While a pet snake cannot learn how to roll over, fetch, sit, or come when called, you can still teach it some basic things.
We use conditioning techniques to modify snakes’ behaviors. We can teach them to be calmer in captivity and more trusting of their trainers, for example. But we’re not able to teach them ‘tricks’.
Can You Train a Pet Snake?
Generally, snakes aren’t known for having big brains, like mammals or even birds. For this reason, they cannot obey complicated commands or learn cool tricks.
Simply put, snakes wouldn’t know how to respond, even if they wanted to.
That said, with well-planned training, snakes can learn a bunch of new things, albeit not very exciting ones.
Snakes can get used to brand-new surroundings and can modify their behavior. On top of this, they learn to feed on dead food, recognize human owners, and learn to not bite when being handled.
What Can You Teach a Pet Snake?
Scientific experiments have shown that they learn from previous experiences. In one experiment, researchers taught a dozen snakes to traverse a maze comprising two containers, one with cold water and one with warm.
After many trials, the snakes navigated the maze successfully and arrived in the compartment with the warm water. They later learned to always take the correct path.
This experiment is a prime indication that snakes are indeed trainable to adapt to new environments and learn new things from previous experiences.
With the warm water goal in mind, they were aware of their surroundings and remembered their past decisions. In this way, when training a pet snake, it’s good to remember that it’ll remember past interactions with the trainer.
Related: Do Snakes Like Being Petted?
Why is Training a Pet Snake Challenging?
Snakes can learn from past experiences. Nevertheless, they’re not dogs, so they cannot obey commands or play games.
Here are some reasons why snakes aren’t as trainable as other pets:
1. They Don’t Respond to Rewards
Snakes aren’t as social as other animals. They don’t cuddle or play around and don’t make friends. In fact, they’re really quite indifferent to their owners and other snakes.
Instead, they’re solitary creatures and don’t find pleasing humans with their behavior a fun activity.
Even when petted, they may not react to the touch since they don’t need that much physical affection.
2. They’re Defensive
The fact they’re so aggressive when startled means it’s hard to provide negative reinforcements. Furthermore, handling them and teaching them is dangerous.
If you confuse the snake when trying to teach it, there’s a good chance it will feel attacked or confused, and strike at you.
Related: Do Snakes have Feelings?
How Do People Train a Pet Snake?
1. Teaching a Snake About Feeding Time
One of the few things you can teach a snake is feeding time. It’s done in the exact same way as Pavlov’s Dog was trained during his famous ‘classical conditioning’ experiment.
A pet snake can be trained to know that it’s time to eat if you do the same procedure before each feed. It can develop a subconscious association between the pre-feeding procedure and food!
Many snake owners achieve this by having a specific feeding cage.
They feed the snake only once it’s been moved inside a feeding cage, so the snake associates that cage with food time. After it has finished eating, they immediately move it back to its home habitat.
Related: Do Snakes Cuddle?
2. Teaching a Snake to Eat Frozen Mice
As wild animals, snakes enjoy eating live rats and mice. Often, though, pet shops might not be willing to give many live mice to snake owners. So, feeding a pet snake with frozen rodents is very common.
While this is a great idea on paper (it seems more humane!), in reality, snakes aren’t into dead food.
But, there’s a way to make the food attractive. Trainers use tongs to shake the meal around the snake’s enclosure to make the snake believe that the food is alive, ready for hunting.
After a while, the snake should get used to how dead food smells and tastes—it might even grow to like it!
Related: Can Snakes be Domesticated?
Teaching a Pet Snake not to Bite
Snakes are defensive creatures whose fear instinct are very strong. As such, a new snake needs to be taught to be comfortable around their owner.
Below are some ways to help them acclimatize to their owners.
1. Slow Human Exposure
When the snake’s habitat is somewhere with a frequent human presence, the snake becomes used to the human scent, sound, and physiognomy.
2. Allowing it to Hide
Snakes, like rodents, need hiding places to feel safe. In fact, they need plenty of hiding places in their habitat to find peace.
So, if snakes have to flee for whatever reason, such as a sudden touch that might have scared them off, having a comfortable hiding place is a far more convenient choice for them than getting aggressive and biting.
Perfect hiding spaces in their enclosures include caves, boxes, tunnels, or designated pet snake houses.
3. Letting it Adjust to the New Environment
When pet snakes are brought into their new home, they find it hard to adjust, and may become defensive.
Every pet, when taken to a new home, finds it hard to get comfortable. Likewise, the snake feels confused when in a new environment, as it cannot realize what’s a threat and what isn’t.
4. Regular Interaction
Interacting regularly with a pet snake helps it become friendlier and more approachable. Ideally, a pet snake needs to be interacted with at least two to three times per week. However, when a snake is new, you may need to slowly lead-up to interaction by interacting less often.
Receive training on the best way to interact with your pet.
Related: Are Snakes Friendly?
Snakes, above everything else, are wild animals. At the same time, they can also make excellent pets. They might not be as trainable as dogs or perform backflips, but they can find a comfortable and snuggly habitat among humans.
In fact, as snakes grow used to the human presence, they change their behavior, and from being defensive, they open up and become trusting, calm, and friendly.
And remember, when teaching a snake, patience is the ultimate virtue!