Snakes are relatively simple to care for, beautiful, fascinating to watch, and most pet species tolerate being handled well.
They won’t respond to your voice, and you can’t give them “treats” or affection. They can’t learn commands, or do tricks. However, you can train a snake not to bite you, using methods such as tap training. Snakes can also be trained to accept frozen-thawed rodents.
Let’s look into whether it’s possible to train snakes, and how you can go about it. We’ll cover three methods that you can use to train your snake not to bite. Then, we’ll discuss how to train a snake to accept frozen rodents.
Is It Possible to Train a Snake?
When you imagine training a pet, a snake probably isn’t the animal that first springs to mind. This is understandable. Snakes are wild reptiles, not mammals, and they are not social creatures. They have simple, primitive brains, and are not particularly intelligent.
That isn’t to say that snakes can’t recognize basic patterns. Like almost all animals, they can understand when a specific cue leads to a predictable result.
If you are persistent, you can teach your snake to respond to simple cues. These will have to be visual or tactile (touch-based) cues, as snakes don’t have excellent hearing. It’s possible to teach a snake:
- To understand that you are not a threat, and not to bite you or react defensively to your presence
- To tolerate being handled
- To associate a particular visual or tactile cue with food
- To learn the difference between handling time and feeding time, so that they don’t mistake you for food.
Can You Teach a Snake Tricks?
Teaching “tricks” – such as “sit,” “stay” and “come” – is a practice best left to dog owners. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to teach snakes tricks, for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, snakes struggle to detect human speech. Snakes are not deaf – they possess inner ears, allowing them to hear ground-borne vibrations. They can recognize some very loud airborne sounds, according to the Journal of Experimental Biology, but human speech is likely too quiet for them to detect. So, giving your snake verbal commands would not work.
Even if a snake could hear you, they probably still wouldn’t be able to learn tricks. Snakes are relatively primitive animals, with quite small brains. And because they are not social animals, they don’t have any desire to please you, nor do they respond to praise (such as petting).
However, it is certainly possible to train a snake not to be afraid or aggressive towards you.
How to Train a Snake Not to Bite
A snake’s instinct is to be wary of humans, and act defensively around us. This makes sense: after all, we’re much larger than they are. In the wild, the only reason a large mammal would approach and interact with a snake is if it wanted to eat it.
A defensive snake is often said to be “aggressive.” When threatened, a snake may hiss, rear up, or even strike. To prevent this from happening, you need to habituate your snake to your presence, and get them used to regular handling. Eventually, your snake will no longer think you’re a threat.
1) Get Your Snake Used to Your Presence
The first step is to help your snake feel comfortable around you. This will help it learn that you’re not a threat.
When you bring your snake home, it will likely act defensively when you approach, especially if the snake is a juvenile. So that your snake learns that you aren’t going to hurt it, you should spend as much time with your snake as you can.
If possible, keep the snake’s vivarium in a room where you and your family spend a lot of your time. This could be the lounge room or a bedroom, for example. This will help them grow accustomed to your presence, and your scent.
Make sure to place an adequate number of hides in your snake’s vivarium, so that they can get away if they feel insecure.
2) Handle Your Snake Regularly
Once your snake has got used to your appearance and your smell, it’s time to introduce regular handling. You should aim to do this at least 3 to 4 times per week.
- Locate your snake, and open the enclosure. If your snake is inside a hide, it’s ok to lift the hide away to expose you snake.
- Reach in confidently, and grab your snake at the midpoint of its body. Be gentle, but do not hesitate or linger.
- Remove your snake from the enclosure and hold it with both hands, at one-third and two-thirds along its body. Do not hold your snake by the head or tail.
- Allow your snake to slither over your arms and through your hands for 10 to 20 minutes. Continuously support your snake so that it feels secure.
- Place your snake gently back in its vivarium.
The first few times, when attempting to pick up your snake, there’s a chance you may get bitten. However, when this happens, it’s important that you persevere. Don’t let go of your snake or put it back into its enclosure straight away. Otherwise, your snake will learn that biting is rewarded with being left alone. This will make it more likely that your snake will bite you in the future.
Even snakes with an aggressive attitude can be tamed by handling them confidently every day. Eventually, they’ll learn that you are not a threat, and will be much less likely to bite you.
3) Feed Your Snake in a Separate Enclosure
Sometimes, snakes can develop an association between their enclosure being opened, and feeding time. If, in the past, your snake hasn’t been handled very regularly, there’s a chance that this has happened.
If your snake mistakes you for food, it may try to bite or even constrict your hand. To help train your snake out of this association, we recommend placing your snake into a separate enclosure each time you feed it.
At feeding time, remove the snake from its vivarium with a snake hook, and place it into a separate enclosure. A simple plastic tub with a locking lid will do the trick. Then, introduce the prey item. Once your snake has fully digested the food, you can move it back into its home.
Repeating this every time you feed your snake will ensure that it doesn’t go into “food mode” until it’s inside the plastic tub. It’ll be far less likely for your snake to bite you when you open its enclosure.
4) Tap Train Your Snake
Along with feeding your snake in a separate enclosure, you can also introduce “tap training.” This is a simple training method that will help your snake to learn the difference between handling time and feeding time.
- Acquire a reasonably long, firm object, such as a snake hook. The object should be long enough to use without getting too close to the snake, but also slim enough to fit into the opening of your snake’s enclosure.
- When it’s time to handle your snake, open the enclosure and insert the snake hook.
- Gently tap your snake on its head and neck area a few times with the snake hook. Then, remove your snake from the enclosure for handling.
Repeat this every time you handle your snake, which should be at least a few times per week.
Only tap your snake with the hook when it’s handling time. Eventually, your snake will learn that a tap from the snake hook means there’s no food. It will then be less likely to bite you.
Can Every Species of Snake Be Trained?
Though you can’t teach snakes tricks, follow our guidelines, and your snake will eventually become quite tame. The longer they spend with you, the more comfortable your snake will be, and the less likely they’ll be to bite you.
Of course, every snake is different. Some snakes may be easier to train than others, based on several factors. These may include:
- Whether the snake is captive-bred or wild-caught. Generally, captive-bred snakes are far tamer.
- The snake’s species. The more docile species, like corn snakes, will naturally tolerate humans better than a more defensive snake (like a green tree python).
- The snake’s stress levels. A snake that is more stressed, due to illness, for example, will be more likely to be defensive and bite.
While you are training your snake, you may receive the occasional “tag” (defensive bite).
While this may be shocking and might bleed, a bite from a nonvenomous pet snake isn’t a cause for concern. According to the Annals of Emergency Medicine, nonvenomous snakebite wounds do not tend to become infected and do not require antibiotics. Wash the wound with soap and water, use an antiseptic cream, and apply a Band-Aid if necessary.