Let’s Talk Toads – How to Keep Your Dog Safe

The rain is finally here, and with it, come the toads. Many people are surprised to learn that the hottest region of the country is home to a variety of amphibians. One of them, the Sonoran Desert Toad (or Colorado River Desert Toad if you prefer) is famous. It’s the one of “toad licking” fame due to a highly toxic poison that can cause some interesting effects (never do this, seriously, you can die).

But more often, people learn about these toads because of the unfortunate fact that they kill dogs quite often. Even though we’re “Rattlesnake” solutions, we want to address this aspect of local wildlife and help where we can.

Know which toads can hurt your dogs

The first thing you can do is to simply learn the difference between toads that can hurt your dog, and toads that don’t.

The only one you really need to worry about are the large Sonoran Desert Toads, which are usually easy enough to spot. They’re huge, like a big green nerf football bouncing around out there.

This big guy is a Sonoran Desert Toad. You don’t want your dogs anywhere near them.

They’re not the only toads around, however. More commonly-seen are the smaller Red-Spotted Toads. As the name implies (herpetologists are not creative), they are usually red or orange spots on the body. They’re not as dangerous as the larger Sonoran Desert Toads, but could indicate problems. They, like the larger dangerous versions, need water, and their presence could be an indicator that you have good stuff in the yard that could attract poisonous toads.

This little Red-Spotted Toad isn’t a Sonoran Desert Toad, but could indicate other issues.

Eliminate water sources wherever possible

As you can imagine, life in Arizona is tough for squishy amphibians. It makes it much easier when we supply water. Drip systems, backyard pools, leaky hoses, and more become perfect little spots for toads to take a dip.

One of the things we see quite often while doing rattlesnake prevention work are the number of drip and watering systems that either go nowhere or are watering plants that don’t need them. If you’re watering your Saguaro or other native plants – stop it 🙂

You could also change the time of day that you water the plants. Water in the early morning, just before sunup, to avoid pooling and still allow for the least amount of evaporation possible. This can help reduce the amount of muddy pools, which toads love, sitting out overnight where your dogs can find them.

It’s worth taking an hour or two to go through the yard and evaluate every drop and water opportunity. Ask yourself:

  1. Is this drip necessary?
  2. Is this using more water than it should?
  3. Do I like this plant enough to keep it if it increases potential risk to my dogs?

Fixing the accidental water sources

Other than intentional water sources, there are those incidentals that also attract toads. Perhaps the most common are leaky hoses. If you’re like most of us, the area directly under your favorite hose is damp. In some cases we see, it’s a full-on little pond! Unlike watering the flower bed, this is entirely useless and should be addressed. It may cost a little bit to have a plumber address it, if it’s needed, but remember: the goal here is to keep your dog alive, not minor savings in water costs or aesthetic needs. To that end: it’s absolutely worth it to get any drips fixed.

Another class of accidental water in the backyard are drips from the AC unit. You can usually fix this easily enough one of a few different ways, depending on your situation:

  1. Change the pipe angle or add to it to divert water away from areas where it can create damp patches.
  2. Use a tall bucket or other catch to let it collect and evaporate without creating a wet spot in the dirt.
  3. Use a large, flat stone (or similar) to make a hot surface that evaporate drips as they land.
  4. Get creative 🙂 you can add a bit of pipe or tubing to use this “free” water in any number of ways, like piping it over into a hanging garden, or hanging birdbath.

Get your dog trained to avoid toads

Even though toads kill dogs quite often, let’s look at what’s really happening: the dogs start it. Toads are just sitting there like a squishy bouncy chew toy, and what dog will pass that up? A well-trained one will!

Similar to rattlesnake aversion training, where a dog learns that rattlesnakes aren’t little buzz buddies to play with, dogs can be trained to avoid poisonous toads.

We won’t go into details here, but we recommend talking to our friends at Rattlesnake Ready, who do it better than anyone in our opinion. Rattlesnake Ready has a Toad Avoidance training program that is both economical and effective, and is a no-brainer if you have a dog and live where these potentially-deadly toads can be found.

Beagle dog sitting with white background

Have any toads removed humanely

When you do see a toad? They’re not exactly the kind of thing you can just put out in the desert and expect it to survive … so what to do?

Just like with snakes, you can call us 24/7 for toad removal at 480-237-9975 in Phoenix or 520-308-6211. While we’re there, we’ll search the property to see if we can find any other toads, and give advice on how to fix whatever issues caused them to be there to begin with.

Hope for the best, plan for the worst

It’s 2am, your dog isn’t coming in from the late-night pee break. You put on the slippers and head out into the yard to discover your pup chewing on a toad. What do you do?

What you can easily avoid here is the confusion and panic of trying to search for whoever is open and asking what to do. If you live where toads can be found (or snakes, for that matter), whatever planning you can do in advance is the best thing you can do and make the difference between your dog living or dying.

Carve an hour or two out of your day to search for 24 hour emergency veterinary hospitals. Call them, find out the pricing, protocol, and work out the plan from start to finish in advance. The difference in how well your dog can be treated, and how you feel during the very scary experience, can be very different if you’re enacting a plan rather than panicking in the dark.

Find a 24 hour emergency vet long before you think you actually need one. It can make the difference between life and death for your pets.

Be proactive – have your yard inspected

During the monsoon season each year, our rattlesnake removal crew sees a lot of toads while on the search for hidden reptiles. The fact is: toads kill just as many dogs, or more, than rattlesnakes … so it’s good for everyone involved to extend this service to help homeowners keep dogs safe from toads as well. Email toads@rattlesnakesolutions.com to learn more about what we can do to keep toads out of the yard.

Releasing kingsnakes to control rattlesnakes is not a good idea

Here’s the video version of this post is that’s your thing.

A common request from homeowners and something I see people comment about quite often is the idea of capturing, buying, or importing kingsnakes and gophersnakes to release in the yard as a means to control rattlesnakes.

Kingsnakes, as you may be aware, are famous for making meals of venomous rattlesnakes. They completely harmless (even to kids and dogs) and even nice to look at. Because of their rattlesnake-eating preferences, many homeowners are more than happy to see a kingsnake cruising through the yard.

So why wait for nature to bring the kings to your yard? Can’t you just buy one at the pet store and let it go? How about someone in town who’s caught a wild one and does’t want it? Why not bring in a bunch of them to release and then never see a rattlesnake again? Unfortunately, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

It’s increasingly common to see requests like this on Facebook and Nextdoor, where communities of rattlesnake-averse homeowners compare snake experiences. “You don’t want that kingsnake? Bring it to my yard!”. There are also suggestions (and admissions) of buying kingsnakes from the petstore to release. Please, never do this.

Releasing kingsnakes into your yard is not a good idea and almost certainly will not help your rattlesnake issues.

Bubble burst: if your yard has sufficient food sources and resources to support a kingsnake, you already have one. The population and distribution of kingsnakes (and other snakes) is a complicated balance of predator and prey, intraspecies dynamics. It’s like pouring water onto a flat surface expecting it to pile up; the kingsnake you release will almost certainly just wander off, not to be seen again.

If you have rattlesnakes in the yard, you also have kingsnakes already hunting them. You may not see them very often, but moving around unseen is kind of a snakes’ thing. You could release as many kingsnakes into the yard as you want. If there isn’t sufficient food for them, they’re out!

Worse, unless you live in the same area as it’s used to so that it can resume its life, your new pest control idea will probably die out there.

Even worse than that, if you’re bringing kingsnakes in from other areas, you run the risk of spreading parasites and disease to the existing group of kings — your efforts to have more kingsnakes have a chance to make you have no kingsnakes.

Having other snakes in the yard is the best way to attract kingsnakes.

What can you do to get more kingsnakes in the yard?

There is one way 🙂 but you’re not going to like it. Get more rattlesnakes! Really though, prey opportunities are the best way to attract any snake to the yard. Unfortunately, you can’t really do that without also attracting the snakes you don’t want around, too.

It seems the idea of introducing kingsnakes to your yard to keep rattlesnakes away just isn’t as helpful as it may seem. Just stick to the basics of keeping snakes out of the yard and if a kingsnake shows up to help, that’s great! But she doesn’t need any help.

This goes for Gophersnakes and Bullsnakes too. These snakes, by the way, don’t actually eat rattlesnakes like the saying goes … but that’s for another article.

On Herping with Speckled Rattlesnakes

A note to herpers in AZ as we enter July and begin the monsoon season. In particular: those looking for Speckled Rattlesnakes.


This is definitely not aimed at any one person one group, but a common trajectory that plays out again and again. If this is you, listen up. This isn’t criticism; this is to help you see more snakes in the future and progress at what you love to do. I’m also going to attempt to avoid the rant-format that these types of posts tend to take on.

This is when you might find groups of Speckled Rattlesnakes (or other species, sometimes together), in small groups on your hikes. That’s one of the most exciting feelings you can have. I remember very well the season where things finally started to feel like it all made sense and I could find specks at will any morning.

But something happened to those spots, and I want to talk about it so you can avoid making the same mistakes that I did, and many of us make early on. You don’t have to listen of course, but I guarantee that if you do, both you and the snakes you want to see will benefit.

The microhabitat that low-desert rattlesnakes choose for estivation and gestation sites is very specific. You can have a giant group of hillsides and ravines that all boil down to a handful of small holes where they gather to stay cool and safe throughout the hottest part of the year. These sites may be one of many they rotate between, but sometimes it appears to be just one, especially in areas where hikers and development have limited their options.

These summer sites are the hinge that their entire lives revolve on. They are every bit as sensitive and critically-important as Winter dens for snakes in cooler environments. They are easily impacted and can be destroyed by what may seem like nothing.

Speckled Rattlesnakes can be easily disturbed and may alter their behavior.

So if you are visiting for starting to find these groups as described, here’s how this is going to go:

This year you’re going to see so many specks – it’s going to be amazing, tons of photos, lots of learning, so many great experiences, etc. You’ll note the locations, and feel like everything is finally starting to come together into a greater understanding of it all.

You’ll invite some friends … close ones you trust of course … life is good.

You will return to check on these sites a few times a week, sometimes even the next day. You hook them out if they start to retreat and pose them up for some great close-ups – they crawl off just fine, what’s the harm? You come home and post those photos right away so the world can see.

Sometimes you can’t make it and your friends go without you. Sometimes they invite friends as well … close ones they trust of course.

But next year, you’ll come back to those sites and you’ll only see a handful of the snakes you saw before. Maybe it’s a bad year … the moon? Humidity too low? Who knows. You’ll keep visiting those sites hoping for a different result, but nothing changes. You spend most of your free herping time visiting old sites instead of exploring new ones. You still see great things, but not as great as last year! You do start to notice more footprints in that wash though, maybe a discarded gatorade bottle on the ground. Oh well, next year will be better.

The next year comes and now the weather and moon must really be bad, because there are no snakes at all at these spots. Where’d they go! There’s one snake deep in shed at one of them, but where are the others? There are now unrecognized footprints in the wash every time you go. You start recognizing rocks in photos from friends of friends of friends. You start seeing snakes you recognize on Instagram photos in hotel rooms. Herping starts to feel frustrating as you can’t decide on whether or not to explore for new spots or go check the old ones and hope something is happening.
The next year, the site is dead. Occasionally a random snake is there, but it’s nothing of what it was a few years ago. The last time you went there, too, you ran into a couple of guys you don’t know from out of state who heard this was a good place.

So now the choice you’ll have: evaluate what happened, or carry on and repeat this process?

The dopamine response we all develop to seeing and sharing rattlesnake experiences is strong. It’s like ordering a pizza and as soon as it arrives, throwing it in the fridge and going to bed hungry. It can make truly evaluating our actions in the field and potential impact to critical habitat nearly impossible. It’s also the biggest enemy to having repeat encounters; to move past the point of herping being a series of random events, it’s also important to overcome.

Just the act of waiting a few weeks to post photos of finds can help distribute traffic to even the best-known and well-herped sites.

Here’s what happens:

Small stress events, even ones that we don’t even notice … like getting a close up cellphone shot and the snake never tongue-flicks, build up. There are numerous studies of stress-response in several species of rattlesnakes (specks aren’t one of those, yet) if you want to look at it in depth. Those repeated stress events cause the behavior of the snakes to change. Sometimes it just means they’ll spend more time under bushes and out of view and they’re harder to detect, so you walk past more of them instead of the wide-open ambush positions you’re used to. But with these low-desert snakes, they tend to leave entirely. They may end up at a different estivation area. Sometimes that site isn’t as good as the one they originally selected, and sometimes that has negative consequences for the snake, up to and including death.

A single event, or managed stress events that are spaced out adequately avoid this effect. However, there are exceptions.

Rattlesnakes die at a surprisingly low temperature. Once the body gets into there 105-110 range, they are on death’s door. Even if they crawl away seemingly fine, they may not recover. On hot nights, specks will sit out until they are only a few degrees shy of their upper terminal temperature, then make a bee-line for cover. If you are buzzed during this process, then hold it up for a 20 minute photo session, then let it crawl away rattling to cover, you very well may have killed that snake and you will never know it. If the place they retreat to after the encounter is not suitable to survive a 110F+ inferno for the day: it’s dead.

Would you visit a horridus den and hook the snakes out the crevices to photograph? Would you pull them out in the coldst days of winter and pose them on open ice for a half hour shoot and let them crawl off into the snow? Would you flip every rock in a stream for hellbenders and pose them in the sun before releasing them into the sand? Would you dig an eastern massasauga out of a crawfish burrow for photos and leave it in the sun? Of course not – these are ridiculous actions that we know have consequences. For whatever reason, the nature of critical microhabitat for hot-desert species is largely missing from the herper lexicon.

It might be that the perceived abundance of rattlesnakes in Arizona makes it harder to see. It could be that, despite rattlesnakes in general being one of the most well-studied vertebrates on the planet, what they do when temps get to 110F is poorly documented. It could be that they are common animals in common places, so people simply don’t care if they are negatively affected. It could also be, and this is what I assume to be unfortunately true in many cases: the potential for damage is known, but the draw for the excitement of experience and sharing make it less important. I am sure we have all seen specks posed in the open on rocks where the shadow positions reveal the time by herpers who are experienced to know better. I can only guess why this feels acceptable.

Maybe it’s because they never see the results, other than the die-off of estivation sites each year. If that’s just chalked up to “must be a bad year”, as it tends to be, the lesson is never learned personally. Unfortunately, that mess is apparent to those who look for it.

A couple of us are working on a research project in a few areas that are often herped. There is nothing stated above that has not been well-documented, and eventually published. We set out to learn about where and when snakes use different microhabitat. As it progresses, however, the regretful picture of just how quickly well-intentioned herpers can kill off critical habitat is emerging. I hate it, but it’s right there and can’t be ignored. Once an area is discovered by herpers and visited frequently, it changes dramatically. Compared to similar sites that are either not herped or herped at spaced intervals to manage stress, repeated visits by groups of well-intentioned herpers is third in line of destruction of those sites to development and transient use.

Single or rare stress events, even if substantial, seem to not have any impact. Limiting visits to a sensitive site to just a handful a year can mitigate the negative issues I’ve described here. It’s an investment. You’re trading dopamine for future encounters.

This is what gives the Arizona herping community a bad reputation as people who go overboard on coming down on how and where people herp. There’s a reason for this: this is one of the herping hotspots of the world. Every person who seems over the top in their approach is coming from a position of watching sensitive sites be decimated each year. So while that message can certainly be handled better, try and see the underlying message.

All of this is why it seems you can’t so much as post a cell-phone shot of a snake here in Arizona without a bunch of old-timers coming out of the woodwork to tell you you’re doing it wrong. The fact is: they are right, but they need to put it in a better package. Let’s be honest about all this: we all know each other because we like reptiles, not because we’re all aligned on a social level.

So I’m asking you to try this: next time you see a speck in a wash, ask yourself:

Do you want to see this snake again? Is this more enjoyable as a one-off experience, or as an observation spot to visit for a lifetime?

Is my understanding and sharing of this experience better as a piled stress-ball, or as numerous future observations and hundreds of photographs of what this snake actually does?

Is approaching this snake up close for a cell-shot worth it. Is what I am doing hurting or helping?

Is it worth it to post that photo the moment I get home? Is the experience less enjoyable if I wait until after estivation season to do it?

If you don’t think that people can triangulate your position based on a telephone pole and a dirt road in the background, you’re wrong … and thanks for the site 😉

If you think that a snake wasn’t bothered by you because it didn’t tongue flick after that up close cellphone shot: come back in 10 minutes and see where it’s at.

If you don’t think that hundreds of people planning AZ monsoon trips, some much less well-intentioned or ethical as you are, aren’t watching every move you make and every photo you post: be aware that they are.

If you value the experience of visiting specks at the sites you’ve found: please consider all of this.

Or, disregard if you like. Just remember it in a few years when that speck honey-hole seems to have dried up. Guess what: it’s not the full moon.

Limiting stress events to a snake like this can help ensure I’ll be able to watch it for years to come.

What can “snow birds” to do keep rattlesnakes away?

Arizona’s perfect weather in the shoulder seasons makes it an ideal place to spend the winter for seasonal residents. Affectionally referred to locally as “snow birds”, each year, they come and go. With their return to roost in the fall come the flurry of rattlesnake removal calls.

What do rattlesnakes do when we’re away?

Rattlesnakes make use of unoccupied homes.

One of the apparently largest factors in rattlesnake activity (or lack of it) is simply your presence. Just our activity on the property can alter their behavior so they take greater care to avoid meeting us.1 So when you leave, it’s to be expected that wildlife will quickly move to reclaim the space. Even a few months can make quite a difference. We have learned this from 10 years of rattlesnake removals and working with property managers – a unoccupied home can greatly affect the chances of future rattlesnake encounters.

So what can we do to reduce our chances of having rattlesnakes move in?

What can you do to keep rattlesnakes and other wildlife from squatting on the property while you’re away? Aside from the easy stuff (covered here in our 5 Things you can do right now to see fewer rattlesnakes guide), there are a number of things you can do both before you leave, while you’re away, and prior to your return.

Before you leave:

Rattlesnake Fence Install
Get preventative barriers in place before you go.
  1. Physical barriers are the best bet. Get rattlesnake fencing installed. If you already have it, make sure that it’s in top form and there are no holes, gaps, or damage that needs attention.
  2. Get rid of any debris – piles of construction stuff, roof tiles, those bricks by the side of the house, or deflated pool toys, etc.
  3. Ditch the lantana! Get to any last-minute landscaping choices before you leave. The fewer places snakes can hide, the better.
  4. Fix it! Repair any holes or gaps in the building, foundation, flashing, grill islands, or anywhere else that could become a summer home for snakes.
  5. Avoid making a cave. Make sure the garage is sealed up tight and in great condition.

While you’re away:

Regular activity in an area helps keep snakes away.
  1. Keep up on maintenance. This might cost some money, but making sure the services to maintain the yard are still in place can help keep rattlesnake activity away. A well-maintained yard that’s occasionally visited by people is less attractive than yards that are not.
  2. Get it checked out. Have someone knowledgeable about wildlife come do an inspection mid-way through your absence to identify any potentially problematic areas before they fully develop. You can also just ask a neighbor or a property manager to walk the property.

Before you return:

A well-maintained property is less likely to have rattlesnakes in int.
  1. Have the yard inspected. A few days before you come back, it may be a good idea to have a property inspection performed to make sure that any snakes that may have moved in while you were away can be found and removed.
  2. Do a once-over maintenance. Even though you may have keep the landscapers and pool guys coming the entire time, it’s a good idea to do a final touch-up just before you arrive. Rather than waiting until you get there, if you can get this done in advance, that will help eliminate the chances of displaced rattlesnake encounters.
  3. Read up on local snakes. Many of our snow bird residents actually come from those far-off summer destinations, so knowledge of the native wildlife is still a work in progress. During that long drive (passengers!) or wait at the airport for your return, brush up on knowledge of what may live in your yard and how to identify it.

Once you return:

Look for any visitors who may have moved in over the summer.
  1. Walk the property. While everyone is unloading the car, get right to it: walk the entire property and do a check to see if anyone else is there. If you do find a snake, call to have it relocated ASAP.
  2. Be on guard. For a week or so after you come home, be more cautious than normal and make be aware that the new activity in the area may change the behavior of wildlife, including rattlesnakes. That also goes for the return of your neighbors.
  3. Check the fence! Make sure that your rattlesnake fence is still tight and without damage. Rodents and other animals can sometimes dig or create problems even while you’re gone, so do the same inspection you did before you left to make sure it’s still good to go.
  4. Get to the big maintenance. For which items to focus on and lay out your time, refer to our How To Keep Snakes Away From Your Home – The Ultimate Guide
  5. Jump in the pool! This has nothing to do with snakes, but you’ve probably been thinking about it for a while so go for it.

Welcome back! Keep the education going.

The more you know, the safer your yard will be. Not only will you be better equipped to make your yard less attractive to snakes, but your behavior if you do see one will be better. Here’s a rather long presentation full of information that would be a good once-over when you get back to help you feel better about the whole situation.


  1. Meghan Beale, Stephane Poulin, Craig Ivanyi, Gabriel Blouin-Demers 2016.  Anthropomorphic Disturbance Affects Movement and Increases Concealment in Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes (Crotalus atrox) Journal of Herpetology, Vol. 50, No. 2, 211-221, 2016.