Your Dog And Snakes

This summer we've seen the problems snakes can cause on a plane. But what about for your dog on the trail? Especially if Samuel L. Jackson isn't around to take care of the problem.

Rattlesnakes are found in every state in America, not just the rocky desert. Timber rattlers predominate in the east and the vipers in the Midwest are most likely to be the Prairie Rattlesnake, found at elevations under 5000 feet. It is not a particularly aggressive animal (if you have seen the movie SNAKES ON A PLANE, the cinematic snakes were given chemicals to make them nasty to humans) but you should treat any rattlesnake with respect and keep your distance.

A rattler's colors may vary but they are recognized by the namesake rattle on the tail and a diamond-shaped head. Unless cornered or teased by humans - or dogs, a rattlesnake will crawl away and avoid striking. Avoid placing your hand in rocky areas and crevasses and hiking in areas where the ground cover (weed or grass) prevents you from seeing the ground. These are all places where snakes are are likely to hang out.

If you hear a nearby rattle, stop immediately and hold your dog back. Identify where the snake is and slowly back away. If you or your dog is bitten, do not panic but get to a hospital or veterinarian with as little physical movement as possible. In many cases the rattlesnake might give "dry bites" where no poison is injected (got to save that for a meal), but you should always check with a doctor or veterinarian after a bite even if you feel fine.

An anecdote that demonstrates that you can find rattlesnakes just about anywhere but a bad encounter doesn't mean you or your dog is a goner. In Palisades State Park in New Jersey (within sight of New York City) a dog happened upon a rattlesnake and tried playing with it - as dogs are wont to do - before his owner could reach him. The dog was bitten and in panic ran off. It took an hour to find the scared dog and begin the trip to the veterinarian. Due to the long delay, the dog was forced to lose a leg but was otherwise fine.

Keep in mind that snakes fill an important function in the ecosystem; without them we would drown in mice and other rodents, so there is no reason to harm them. If you anticipate hiking extensively in remote areas there are professional snake-avoidance trainers who can "snake-break" your dog - train her to stay away from rattlesnakes.