Moving to the desert has opened my eyes to all kinds of new dangers as a dog owner. In addition to updating our backpacks with essential items to pack for a desert hike, I also learned about rattlesnake avoidance training. I laughed when I first heard of it, but it’s a real thing! Many of my hiking friends have gone through the training with their dogs, and I’ve heard many success stories of their dogs avoiding snakes on the trail.

Rattlesnake Training for Dogs: The 411 on Snake Avoidance |

Here’s the thing with rattlesnake avoidance training: 99% of the classes out there use e-collars, or electric collars. Most of the people I spoke with felt this was a better alternative than a rattlesnake bite, and that may be true. However, I was sure there had to be another option. I called dozens of Arizona dog trainers, and most of them said that e-collar is the only option. Like a dog with a bone, I kept digging and found Jamie Robinson, a trainer right here in Tucson.

Snake Avoidance Training Without Shock

Jamie Robinson, of Play Your Way Obedience, studied Marine Behavior and now specializes in many areas of dog training, including medical alert service dog training and canine & feline cancer detection. She uses the same basis of techniques for all of her training, which is to introduce sight, smell and sound along with expected behavioral response. In the case of rattlesnake training, the rewarded response is to run away when the dog is alerted to a snake. Traditional e-collar training occurs in a 1-hour group session, but according to Jaime, it needs to be refreshed annually. The cost is typically from $75-$150 for the session. Jaime’s positive reinforcement training requires a 6 weekly classes – with homework! –  and costs $125 for the 6-week session.

Rattlesnake Avoidance without shock

Who Needs Rattlesnake Training For Dogs?

Overall, less than 1% of dogs and cats in the U.S. are bit by snakes. However, if you live in an area prone to rattlesnakes, your odds are obviously higher. About 85% of rattlesnake bites to dogs occur in the dog’s in the backyard, so if you have a backyard where your pets roam freely, or if you hike with your dog (especially off-leash), rattlesnake training is a good investment to keep your pet safe.

Sidney Hardie, of Southwest Airedale Terrier Rescue, unfortunately learned this lesson recently. She’s raised many Airedales on her Tucson acreage without issue, but just this summer, two of her dogs were bit by a rattlesnake in the yard. The bill for the dog who took the brunt of the attack? $2,234, plus a lot of heartache wondering if the dog would pull through after a night in the doggy E.R. (I’m happy to report both dogs are okay!)

How Does Rattlesnake Avoidance Training Work?

With an e-collar, all steps are condensed into a one-hour class. With the positive reinforcement method, these steps are taken over the course of six weeks. Like any learning experience, human or canine, practice makes perfect!

Step 1: Identify the scent. Using real rattlesnake scent, dogs are trained to recognize this scent through positive reinforcement.

Rattlesnake Avoidance for Dogs

Step 2: Go away! Dogs are trained to run away on command.



Step 3: Step 1 and 2 are combined to teach the dog to run away upon smelling the snake

Step 4: Sight is introduced, using toy snakes, often combined with the scent

Rattlesnake Training for Dogs

Step 5: Sound is introduced, using maracas or phone apps to mimic the snake sound

For the remaining steps, and the final two weeks of class, Jaime brings in a live rattlesnake to ensure the training has worked. Through repetitive positive reinforcement, dogs learn to run away as soon as they smell, see, or hear a rattlesnake.

Where To Find Rattlesnake Avoidance Training

Currently, there are only two other trainers in the U.S. offering rattlesnake avoidance without shock, and both are located in California. If you are interested in training, and don’t live near California or Tucson, you can start with Jaime’s book on snake avoidance without shock. If you live in an area prone to rattlesnakes, look for a positive-reinforcement trainer in your area, show them the book, and see if you can arrange private training that is appropriate for your dog.

Have you trained your dog to avoid rattlesnakes? How was your experience?

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  • very interesting, I just bought some land in the Texas Hill Country and I’m looking around in the Houston Deer Park area for a place to train my Bullmastiff pup

    • Hi Peggy Sue! Thanks for your note. We haven’t located all the trainers that provide force-free snake avoidance training, but I did a quick Google search and found this trainer in Escondido:

      Please understand that I have no personal knowledge of this company or their trainers. I’m simply providing you with a place to start your search. Good luck!

  • My RRs have a very strong prey drive. I have had them trained w ecollars ($65) . Both have alerted me to rattlers while out hiking. I have them evaluated every two years and have not had to reuse collar.

    • Cindy could you refer the people you used? $65. is a good price. I had e-collar training done on two dogs several years ago and it was very successful. I have four dogs now, live in the mountains. The little dog got bit just yesterday and is lucky to tell the tale. Time for me to get these dogs into training. Thx in advance for the referral.

      • Hi Debra. I’m so sorry to hear that you pup was bitten and relieved he’s going to be okay! I hope that Cindy is able to help you with the trainer she used. All our best to you!

  • Agreed, Pamela! I’m tickled that postive reinforcement training is being used in snake aversion training, and I love that Leigh laid out the steps so people can think about how to best apply the training to their situation. Alligators much be a constant concern for you guys, and I’m so happy this post helped!

  • I am so thrilled to hear trainers are using positive methods to train snake avoidance. The snakes we are most likely to see in our travels are water moccasins which are silent. So I’ll have to think about how to teach Honey to avoid them. But you definitely gave me some good idas for training alligator avoidance in the meantime. What a great post!

  • Category: Travel Tips / Tagged with: Health and Safety, Hiking