My Dog Kills Venomous Snakes in my House and Yard
Snake in my yard
I live in Australia, the country with seven of the world's ten most deadly snakes. The three types of snakes found most commonly in homes and gardens in my region are all venomous. In fact, I've not seen one snake that couldn't kill me since moving to this part of the country.
We don't see harmless Green Tree Snakes here. Instead we get the deadly Eastern Brown snakes, the slightly less venomous Red Belly Black snakes, and Copperheads - also venomous.
My family lives off the grid on a small farm in a rather remote area, so it is imperative that we make every effort to keep snakes away from the house, and get rid of those that venture into our yard. It is a long trip to the hospital, and mobile telephone reception is unreliable.
A snake bite here may well be fatal, so I love having a dog that kills snakes.
The end of hibernation
It is early snake season in our part of the world. I've seen a few sunning themselves on the warm road while driving into town, but today was my first close encounter with a wriggly in my own yard.
As I walked outdoors from my kitchen, I was too preoccupied to notice the Copperhead snuggled close to my doorstep. My dog spotted it and, by the time I walked back from collecting eggs from the hen house, the fight was on. One very small dog was wrestling with one rather large snake.
It took me a while to unpack my camera, but here are some photos of the later stage of their battle.
One small dog kills one big deadly snakeClick thumbnail to view full-size
Update: Venomous snakes at my feet
Four months into the season, and already I've had six venomous snakes very close to my house. They're just the ones I've seen. There may have been many more that passed undetected.
On two separate occasions, my dog has tossed a venomous snake from alongside my feet.
We have an outdoor area adjoining the house where I grow some of my special medicinal and culinary herbs. It is completely encased in shade cloth to protect my favorite plants from sunburn in summer, frost in winter, strong winds and periods of relentless rain.
A few years ago we added a roof (over the shadecloth) and carpet over the earth floor, creating an ideal spot for me to sit at a table on my computer. Fresh air without mosquitoes or annoying moths heading for my computer screen in the night. I simply run an extension cord from inside the house to charge my computer, and I'm good for hours. I have small solar lights lighting the area all night, and have a more effective reading light (also solar) on my table if I need it.
The edges of this outdoor room are buried and sealed at ground level, so the only place a snake can enter is beneath the screen door.
In previous years I've had no wriggly visitors. This year I've had two.
Dog vs snake where I sat with bare feetClick thumbnail to view full-size
Best snake-killing dog
Before you expect your family pooch to kill any snake that ventures into your yard, we should spend a moment discussing the likelihood of a successful outcome.
My snake-killing dog is a mini foxie. Mini Fox Terriers are quite unique in their ability to kill snakes. I've known Jack Russells to have similar success, but the Fox Terrier is generally regarded as the best snake dog.
This is my fourth mini foxie. I bought my first in 1983. It was not the breed of dog we planned on purchasing, but it was tiny and cute and my pre-schooler at the time fell in love with it. As a puppy, she fit in my pocket - which bothered me somewhat because I wanted it to grow into a real dog.
A real dog she was, and I have stuck with the same breed over the years.
Each of my dogs has successfully fought and won numerous battles with snakes. None of them have ever been bitten. Agile and astute, the mini Fox Terrier will take hold of a snake and thrash it in the air. At some time, the dog will bite into the flesh behind the head of the snake. At other times, it grabs the middle of the body and shakes hard.
The action continues until the snake stops moving.
If you live in snake territory, a Mini Fox Terrier could be a very good choice as a family pet. A word of warning, however. If you want your dog to be agile, you must ensure it gets appropriate exercise and is not overfed.
A fat dog has no hope of killing a snake. Sadly, family friends lost their Mini Fox Terrier to a snake's bite. I suspect it had the natural talent, but lacked the physique to execute the task.
How do you train dogs to kill snakes?
Over the years many people have asked how I train my dogs to kill snakes. The truth is, I don't. I don't encourage my dogs to seek snakes, and I don't urge them to kill them. The dog finds the snake and kills it with no word or encouragement from me.
If we see a snake at a safe distance, I tend to call the dog back and avoid the battle. But more often than not, the clash has begun before I'm even aware of the danger.
Once my dog is engaged in a challenge with a venomous snake, the last thing I would consider doing is calling the dog or even speaking its name. I don't want to be responsible for causing a distraction. To be distracted is to risk death.
I stand by quietly and watch the drama unfold, and let nature take its course.
Sometimes we are alerted to the presence of a snake in a concealed space, for instance in the wood pile, when the dog growls and scratches. It is interesting to note, however, that there is no growling - no noise at all - when my dogs are actively challenging a snake. There may be noise from the actual scuffle, but no 'talking'.
My role is to watch in case the dog is injured and needs medical attention. I don't become involved in the confrontation in any way at all. Fortunately, in over 30 years, I've not once had a dog lose a fight with a snake.
Strategies to keep snakes away
My husband and I have developed a number of strategies to discourage snakes and keep them away from the house.
We accept snakes may venture into our vegetable gardens, we anticipate they may take refuge in our woodpiles and we half-expect to encounter one in the shed ... or under the parked ride-on mower ... beneath the raised hen house ... or near the water storage tanks. But we take measures to discourage them from coming too close to our house, particularly during their active season.
A snake by our kitchen door was a harsh reminder to move from our 'winter' mindset (when snakes are hibernating and less of a threat) to 'summer' strategies for keeping snakes away.
Snakes in the grass
Everyone knows that snakes hide in long grass. Perhaps not everyone is aware that many snakes can remain concealed even in relatively short grass.
If you have extremely short lawn (the type in a manicured city garden), you'll be able to spot most snakes as they travel over your grass carpet. However if you have actual grass - as most of us who live in rural areas do - and even slightly uneven ground beneath your grass, snakes are much harder to see.
So when we mow the grass around our house during summer, we try to follow a strict routine.
- Mow close to the house first, then carefully increase the clear area in increments ... allowing any wildlife (including snakes) to escape safely.
- Finish mowing the yard area before moving towards the orchard.
- Mow the grassy strips within the largest vegetable garden (in the hope that snakes will exit over the grass on the far side instead of just hiding in the thick jerusalem artichokes, rhubarb or comfrey patches),
- Then mow the remaining clear grass areas ... before mowing beneath the gum trees and along the boundary fences. (Our other vegetable gardens are not set up for mowing. We know to be particularly careful of snakes when we enter them.)
My husband cranked up the ride-on mower. He started it alongside a shed on the other side of our orchard and our largest vegetable garden (both of which are beyond our 'yard' area) and because he only had a short time available, took it for a few gentle laps around the fruit trees to tidy up some grass that looked scruffy. He planned to mow the rest of the grass on the weekend.
Yesterday he mowed the orchard. Today I almost stepped on a venomous snake by the kitchen door.
So here's a reminder for everyone, including myself ... In spring time (and all through the snake season), remember to mow near the house first.
Keeping snakes out of my house
I have lived in a number of different homes over the years and had a variety of close encounters with snakes. Once, while spring cleaning, I opened all the doors and windows on the ground floor and then went upstairs to put my baby down for a daytime sleep.
When I came downstairs again I was surprised to see someone had left a large rope, coiled loosely, just inside my front door. The rope was actually a King Brown snake. Huge. Frightening. Extremely venomous.
Fortunately it decided to take itself outside, because there was no way I could have tackled it on my own.
Ever since that day I have been conscious of the value of security screen doors. Forget about burglars; I am more interested in keeping snakes out. I like to have air flow without fear of snakes.
When telling my King Brown horror story to another mother, she shared an even more frightening story about checking on her kids in bed late one night and discovering a large python had entered through the bedroom window.
It was poised above the top bunk where her young son was sleeping. She screamed for her husband's help and they safely removed their two children from the room before calling for a friend to come and help get rid of the snake.
At that point I decided window screens were also a good idea.
Products that repel or trap snakes
There's no shortage of products available to repel or trap snakes. With my fabulous snake dog on hand, I don't feel I need them.
If you have ever successfully (or unsuccessfully) used any of the products that repel or trap snakes, perhaps you might offer some feedback in the comments section.
I certainly understand why they are so popular.
Nobody likes having venomous snakes in their yard or home.
Milk attracts snakes
I had a cat years ago and used to feed it outdoors until I discovered a snake with its head in the saucer of milk.
A few years ago we suspected we had a snake in a confined space in our shed among some building materials including glass doors and windows stored upright above wooden planks resting on the ground. We didn't like the idea of having to move all the heavy items, particularly if a snake was likely to be among them.
I put a bowl of milk at a distance outside the shed, and left the shed door open. When we took the dog inside the shed two days later, there was nothing attracting the dog's attention so we assume the snake left and stayed outside.
Recently a man told me how he catches snakes. He said he opens a can of baked beans but doesn't completely remove the lid. He bends the lid open so he can pour the beans out. After he's had dinner, he washes the can and puts milk in the bottom, then bends the lid back down leaving just a small opening.
He lays the can on its side outdoors and claims to have caught a number of snakes this way. According to him, the snake puts its head into the can but then can't back out.
I've never tried it, but I have to wonder how he gets the size of the opening just right. A snake with a big head might just end up hanging around the milk smell. And what if it attracted multiple snakes ... yikes.
Slippery tiles stop snakes
One of the most effective ways of stopping snakes from slithering across the ground into your home is tiling the entry with slippery tiles.
I was visiting a friend once when we heard a strange slapping noise on her undercover deck. A medium sized snake had moved onto her deck but was stranded, unable to continue over her smooth, shiny tiles. Instead of progressing towards the door of her house, it was no more than its body length away from the garden.
The best tiles for your floor if you want to stop snakes are glossy, shiny tiles - the type you expect to find in a bathroom. My personal preference in tiles is terracotta - pretty useless when it comes to discouraging snakes. Any floor surface they can gain traction on won't stop them.
When planning our dream home (the new house we occasionally talk about designing and building now that we are experienced in all aspects of living off the grid), my husband and I agree it makes sense to incorporate smooth, glossy tiles on the floor of at least one entry.
The tiles would need to extend a little further than the longest snake we've seen in our yard, and we intend to put one row of tiles at the bottom of each wall - just to make sure a slippery visitor doesn't get lucky (or smart) enough to gain traction along the edge.
I tend to worry about how slippery such a surface will be for humans with wet shoes after rain, but it is certainly an option worth considering if your home design can accommodate it. (A mat to wipe wet feet is useful, as long as everyone remembers to use it.)
Our design for a snake-proof entry includes extended roofing over the slippery tiles, and siting the entry away from the direction of rain-carrying winds.
An old-timer who lives nearby came to visit me to warn me to watch out for snakes. He had speared one with a tool he bought years ago for catching/killing eels. The snake was still alive so I urged him to quickly put it out of its misery.
I love having a dog around my home, patrolling my house and yard for venomous snakes. He is much more effective at spotting - and killing - snakes than I could ever be!
© 2014 LongTimeMother