How to train a snake not to bite? Can you tame a snake? How to pick up a snake without it biting you?
Well these are certainly loaded questions as there are many reasons your snake may be trying to take a piece of your hand every time you reach into their enclosure.
In this article I will cover common reasons for snakes biting (mainly bites that take place inside their enclosure) and will show you a simple technique (video) you can use to slowly train your snake not to bite.
Why Snakes Bite
“My snake hates me!” … that may actually be true…
There are a few things that we need to understand first:
1) Your snake does not enjoy being held. I know this can be painful for some to admit. Truthfully, some snakes do tolerate being handled quite well and some do not (really depends on the individual snake and species). However, even the ones that do tolerate being handled do not necessarily enjoy it . Remember, you are just another animal to them.
2) Having said that, I know we can’t resist handling our animals at least a little bit so luckily there are ways we can make sure it is an enjoyable experience for you (no bites!) and a somewhat relaxing experience for the animal. HINT: If your snake is biting you or striking at you, you can bet it is having a stressful experience.
Reasons your snake might bite:
If you are wondering how to train a snake not to bite… you’ll find below that it might be YOU who needs the training and not the snake! Here are some reasons that your snake might be biting and what do to about it.
1) New Arrival/ Environmental Stress:
Give your new snake at least 2-3 weeks in its new home before you handle it (I know it’s hard!). It can take several months for a snake to become comfortable in a new enclosure and adding the stress of handling can easily draw a strike or bite.
General stress can also elicit a strike. For example, if your snake is in a high foot traffic area with lots of noise, etc. it could put the snake in somewhat of a “heightened state”, which could easily lead to a bite. If you have a “biter” in a busy room, I would recommend moving the enclosure to a quieter space to see if that makes a difference.
2) Inadequate Husbandry:
Again, another stress inducer and unfortunately quite a common reason for snake bites in the hobby! This is one of the first questions I would ask someone who is wondering how to train a snake not to bite. If your husbandry is off (wrong temperature, poor humidity/ventilation, food schedule, etc.) it can EASILY make your snake aggressive. Think about it… are you pleasant to be around when you are in discomfort? I know I’m not!
Great husbandry can turn an aggressive snake into a puppy dog and bad husbandry can turn a calm snake into a beast!
3) Going into Shed:
Some (most?) snakes do not like being pestered when they are going through shed. Especially while deep in blue because at this stage they are almost completely blind due to the build up of secretions behind the eye cap.
Make sure you understand the signs of your snake going into shed. Dull appearance, cloudy eyes, normally spending time in their warm hide, etc. As a Rule of Thumb: don’t move your snake while it is in shed, let them be! Messing with a snake in shed is asking for a bite!
A defensive strike is something you snake might do if you are rummaging around in its enclosure for longer than it is comfortable with. Generally this is caused by surprising your snake with your presence in its enclosure (snakes hate surprises).
Your snake will react with a defensive strike if they are under the impression you are a threat. They will strike, bite and recoil before you have blinked.
5) Feed RESPONSE:
I think this one is self explanatory. If you snake thinks your hand is food… good luck! A feed response bite is likely going to be followed with a constriction, which would be a real pain in the a..arm! Apparently running the snake under water will get them to let go…? I have never had it happen so I am no expert!
This is not likely to occur unless your hand smells like your feeder rodents so always remember to was your hands!
Of course there are other reasons your snake may be biting, such as illness or breeding activity but I think those five cover the most common reasons.
How to Train a Snake Not to Bite?
As you can see from the list above, there are quite a few reasons your snake may be trying to bite you. The majority of the reasons have nothing to do with “training a snake not to bite” and everything to do with how you are caring for your animal.
However, we can use the technique of hook training to help reduce or prevent bites from taking place. I have consistently used the method of hook training from the first day I brought my snakes home. To date I have not been bit or even struck at by one of my animals. I certainly attribute this to hook training.
Presently, it seems scientifically uncertain whether or not snakes can learn. In other words, it has not been made clear in any research that I could find that snakes can be successful taught or conditioned. This means hook training may not actually work by technically conditioning the snake to respond to the hook… you’ll have to try it for yourself and see what you think!
What is Hook Training:
Hook training (sometimes called tap training) is a method used to condition your snake when removing them from their enclosure.
Here are the steps:
Buy a snake hook!I don’t recommend one of the cheap “collapsible ZooMed” ones. The one below is very similar to the one I own and honestly it’s not even that expensive. Definitely worth the investment!
Tap Your Snake:
Now that you have you snake hook, the rest is very simple.
- Open you snake’s enclosure
- Reach inside with your hook and give your snake a few taps.
- After the snake has been tapped a few times, they can be scooped out of the enclosure with the hook.
- After the snake has been removed from their enclosure your snake can be handled freely by hand.
Why does Hook Training Work?
Here is the basic theory behind hook training—
Tapping your snake with your hook accomplishes a few things:
a) It warns the snake that you are there. Since the hook is not emitting a heat signature, your snake is not going to interpret its presence as a threat. This allows you to safely pull the snake out of its enclosure without risk of triggering a defensive strike.
b) By tapping the snake with the hook every time you interact with it (other than feeding) you are conditioning it to understand that the hook means it’s not being fed i.e. you will eliminate any accidental feed response bites.
If you are looking for how to train a snake not to bite, hook training is really your best bet in my opinion.
My Snake Never Bites, Should I still use Hook Training?
My answer is, yes! Even if you have a very docile snake that does not have an issue with being handled I still recommend using hook training.
1) Hook training provides very consistent stimuli for your snake. Your hand is constantly a different temperature, and will have a different scent from day to day. The hook is always the same. This, in my opinion, reduces the stress experienced by the snake every time you pull them from their home.
2) If you have a larger species of snake, you’re going to want to trust that they aren’t going to bite when they are full grown. Hook training will give you the confidence to trust that your animal is not going to bite.
3) Snake bites are hard on the snake! Quite often snakes will loose teeth when they bite their humans. This is usually caused by the human pulling their hand away quickly, teeth stick in the skin and rip out. Try not pulling your hand away when being struck at…. good luck!
My Snake is Still Biting!
Be patient! It can take a lot of time to calm down a nervous snake. Every day is a new day, if your snake was on the nasty side today… try again tomorrow! Your snake is not going to hold a grudge against you (even if it seems like it), every day is a fresh start.