I’m guessing you’ve got a snake to tame. Aren’t you quite the charmer? Snake charmer, that is. That, or you’re trying to tame some other wild thing, like a feral cat or your little brother.
So how do you tame a snake? Snakes are, by nature, somewhat aggressive. The basics of snake taming mostly involve deprogramming that instinctive pugnacity. Hatchlings and wild snakes will be decidedly more difficult to subdue than their already-domesticated counterparts.
By no means am I an expert on any of this information, nor am I the only source you should consult if you intend to put yourself in any sort of hairy—or scaly—situation.
First, let’s address the idea of “taming” snakes.
We’ve written a few related articles on our Snake Owner site, or we’ve at least mentioned this before, but snakes can’t actually be “broken” like a dog or a horse. They’re wild animals, and they always will be. Their brains just aren’t geared towards becoming man’s next best friend.
However, there are things we can do to make snakes more docile, which isn’t so difficult as you might imagine.
Snakes thrive on familiarity, so they’re not going to attack people they know (for instance, their longtime owners).
They also work somewhat through incentives like food, shelter, water, etc. You scratch your snake’s back, it’ll scratch yours. Or, at the very least, it won’t attack you when you reach into his tank.
Just keep this all in mind as you read. I might use the terms “tamed” and “domesticated” for the sake of convenience, but don’t take them too literally. We can’t force our snakes to be come pets—not in the conventional sense, anyway. Keep reading to learn what we can do and how we can do it.
Conditioning a “Domesticated” Snake
If you’ve just bought a snake from a breeder or from a previous owner, it’s probably already pretty well accustomed to life with modern hominids.
There are, however, still a few things you can do to ensure that your slithery little pal is just as comfy as can be with its new landlord or lady.
Conditioning a snake that’s already been around people isn’t so different in principle from taming a wild one (which we’ll talk about soon). Snakes that have already tasted human life, however, are far more willing to accept new people, so their adjustment will take considerably less time and effort.
Don’t get too comfortable, though: Just because your snake’s been a pet before doesn’t mean it’ll trust you wholeheartedly right off the bat. This article from Pethelpful.com is incredibly informational as far as how we should act around new pet snakes.
[Snakes] need a period of adjustment during which they can get comfortable with their new surroundings. The length of time required varies, but most people who deal with snakes agree that it generally takes 5 to 7 days.
During the adjustment period you should make every effort not to disturb or otherwise stress the snake. There are a few things you can do that will help with this effort.
-Keep the cage out of high traffic areas so the snake isn’t bothered by lots of people walking by all the time.
-Avoid handling the snake during this time.
-Don’t attempt to feed the snake during this time.
-Change the water every day.
-Spot clean any waste in the cage but don’t clean the entire cage.-Pethelpful.com
Once this first week has passed, you can start physically handling your snake. You’ll still need to be cautious when touching your snake, and you should always be attentive to its behavior, but if it seems willing, you can hold it for an hour or so every day.
If the snake doesn’t seem very relaxed in your hands, don’t force it out of its enclosure. Some snakes are less trusting than others and can require multiple weeks, even months, to assimilate to their new environment.
Don’t give up on holding your snake once it’s fully accustomed to you. Even domesticated snakes can lapse back into their wild ways. Try to hold or otherwise interact with your snake a few times every day.
Taming a Wild Snake
If you are so lucky (or, in my opinion, so terribly misfortunate) as to own a wild snake, there are two instinctive aggressive impulses you’ll need to defuse: the territorial response and the feeding response.
First and foremost: Good things come to those who wait. Deactivating or at least minimizing a wild snake’s territorial response takes time. Lots of it.
Territorial responses, though seemingly hostile, don’t necessarily indicate that your snake hatched from a bad egg. These are perfectly natural reactions to supposed predators. See, wild snakes spend their lives assuming that any bigger or more powerful creature aims to eat them.
That’s just life in the non-anthropomorphic animal kingdom, I suppose. How is your freshly caught corn snake supposed to know that you merely intend to graciously give it room and board, rather than feast upon it like any other beast of prey?
The best way to address this territorial defense mechanism is with gentle and consistent care. Never again will I bid you enable someone’s stubborn tendencies, but snakes are innate creatures of habit, and we should indulge them all we can.
Keep your one-on-one time relatively uniform. Wash your hands with the same soap before you hold the snake so it can familiarize itself with your scent. Handle it carefully; let it wrap itself around your forearm. The snake might not be your instant best friend but just wait. Once it develops a bit of trust, you two will be inseparable.
Secondly, good things come to those who cook. Yes, this is the favorite catchphrase of Chef Auguste Gusteau in history’s greatest artistic endeavor, Ratatouille (2007), but it doesn’t only apply to culinary rodents.
I suppose this quote is somewhat of a stretch, as you won’t necessarily be seasoning any Escargots de Bourgogne for your pet snake. But you will be feeding it crickets and other insects, as well as small birds, mice, and/or gerbils. How and when you feed a wild snake is crucial to its adaptation to civilized life.
Wild snakes bite any and every living thing that enters their enclosures. That’s just a product of nature. They instinctively conclude that, if it’s alive and poses little physical threat, it’s fit to eat.
This is the root of most captive snake attacks: Your hand is small. It’s warm. It’s the perfect little snack for a hungry, hungry snake.
But there’s an easy solution. You’ll simply want to hold your snake more often than you feed it. Pet snakes need more friendly face time than violent, messy, carnivorous eating time. (This tip also applies to that savage cat under your porch and your equally riotous brother.)
If you’re only feeding the snake once every three weeks or so, but you’re holding it every day, it’ll start to recognize the pattern and distinguish between “friends” and “food;” thus goes away the dreaded serpentine feeding response.
How to Treat a Snake
Even a “tame” snake requires special treatment. Snakes are wild animals, and it’s best to treat them as such, even when they’re locked in a cage.
Your snake might not like being touched. If this is the case, don’t touch it unless absolutely necessary. It’s a simple rule, but it’s surprisingly hard to follow. I know you want to play with your snake. I would too. But some snakes simply don’t enjoy playtime, and we just have to respect that.
How do you know if your snake likes to be touched? There are a few signs you can watch for:
- “It does not run away given the option
- Does not try to avoid your touch
- Goes to sleep in your arms
- Stays around for more if you stop
- Visibly relaxes as you go
- Doesn’t hiss or bite.”
(Read more about how to know whether or not your snake likes to be touched here.)
Make sure you feed your snake whenever it’s hungry. A hungry snake is never a happy snake, and an unhappy snake is more likely to strike.
When a snake is hungry, it might become more active than usual. It’s probably feeling a little anxious for food, so it’ll move around to release some of that energy.
Hungry snakes are also somewhat aggressive (as I mentioned before), but I’m guessing you don’t want to wait until your snake bites you before you determine whether or not it’s feeding time.
The best way to avoid the issue is to keep your snake on a regular feeding schedule. Consistently feed it a few mice, eggs, insects, chicks, etc. on a weekly or biweekly (once a month) basis.
Unreliable feeding schedules can cause a snake a great deal of stress. Their brains have difficulty anticipating things with any degree of uncertainty. Once again, stressed snakes are more likely to strike, so try to keep your snake’s environment as uniform as possible.
If your snake seems anxious but refuses to eat its food, you may want to visit the veterinarian. Parasites and diseases can deplete a snake’s appetite and ultimately prove fatal, so any potential illnesses should be addressed immediately.
Snakes’ temperaments can vary drastically from reptile to reptile. This might sound strange. I think we’re accustomed to behavior correlating with species, but this just isn’t always the case for snakes.
If your garter snake doesn’t like to be held, or if it’s frequently stressed or anxious, its behavior might not have anything to do with its genetic ancestry. Even though garter snakes generally don’t cause much trouble, yours might be an especially sensitive snake.
Conversely, if your reticulated python is surprisingly touchy-feely, don’t expect that from all reticulated pythons. Don’t let your guard down around dangerous snakes just because one individual snake isn’t prone to strike.
If you’ve read any of the other articles on this site, you know that proper snake care is a topic we address all the time. This is no mistake. As I’ve mentioned already, how you treat your snake is a huge factor in its domestication.
Here, I will provide a summative snake care to-do list for the perfectly docile pet.
Buying a snake terrarium is probably a good step to take before you buy the snake itself. You’ll want to learn all you can about how big your future snake will grow and what size of tank will best accommodate it. The following quote provides some great rules of thumb regarding reptile enclosures:
“Many reptiles do well in spaces smaller than what would be suitable for similarly sized mammals. …( )…
Enough room must also be provided for the animal to move around, thermoregulate, feed, drink, bask, and sleep…the dimensions must be increased by one-half for each additional animal housed together, with even more room provided for territorial species.”
(Read more about reptile housing here.)
You should learn the typical environmental conditions for your snake’s species. Is it a tropical snake? Desert-dwelling? Should its tank be humid or dry? Does it prefer rocky decor or lots of vegetation? Make sure to provide your snake with the closest possible habitat to home.
There should be a dark and discreet hiding place in every snake tank. When agitated or afraid, snakes slither away into
You can even buy pre-built snake caves on Amazon. Just make sure it’s big enough to fit your snake, and don’t worry too much when your pet retreats for a little while. Everybody needs space sometimes.
Research your snake’s dietary needs. Find out whether it prefers larger or smaller prey. It’s probably best to buy pre-killed food, as live prey can bite or scratch your snake in self-defense.
While you’re out on a shopping spree for your new snake, take some time to shop for yourself, as well. Safety equipment like snake hooks, leather gloves, and a few long-sleeved shirts can make the domestication process easier for everyone.
Have you ever wondered if you can teach your pet snakes tricks?
Unfortunately, as reptiles aren’t nearly as advanced intellectually as mammals and birds, you can’t really teach them to jump (or slither) through flaming hoops or hiss “I love you” and become Instagram famous.
Snakes are so vastly different from humans that scientists can’t even study their behavior intensively enough to determine how we’d begin to train them if we could.
Regardless, there are a few things you can teach your snake that’ll make its domesticated life (and yours) much easier. They’re not exactly “stunts,” as much as I wish they could be, but they’re still super useful.
Trust me, everything will be 1,000 times simpler if you can train your snake to eat dead prey. As I mentioned before, live prey shoved into such a small space as a terrarium can be harmful to your snake, and we’re trying to be responsible pet owners, here.
Thankfully, not only can you convince your snake to eat dead prey, but frozen and thawed prey, as well. This article, which I’ll reference a few more times throughout this section, gives some great advice concerning the reformation of snakes’ comestible inclinations.
“…keepers teach their snake to accept small rodents by using scent transfer techniques. If you wash a pinky mouse and then rub it with a bit of shed lizard skin, the mouse stops smelling like a mouse and starts smelling like a lizard. Usually a snake will learn after a few meals that unscented mice are perfectly palatable, and begin eating them voraciously.”
(You can read this article here.)
You can also assure your snake that you aren’t a threat simply by handling them responsibly. I’ve touched upon this once or twice already, so we won’t dwell on it for too long.
Just remember that “snakes that are new to captivity or freshly hatched may be quick to flee, strike, bite, defecate, hiss or musk when approached or handled.” Be wary of these tendencies, and consistently remind your snake that you and other humans aren’t predators by treating it gently.
Some people insist that snakes can respond to their given names once they’ve heard them enough. There isn’t any scientific evidence to back this one up, but what’s stopping you?
Go ahead and give it a shot. Supposedly, once your reticulated python understands that his name is Mikey, he’ll know it’s time to play whenever you call.
What to Do if You Get Bitten
Let’s face it. Sometimes our efforts fall short. (Mine do so quite frequently, so don’t feel too
If you wind up with a snakebite, you’ll want to treat it right away. Venomous bites are especially urgent, but, to avoid infection, it’s probably best to treat every snakebite as though it’s just as toxic.
First and foremost, you’ll want to remain calm. Breathe deeply. Relax. Try not to let your heart pump blood any faster, as the venom could disperse too quickly and cause irreparable damage.
Don’t use a tourniquet. This is a pretty common measure for skin-puncturing wounds, especially those that bleed, but it doesn’t apply here. Consolidating the venom to one area could result in the loss of a limb.
Don’t drink coffee or alcohol. These stimulants speed up your heartbeat and could speed up your body’s absorption of the venom.
If you’re not sure whether or not the snake that bit you is poisonous, watch out for swelling or burning at the site of the wound. Within ten or fifteen minutes, the bite could start bruising, and this bruising might extend up your arm, leg, or wherever the wound is located.
Apply antivenin (antivenom) as quickly as possible. If you don’t have any nearby (which you very probably will not), call an emergency phone number or head to the nearest hospital.
Some snakebites might have few symptoms if any at all. Reticulated pythons, for instance, are often assumed to have a lethal bite because of their size. Surprisingly enough, their fangs hardly even leave a mark. Reticulated pythons are constrictors, so their bites aren’t venomous. Still, you’ll want to care for this bite as attentively as you would any other, just to be safe.
If you plan to buy or handle a venomous snake, buy the antivenin first to avoid any potentially lethal situations. Venom from one black mamba bite can kill a human being in less than under half of an hour. A single injection of a Gaboon viper’s venom is potent enough to wipe out thirty fully grown men. But, thankfully, a
If you’re out in nature, keep your eye out for venomous snakes. The Mayo Clinic recently released a statement about how to identify such snakes in North America:
“Most venomous snakes in North America have eyes like slits and are known as pit vipers. Their heads are triangular with a pit between the eye and nostril on either side of the head.
Other characteristics are unique to certain venomous snakes:
- Rattlesnakes rattle by shaking the rings at the end of their tails.
- Water moccasins’ mouths have a white,
- Coral snakes have red, yellow and black rings along the length of their bodies. Their heads aren’t triangular and the pupils are round.
- Copperhead snakes have a copper-colored head and reddish brown bodies with dark bands.”
(Read more from the Mayo Clinic here.)
Thankfully, even venomous snakebites rarely result in death in the United States. Medical officials are well-prepared with a variety of antivenin and other lifesaving medicines and techniques. If you don’t live in the United States, you’ll need to be extra wary when handling snakes—though I think it’s safe to say that you should always be careful, regardless of where you live.
Have fun in your snake-taming endeavors, but follow all these guidelines to ensure that you and your snake both end up bite-free and happy as can be. Good luck!
How can I identify aggressive snake behavior? This is a great question. Maybe your snake is upset, or maybe it simply has a lot of excess energy. Some behaviors are overtly belligerent: If your snake constricts you (wraps itself very tightly around your arm or another body part), “draws back with his head and neck lifted off the ground (an S-curve),” “buzzes his tail,” “thrashes around in your hands,” or “strikes at you (full strikes or false strikes),” it’s probably in distress. This article is a pretty decent reference if you’re still unsure of whether your snake is angry or just overactive.
What wild snakes are easiest to tame? Garter and corn snakes are pretty common, docile pets, and plenty of people catch theirs at local parks or even in their yards. Snakes like these tend to be content in almost any friendly environment, so they’re easy to “domesticate,” but that can’t be said of all their many relatives. Do your research before you catch or purchase a snake. Some snakes aren’t so readily tamed.
What snakes make the worst pets? “While some snake species can live long, problem-free lives in captivity and be docile pets, others make awful captives. Cobras, rattlesnakes and other venomous species are no-brainers, but even some snake species often kept by pet owners make terrible pets.” This article provides an awesome guide to the most demanding or unsuitable snakes to keep as pets. If you’re looking to buy a snake, you’ll want to check it out. It’s really useful.