,  horizontal  undulatory, rectilinear, sidewinding, and concertina, but uses the word crawl most often to describe rattlesnake movement.
Klauber, Laurence M. Rattlesnakes, Their Habits, Life Histories, and Influence on Mankind,           University of California Press, 1972

Flehman's reaction
The Flehman's (Flea-mans) reaction, response, or position, is when an animal curls back its upper lips exposing its front teeth, inhales with the nostrils usually closed and then holds this position for several seconds.
Or in dogs, they can look like they are "tasting" something. I had a dog exhibit this behavior when smelling the snakes during a retest. This behavior pulls the scent into the vomeronasal organ (Jacobson's organ) at the top of the dog's mouth. They are in fact, "tasting" the smell. When I saw the dog do that I knew he had the smell of the snake.
Hey, guess what, Yogi Berra was right, "you can observe a lot by watching."

Animal Ark visits Viper Voidance

March 1, 2017 New River, Arizona

 Recently, I was pleased to welcome visitors all the way from Australia to observe how I train dogs to avoid rattlesnakes. David Manning, his life partner Jenny Seymour, and their son Jack, stopped by for two days to observe my training and to share their snake avoidance experience in Australia.

David and Jenny are owners/directors of
Animal Ark( Perth, Western Australia. Their business provides a variety of services: training others to handle venomous snakes, educational programs, snake removal, and snake avoidance for dogs.

Australia has many more types of venomous snakes than we do here in Arizona. We have two types, the Sonoran coral snake, and rattlesnakes. Coral snakes are so secretive and rarely encountered, that I don’t worry about training a dog to avoid them. I concentrate on training dogs to avoid rattlesnakes, and because all our rattlesnakes smell alike to a dog, I only to have to keep one type (genius) of rattlesnake on hand, in my case, four western diamondbacks.

  While Arizona rattlesnakes do move around through their home territories, they are ambush hunters. Their keen sense of smell tells them the best place to lie in wait for a rodent to come by. The longer the rattlesnake stays in one place, the bigger the scent envelope that radiates around them making it easier for trained dogs to detect and avoid this scent.

Australian snakes are more active, speedy, hunters, sometimes cruising miles through developed neighborhoods at night hunting mice, their favorite prey.  I don’t emphasize the sight aspect in my training (having the dog see the rattlesnake), David doesn’t have that luxury. Australian dogs have to alert to both the sight of a moving snake and the smell of the most common venomous snakes.

A condensed version of David’s training would be: show the dog a moving (harmless) snake, a local type of python. David uses an electronic collar to correct the dog when they get too close to the python. After the dog learns that squirmy things on the ground are best left alone, David introduces the dog to two of the most common (caged) venomous Australian snakes. He uses a brown snake, local term (dugite) and a tiger snake.  

Some of the Australian states do not allow the use of electronic collars (shock collars) for training dogs. Fortunately Western Australia is not one of these states. Jenny's passion is to gather data, crunch the numbers and present systematic evidence that not only does the snake avoidance process work; using a collar, but that many dogs can be saved pain and death if they are trained correctly. David and Jenny are firm believers in the snake avoidance process and would like to see their type of training spread across Australia.

Funky Smell Theory
Recently, a customer told me about his dog alerting on a smell at one of our lakes. They had gotten out of the boat and the dog refused to move forward. The owner could tell the French Brittany was on a smell, and it was something he didn't like. The humans checked it out and found a Gila monster on the high ground.

Okay, so what happened? A Gila monster does not smell like a rattlesnake.

Here at my house during training, the dog went up to a funky smell (rattlesnakes) and was corrected by the shock collar. So, when he smelled a different funky smell, he reasoned that the owner was the best one to check it out while he dipped his toes in the water.

New River, AZ

  • I often get questions from customers about relocating (trans-locating) rattlesnakes from their property to another area. Some research studies have indicated the snake does not fare well when moved more than a mile away from their home range. However, a recent study by Taylor, Heiken, Holding, and Moore, presented at the Biology of the Pitviper conference, June 2014, contains the conclusion, "These results indicate that rattlesnakes are behaviorally and physiologically resilient to translocation." (Translation: If you move the snake a distance away from where you find them, and choose a good site; food, shelter, etc. they will do fine.)

  • In 2011, Dr. William Hayes, at the Biology of the Rattlesnakes symposium, in a poster presentation, indicated that baby rattlesnakes are not more dangerous than adults. They have less venom and the chemical composition of that venom is different than an adult rattlesnake.

  • My training and experience has indicated that all species of rattlesnakes smell alike to a dog.        However, a recent experiment at my training facility, indicated that a copperhead does not not smell like a rattlesnake. Dogs trained on rattlesnakes might avoid a copperhead by sight, but not by smell.

  • The Arizona rattlesnakes listed below have a neurotoxic component to their venom. (as well as the protolytic (protein destroying) component usually associated with rattlesnake venom. (Translation: Mojave rattlesnakes have a venom that affects breathing--but so do the other rattlesnakes listed below.)

    Mojave, Rock Rattlesnake, Midget-faded Rattlesnake, Massasauga, Tiger Rattlesnake, and probably the Speckled Rattlesnake.