Bearded dragons are usually tame right from the pet shop, but just in case you had bad luck and got stuck with one that is a little shy or mean, here are a few tips and ways on how to tame a bearded dragon.
Bearded Dragon Behavior
The first thing you want to do before handling your bearded dragon is getting to know signs and behaviors of a bearded dragon. The last thing you want to do is piss off a bearded dragon who does not want to be messed with.
- Puffing their Beard / Bearding – When bearded dragons puff their beard, they are trying to threaten a certain item by making themselves look bigger. Sometimes they will puff their beard when you move too fast towards them or if you scare them. It is a defensive mechanism. When you see this, it might be best to let your bearded dragon cool off for a little.
- Hissing – Bearded dragons may also hiss if they feel threatened. Again, this is another sign of aggression.
- Mouth Open (Gaping) – Often, you will see bearded dragons do this when they are basking. The most common reason for an open mouth is to regulate their body temperature. Unlike people, bearded dragons cannot sweat, therefore to control their body temperature, they will open their mouth whenever they reach their ideal body temperature. Learn more about bearded dragon mouth open behaviors.
- Biting – It’s obvious that biting is a sign of aggression, but this should not stop you from holding your bearded dragon. If you have a bearded dragon who likes to bite, you should consider getting some thick gardening gloves for handling. Not handling your bearded dragon will never help or improve your bond with one another.
- Tongue Licking – If you see your bearded dragon licking things, it’s because he is getting a feel for the environment. Bearded dragons have a special organ in their mouth called the vomeronasal organ. This organ has specialized sensors that help identify new items. Snakes also have this organ which is why you will see them flick their tongues in and out a lot.
- Hiding – Hiding can mean quite a few things.
- Brumation – Brumation occurs during the colder months of the year (winter). When your bearded dragon goes into brumation, he will usually hide somewhere to go to sleep or usually just pick a corner and lay down all day. They will be in brumation for few weeks or months without eating, so do not worry if your bearded dragon shows these signs for a long period of time. During the warmer months, your bearded dragon will come out of brumation and become more active and hungry. Make sure you have proper lighting, because you do not want to confuse brumation with metabolic bone disease. The symptoms are quite similar.
- Scared – Obviously hiding could also mean being scared. If you see that your bearded dragon goes to hide every time you get near the tank or put your hand into the tank, you might want to work on taming your bearded dragon a little better. These are usually signs of being scared or shy.
- Cooling off – Hides give cool spots in the enclosure to allow your bearded dragon to cool off from time to time when he has had enough heat. Your bearded dragon might be hiding just to cool off. Additional to a hide, you should have a cool spot in the enclosure without a hide. The entire enclosure should not be hot.
- Head Bobbing – Head bobbing usually occurs when other animals are present. Head bobbing could mean a sign of territorial aggression or even communication with other bearded dragons.
Taming a Bearded Dragon
Now we get into the fun part. The actual taming… Have in mind, this will be a slow process and can take a longer period of time (depending on your bearded dragon). The below method works with taming baby and adult bearded dragons. We use this method with both aged bearded dragons and have had no problems.
- Week 1: Right when you get your bearded dragon, your goal is to get him to eat and become accustom to his new surroundings. Do not try to handle or pet your bearded dragon at this time. Handling or messing with your bearded dragon at this time will make him feel scared and might even make him not eat for a few days.
- Week 2: Your bearded dragon should be eating by now. Now, you can start placing the feeders ‘with your hand’ into the enclosure. This will show your bearded dragon that your hand doesn’t mean any arm and is not a threat. Do this for a full week. Your bearded dragon will most likely run from your hand at this point or just stay still. Avoid getting close to the head area (if dealing with an adult).
- Week 3: Spend a few minutes of each day by putting your hand into the enclosure and moving it around so your bearded dragon gets accustom to hand movements and is not surprised by any movement when you start to handle him. If you are doing this with an adult bearded dragon, try not to get too close to its head as he may be defensive and try to bite.
- Week 4: Place a few insects on your hand and try to hand feed it to your bearded dragon with an open palm with your fingers almost pointing downwards. If you use the tip of your fingers to feed your bearded dragon, there might be a chance that your bearded dragon might bite your fingers on accident. The open palm will allow for no harm to be done.
- Week 5: Remove the hides so your bearded dragon can not run into anything and start moving your hand around like you did in week 3. Then slowly start touching your bearded dragon softly. Stay away from touching the tail or the head. Stick to the body area. Do this for no more than 5 minutes every other day for a full week.
- Week 6: This is the fun part. Repeat week 5 and slowly try to pick your bearded dragon up. Do not pick your beardie up by its tail. Slowly cup your bearded dragon from underneath him and lift him up. Once you have him in your hands, stroke his back and just relax with him. Handle your bearded dragon on the floor or on your bed as they tend to run off hands a lot and can get injured when falling from certain heights. The best way to handle your lizard is to make sure you have all 4 of his legs supported by one of your hands or arms. If your bearded dragon does not have anything to grab onto with even one of its legs, he may panic and try to wiggle out of your hands. or run off.
After all that, your bearded dragon should be tamed enough for you to handle him regularly. Yeah, 6 weeks of taming might sound like a lot, but it’s worth the time and patience, especially if you’re going to be stuck with him for another 10 years. Taming a bearded dragon correctly will pay off in the long run.