It’s silly season in the news and as always at this time of year tabloids and social media are awash with scare stories of adder ‘invasions’ and ‘attacks’ on dogs. More often than not these are full of misinformation and accompanied by panicked comments from worried owners and calls for snakes to be removed from particular areas or even killed.
So what’s the truth about this elusive species and how can we keep our dogs safe whilst enjoying summer walks?
The adder Vipera berus is the UK’s only venomous snake. Adults can grow up to 60cm in length. Colour is variable including grey, brown and sometimes black but adders are easily identified by the distinctive dark ‘zig-zag’ pattern along the back, which is both unmistakable and extremely effective camouflage.
The species is considered to be at risk of extinction in the next 15-20 years, having declined significantly over the last few decades due to public pressure/disturbance and loss or poor management of their habitat (Gardner et al, 20191).
They occur most frequently in heaths, moors and coastal areas but also in dry, lowland habitats such as rough grassland (especially with dense scrub or bracken), clearings, rides and tracks in woodland, felled plantation, disused quarries and embankments along roads and railways.
Like all reptiles, adders are ectothermic, meaning that they are unable to generate body heat internally and rely on external warmth to raise their body temperature. Dry areas to bask undisturbed in the sun next to dense cover (such as bracken or scrub) are a key habitat requirement for adder and this influences when and where they are likely to be found.
Adder bites can be serious or even fatal to humans and dogs in a small number of cases but are easily treatable if dealt with quickly. Adders are shy and secretive creatures and will not bite unless threatened or antagonised, preferring to quietly move away if they can. Bites are actually extremely rare with between 50-100 cases of bites to humans2 and 100 reported cases of bites to dogs annually and only ten recorded deaths in the last century3.
However, if your dog loves to explore the undergrowth they may inadvertently disturb adders in suitable habitat between March and October. So what can you do to keep your best friend safe and prevent disturbance to this threatened and misunderstood reptile?
How to stay safe
If your dog is very unlucky and does get bitten, follow the advice here and get them to a vet as soon as possible.
More information on adders and our other native reptile species can be found on the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust website: https://www.arc-trust.org/
Guest post by the talented Caroline O’Rourke, a gifted Ecologist and a star member of our Genius Class
We often get asked why our classes are just ongoing and we don’t offer courses, so I thought I’d share my story and the motivation for offering year-round training for puppies.
When Luna came to live with us a puppy the first thing we did was research and find the best-reviewed, most comprehensive puppy class we could find. Knowing she had come from a working farm we knew we would have our hands full and we wanted to do things right, we would probably do agility later in life also so I researched places I could take her when she was old enough.
Though still naive, we researched and read up until we could recite the books. A puppy guide, a book on border collies, trick training and brain games. We felt we were really prepared.
By the time her vaccinations were complete and classes were about to begin we had already taught her all the basic commands. Luna could sit, down, stay, spin and twirl, give paw and rollover. Of course, she’s a border collie!
We were still excited and turned up eagerly to our first class, we gave each other little smiles as the trainer explained what we would be doing, knowing Luna was going to do well.
As the weeks went on Luna continued to excel in all of the behaviours and even some extra tricks in class, but cracks were beginning to show.
She’d sit under the chair, if another puppy knocked the metal water bowl she’d flee and become a whirlwind on the end of the lead, during the off lead ‘socialisation’ at the end of each class she would constantly be squashed by the other dogs.
The six weeks quickly came to an end and we were first to ask, what next? ‘If there are enough people I can put on an advanced course, I’ll let you know about dates’ we were told. We emailed a few times but it was never organised.
We worked diligently on what we had learnt. We were told if we can just make her sit stronger or heel better she won’t lunge and bark at things.
The truth is none of what we learnt would have helped her, she needed confidence building, calmness, an expert keeping an eye on how she was developing and spotting her struggles before they became what would be life-limiting behaviour problems that potentially could have been prevented with the right help.
She would go on to develop severe noise sensitivity, separation anxiety, resource guarding and reactivity towards other dogs.
The thing is, at the time I didn’t even know the storm that was brewing. I didn’t know the signs of what was to come. If only I had had a knowledgeable trainer on tap for the first six months or year of her life advising, guiding and upskilling me to raise a confident, calm, happy dog.
To help her, I had to learn and fast, I was lucky to have some amazing mentors and have developed into the dog trainer I am now.
It drives me to strive to ensure that I provide the best service I possibly can. For me that looks like: a trainer on tap, support for as long as you need it and to give you and your puppy the skills to navigate puppy-hood with ease and confidence.
Classes every week, become a member and be part of a fab community or drop in as and when you need. Access to the knowledge and resources to defeat any challenge you encounter. An expert eye and listening ear, reading between the lines, spotting little things before they even become a problem.
Recently one of our members noticed a change in her puppy’s reactions to other dogs and we have been able to give her some advice and training around it, through this and our ongoing support we will prevent this ever becoming an issue.
Luna continues to grow and still teaches me things all of the time. She is more optimistic and no longer thinks everyone is out to steal her prized possessions, often she’d rather stay at home on the sofa with a chew than traipse around places with me, she even has a rescue sister who teaches me very different lessons but that’s a whole different story.
She knows I have her back, the strength of our relationship and her trust in me has got us through thick and thin. We’ve got this.