Even with summer slowly winding down, right now is still the perfect time to explore the bounty of trails and open spaces that this beautiful planet has to offer. Unfortunately, it’s also still snake season. According to the Center for Disease Control, 7,000 to 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the United States each year. Luckily, only about five prove to be fatal.
But with the proper skills and knowledge everyone should be able to safely explore the Great Outdoors. We caught up with snake expert, Erick Briggs, who has been training animals professionally for over 25 years and asked for his advice.
Here, we share what Briggs told us as far as the best ways to identify venomous snakes, how to keep your dog safe, and what to do in the event you (or your dog) do get bit.
You should always be alert and aware of your surroundings when you’re out in nature. Never assume that snakes aren’t present, even in winter. Be weary of where you’re placing your hands and feet. If you’re climbing, be sure to examine nooks and crannies before placing your hands or feet in them. Scan the path around you and keep your ears open for the forbidding sound of a rattle.
If you’re not interacting with snakes regularly, they can be difficult to identify. Rattlesnakes are the most common venomous snake in the states and can be identified by their rattle, triangular heads, heat sensing pits or holes on the sides of their head, and elliptical shaped eyes.
In general, venomous snakes have elliptical shaped eyes like a cat while non-venomous snakes typically have round pupils. To familiarize yourself with these distinguishing characteristics, go to local zoos or parks where you can safely view snakes and identify differences among the species. Get a field guide and carry it with you when you hike. If you’re unsure of what kind of snake you’re looking at, it’s best to assume it’s dangerous and simply avoid it.
Train Your Dog
Dogs are just as susceptible to snake bites as humans (if not more so due to their natural curiosity). There are a couple of options when it comes to training your dog snake aversion techniques. You can work with your dog at home to “leave it.” Present your dog with food or a toy (such as a rubber snake) and train him to “leave it.” When he disengages from the temptation and redirects his attention to you reward him with a treat. Once he’s mastered the technique, tie a fishing line to the end of the snake, have a friend drag it around, and practice the same command.
There are also a number of organizations and trainers out there that will teach your dog how to identify and be cautious around venomous snakes. Briggs has been in the business for 17 years and teaches 7,000-10,000 dogs annually through his company Natural Solutions. In the program, dogs are introduced to live, safely muzzled snakes to allow dogs the opportunity to recognize the sight, sound, and smell of the animal.
If you encounter a snake on the trail the best thing you can do is give it plenty of space. If you keep a distance of six or more feet between yourself and the snake, it is nearly impossible to get bit. If you’re out with your dog, keep your dog away from the snake and do not engage with the animal.
Prepare for the Worst
Getting bit by a venomous snake is extremely rare, but can be very dangerous. In the unlikely scenario that you do get bit, the best thing to do is seek medical care immediately. If you’re deep in the wilderness, hike out until you can get cell signal and call for help. If your pet gets bit, it’s essentially the same situation—carry them out or call for help and take them to the vet as quickly as possible.
While you wait for help to arrive it is essential to remain calm, remove jewelry and restrictive clothing before you swell, clean the wound and cover it with a clean, dry dressing, and position yourself so that the site of the bite is below your heart. It’s important to note that you should not apply a tourniquet or ice, attempt to remove the venom, or consume caffeine or alcohol. If you regularly frequent an area, it’s wise to have the numbers for local enforcement agencies on hand, such as forestry, park services, and the fire department.