How to Make a Defensive Snake Docile

Taming a defensive snake is possible. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s difficult. In some cases, you may never tame down one particular snake. Taming a snake takes time and patience. In fact, time is the key here. You have to spend time with your snake in order to tame it.

A defensive northern pine snake
I'm still working on taming this northern pine snake. Some days are good and some days are not.

The natural disposition of a snake

Snakes are defensive animals, not aggressive. They strike out and bite when they’re afraid for their safety. Can you blame them? Usually, once a snake becomes comfortable with you and it’s surroundings, it turns docile. As with anything else, there are exceptions to this.

It’s also important to remember that snakes don’t see the world as humans see it. In fact, they look at the world much differently than we do. After all, they are snakes.

Snakes need trust to tame down

You must gain a snakes trust in order for it to become tame. This is not always easy, some species are more difficult to tame down than others. First of all, it’s easier to tame captive bred specimens over wild caught ones. Even so, many wild caught specimens can also become just as “dog tame” as their captive-bred counterparts.

Texas rat snake demonstrates defensive behavior and is willing to bite.
This captive bred Texas rat snake never completely tamed down.

How is trust gained?

Take it slow. If you have a temperamental snake in your possession, the first priority is to make sure it’s eating. Feed the snake a few times before handling it. This also gives the snake time to acclimate to its new surroundings. Once you’re sure the snake is eating and healthy, you can begin the taming process.

This varies and depends on how defensive your snake is. The species of the snake also plays a role in how easily it’ll tame. Certain snakes, like wild-caught black racers, may never become hand-tame. Alternatively, one can work with rat snakes, boas, or pythons, to achieve docility more easily.

Begin handling 

Wait 48 hours after your snake’s last meal. Then open the enclosure and gently pick up the snake. If the specimen is especially defensive, use a snake hook to reach in and gently manipulate it towards your hand. I should mention that I’m only speaking of nonvenomous snakes here folks

Snake hook
A common snake hook

Pull the snake up with the hook and grasp it towards the base of the tail keeping its neck and head at the top of the hook. Allow the snake freedom of movement. If you try to restrain it by holding the snake by the side of its head with your hand and fingers, you will not carry out your goal. That’s considered rough handling. 

Once the snake is hooked and out of the enclosure, give it some time to look around and be curious. Allow it to check around the room scanning for possible threats. Once the snake sees the area is non-threatening, you can now try holding it from the base of the body without the aid of the hook.

Again, don’t restrain the snake unless it’s heading is in an undesirable direction. Allow the snake to freely slither and flow through your hands. In this specific case, I’m talking about medium to semi-large specimens ranging from rat snakes to boa constrictors.

Taming down giant snakes

Taming down a twenty-foot long reticulated python is performed in a different way and you should have at least one person assisting you. This is because the situation can quickly turn dangerous.

Remember, we’re talking about a defensive reticulated python, not a ball python. Learning to handle these giants snakes is similar to learning how to handle venomous. A professionally trained handler should show you the correct procedure and protocol.

Blood python care
Blood pythons are often nippy even when captive bred.

How long it should take to tame down a snake

The time it takes to tame a snake varies depending on many factors. I suggest taking the snake out of its enclosure five days a week while allowing two days for eating and digestion.

Start out with ten-minute handling intervals, once a day. If the snake is very temperamental, five minutes a day will do. Just long enough for the snake to spend some time in your hands and for it to understand that you’re not going to hurt it.

Handle the snake gently. If you happen to get bit, never take retaliatory action against the snake. You cannot train a snake as a dog and it won’t understand you hitting it. In fact, this action only makes the situation worse than when it started. Remember patience and an occasional snake bite is part of being a snake-keeper.

Extend handling periods

After a week or two, you should gain the snakes trust enough to extend handling periods. If you’re not at that point yet, continue with the five to ten-minute handling intervals. It’s very important to limit distractions like other people or animals moving around the room while you’re trying to do this.

Try doing it when you are completely alone with the snake in a quiet room. Again, the exception being if you’re dealing with a giant like a reticulated, African rock, or Burmese python. In fact, this article isn’t a handling guide for any of these giant snakes.

Avoid poor snake-handling habits

Never hand-feed your snake, especially if it’s defensive. It’ll associate your hand with food. You will eventually get nailed by a food-response bite and the snake gets further confused. It doesn’t understand the difference between when it’s time to eat or when it’s time to come out of the enclosure.

Think as a snake thinks

Also, avoid horseplay and stressful situations when taming downing a snake of questionable temperament. Don’t show it off at parties or take it to the store with you. While this may sound silly and obvious, people do it all the time. Snakes are animals and should always be treated with respect. 

Hatchling corn snake
Hatchlings usually grow out of defensive behavior.

Taming hatchling snakes

I wouldn’t worry about the temperament of hatchlings snakes. Furthermore, I wouldn’t stress over any colubrid the size of a piece of spaghetti rattling its tail and striking out.

In time, they grow out of this, especially once they start attaining some size. Hatchlings are like wiggly worms and they often defecate in your hand. Just keep them in an appropriate enclosure for the particular species your keeping along with the right temperature and humidity.

Let them eat (but don’t power feed ) and grow. After four to six months, handling sessions become easier and they should no longer defecate in your hand. When it comes to developing snake temperament, conditioning plays a major role. This is why I suggest starting out with hatchlings. You have complete control over the snakes upbringing.

Some snakes that just don’t play nice

Certain snakes have reputations of being nippy throughout their life despite how gently they were raised. While exceptions exist, snakes that tend to be notoriously nippy are black racers, blood pythons, Texas rat snakes, reticulated and African rock pythons, most water snakes, coachwhips, and others. This small list is certainly not complete by any means but it gives you a few ideas.


Remember, it’s impossible to predict the temperament of any one individual snake of any species. Personalities vary from individual to individual, not necessarily by the species of snake.

Do you have snake-handling advice you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments section below! 

How to Make a Defensive Snake Docile

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