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Keeping Reptiles Newsletter
 Issue 2   
January, 2005
An Approach Toward Socializing Snakes
In this Issue

Reprinted from and article first published in 1985 by author unknown.

Disclaimer: I do not in any way claim that this method will work for everyone in regards to socializing their snakes. I have had mixed results with this method and have learned that some snakes apparently just can't be "tamed". This is of course only one of several possible ways to try and socialize your snake. There is no one method that works 100% of the time. To be honest, I feel that there really is no such thing as a "tame" snake. The most you can expect from a reptile is tolerance towards you on their part. Any animal with a mouth is capable of biting especially if it is startled, cornered, scared, hurt, hungry, or feeling defensive. A snake that is unable to flee a situation it feels is "threatening" has only its teeth left as a defense. Do not get a snake for a pet if you are unable to accept the fact that the snake will bite you at some point in its lifetime.

Determining Generic Temperament

Snakes can be considered a hit or miss category when it comes to socializing them. First of all you should take into account the generic temperament for each species of snake that you are dealing with if it is possible to do so. This way you can prepare for what you are getting yourself into. Remember this is a generic temperament and will not always hold true for each individual snake. For example, black rat snakes are usually semi-aggressive especially when cornered, but there are those individuals that can be considered " docile." You can also have an aggressive snake in what is normally considered to be a docile species such as corn snakes. Some, like kingsnakes, tend to run into all three categories: docile, sem- aggressive, and aggressive. Once you know what the snake's temperament will be in general you can then begin to work on finding out what it is like individually. A good way to start is to go through a socializing process and pray (sometimes a lot) that it will work because not every snake can be socialized.

Socializing Process - Expectations

Socializing a snake takes time. Be patient and don't try to rush it. Don't ever expect to socialize a snake within a few days time. It can take anywhere from 1 - 6 months or longer to properly tame a snake if you can at all. You should realize up front that when dealing with snakes, especially nervous ones, you will at some point in time be bitten, most likely several times, and you must be able to deal with it in a proper fashion. With an overly aggressive snake, if you can reach the point of being able to handle it with gloves and it is not constantly trying to fight its way free or striking at everything that moves, you should be grateful that you were able to get even that far. It may be the best you will ever accomplish with that snake. If you expect to ever hold an aggressive snake with the same care-free attitude that you can with most corn snakes, consider it a lost cause and stop right now because you can't. An aggressive snake can never be trusted even when it is on its best behavior. When you least expect it, they are very quick to remind you (and somewhat painfully at that) that , yes, they are still aggressive in their mind-set.

Stage Zero

To start off you need to acquire a pair of work/garden gloves made of a medium weight type of material (not too thin, but not thick either). You will want to place the gloves into the snake's cage and leave them there for 3 days. What you want to accomplish with this is to permeate the gloves with the snake's scent.

Stage One

You will want to set up a schedule of days and times for working with the snake using this glove method. The minimum you need to work with is 3 days a week with 1 session each day lasting 10 -30 minutes. After the three days have passed you will want to remove the gloves from the cage. Put the gloves on and gently, but firmly pick the snake up. What we are trying to accomplish here is to associate the snake with the fact that the gloves are "non threatening" and his scent being on the gloves may help to reinforce this idea. The gloves also provide you with some protection should the snake ever try to bite you. You will want to handle only this one individual snake wearing that pair of gloves. You don't want to introduce strange smells which may alarm the snake. You most definitely don't want to handle mice and rats and then try to pick up the snake with those same pair of gloves. Stage One may last for a two week period. This introduction period will hopefully teach the snake that the handling process is to be expected and you are not going hurt him nor should he have any reason to be nervous or afraid enough to strike out.

Stage Two

After the second week you will still want to stay with your established schedule. The only change you will make is that after the first five minutes of the session you will remove the gloves and handle him without the gloves for the rest of the session time allotted. Here we are now trying to get the snake used to your own smell and hopefully by this time he will have firmly associated that the gloves mean " no-threat", that he knows you will not hurt him. He should also be relatively comfortable to the extent of being handled. Now you want to be a bit more careful in the handling of the snake since you will be removing the gloves and therefore lose what little protection you had from biting. If the snake is a fast learner, stage two will last only 1 week. If not, then try for two weeks. If you are still having problems go back to stage one and start over.

Stage Three

This is the last stage and by this time you should be able to remove the snake from its cage without any nervous behavioral signs (tail buzzing, striking, musking). If you are not able to accomplish this then go back to stage two and try again. If the snake has indeed reach this level you will begin removing the snake from its cage without the use of the gloves. What we want to accomplish here is to get YOU comfortable with handling the snake without having to keep a constant eye on what it is doing. This does not mean that you can completely ignore the snake, but that by now you should (at the occasional quick glance) be able to fairly judge the snake's temper by its reactions to things such as quick movements, children, large close crowds of people, etc., and be able to act accordingly. Some snakes don't mind being touched by a lot of people. Other snakes become very nervous with large groups crowding around, but do fine with small ones. Try to adapt yourself to the snake you are using or just handling. If all you have available is a snake that prefers small groups and your program is with a large one, try to arrange it so that there is no crowding around the snake and that only 1 or 2 people at a time be allowed to pet the snake.



Cleaning Schedule How often you clean your cage will depend on the size and habitat of of your herp. For example, cages of large iguanas require more work than those of a snake. Read as much as possible about your pet to determine the best cleaning schedule.

In general you should:

  • Daily to remove spills, uneaten food, shed skin and waste materials.
  • Clean afood and water dishes daily when providing fresh food and water.
  • Clean and disinfect the entire cage, substrate, and decorations weekly.

The use of rubber or latex gloves are recommended during cleaning.

You should wash your hands thoroughly after every contact and every cleaning procedure, no matter how brief, to avoid transmission of harmful bacteria.

Ideally you should wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap or sanitising lotion.

For the more thorough cleaning or removing stubborn materials you may need to relocate your herp to a clean spare cage.

Make sure you cage is free of fumes and is dry before returning your pet.

Wash food and water dishes in hot soapy water and dry thoroughly and use a disinfectant or antibacterial soap to sanitize. Be sure to rinse thoroughly, leaving no trace of soap or disinfectant behind as these may be harmful to your pet.

If you want to make the cleaning process more efficient, consider having two or more sets of dishes. By doing so, you can quickly and easily replace one set while it is being cleaned.

More on cleaning in coming issues.

IGUANA CAGE PLANS COMING!! will be launching within the coming weeks.

The plans are made by Keith Van Zile, a recognized cage maker with many years experience and a wealth of knowledge about keeping Iguanas. It has taken some considerable time to develop Keith's Plans into an eBook and compile all of the necessary information. These cages are fabulous and could be easily adapted to large snakes, other lizards and arboreal species.

inddor iguana cage
indoor iguana cage
Tell Us What You Think!!

We would love to hear what you think of this issue of Keeping Reptiles. And of course, if you have any suggestions for upcoming issues that you'd like to share with us, please send those, too! Just e-mail me at: Reptile-Cage-Plans


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