How to Tame a Leopard Gecko

How to Tame a Leopard Gecko

How to Tame a Leopard Gecko, photo by Jessi Swick

Leopard geckos 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 your leopard gecko.

Leopard Gecko Behavior

The first thing you want to do before handling your leopard gecko is knowing the signs and behaviors of a leopard gecko. The last thing you want to do is piss off a leopard gecko who does not want to be messed with.

  1. Squealing – Most baby leopard geckos will squeal the first few times when you try to handle them. This is a normal behavior and is very common. Squealing just indicates that your gecko is scared. The scream to try and scare you off. When you hear your leopard gecko squeal, just remove your hand from the enclosure and let it be alone for a little. Trying to pick up your leopard gecko while he is squealing will only stress him out more.
  2. Hiding – Leopard geckos are nocturnal, so they will hide the majority of the day. Do not think your leopard gecko is hiding because he is scared, it is most likely because he is sleeping. They are most active and at night.
  3. Defensive Posture – You will know this posture when you see it. It will look as if your leopard gecko is getting ready to lunge at your hand. If your leopard gecko is unfamiliar with your hand, he will see it as a threat and will most likely be in this position when you reach your hand into the enclosure. Your leopard gecko will have its body pressed against the ground, with its tail straight up in the air. His head will be tilted up looking at what he thinks might be a threat. If you see your leopard gecko doing this, it might be best to remove your hand from the enclosure or take a risk and let him investigate your hand. My leopard gecko will usually just investigate my hand without any biting, so do not worry too much.
  4. Tail Signaling – When your leopard gecko wags its tail in a slow ‘worm-like’ motion or a fast flicker motion, this is just a sign to other male and female leopard geckos that he is there. Sometimes, my leopard gecko will do this when I place my hand in the enclosure and then just keep moving on. It’s not really a threat to you.
  5. Tongue Flicking and Licking – If you see your leopard geckos tongue flicking in and out, it’s because he is getting a feel for the new environment. Leopard geckos have a special organ in their mouths 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.
  6. Tail Drop – This is a defensive mechanism. Mishandling and scaring your leopard gecko can cause their tail to drop. The tail will grow back, but wont be as pretty as the old one. If you happen to have a leopard gecko who drops its tail, make sure to keep the enclosure clean and use paper towels as substrate until your leopard geckos tail heals.

Taming a Leopard Gecko

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 gecko). The below method works with taming baby and adult leopard geckos. We use this method with both aged leopard geckos without any problems.

  1. Week 1: Right when you get your leopard gecko, let him get accustom to his new surroundings and leave him alone. Do not try to handle or pet your leopard gecko at this time. Handling or messing with your gecko at this time will make him feel scared and might make him not eat for a few days. The first week, you just want your gecko to eat.
  2. Week 2: Your gecko should be eating by now. Now, you can start placing the feeders ‘with your hand’ into the enclosure. This will show your gecko that your hand doesn’t mean any arm and is not a threat. Do this for a full week.
  3. Week 3: Spend a few minutes of each day by putting your hand into the tank and moving it around so your gecko gets accustom to your hands movement and is not surprised by any movement when you start to handle him.
  4. Week 4: Place a few insects on your hand and try to hand feed it to your gecko. Their bite will sometimes be fast so try not to be too startled. You jumping will cause your gecko to freak out too. The best way to hand feed your gecko is to get a few insects and put it on the palm of your hand and lay your hand directly on the ground. This will allow for you to hand feed your gecko and perhaps give him the ability to walk onto your hand. But do not pick him up if he does.
  5. Week 5: Remove the hides so he can not run into anything and start moving your hand around like you did in week 2. Then slowly start touching your leopard gecko 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.
  6. Week 6: This is the fun part. Repeat week 5, and slowly try to pick your leopard gecko up. Do not pick your gecko up by its tail. Slowly cup your gecko from underneath him and lift him up. Once you have him in your hands, stroke his back and just relax with him.

After all that, your leopard gecko 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 20 years.

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56 comments to How to Tame a Leopard Gecko

  • I disagree with taking the hides out. The hides are there for a reason: for your gecko to feel safe and have somewhere to, well, hide. Taking these out defeats the purpose.

    • Billy

      Hello leopardgeckosgalore,

      I am just going to copy and paste the same answer that we posted on our other website (http://www.leopardgeckotalk.com/)

      “This is just for the 2 minutes that you will have your hand in the tank. It’s not permanent. Letting your gecko hide every time you put your hand into the tank will defeat the purpose of trying to tame him. Think of a scared dog. How will the dog get accustom to your hand if he is always hiding and does not even see it? This method may not be acceptable to all leopard gecko owners, but this is what I did to tame all of my leopard geckos. You may choose the method works best for you. If you have an alternative way to tame a leopard gecko, please feel free to share some tips and advice. We are always welcome to suggestions to add to our articles.”

  • Patrik Holub

    Hey, what to do if I have my leopard geckos for a month and I haven’t done any taming yet? I wanted to replace some objects in terarium and the gecko started squeling and biting me. How should i start? they eat only when I am not in the room, or when I sleep at night :/

    • Billy

      Hey Patrik,
      Can you tell me the age and size of the leopard gecko? Is the gecko still a juvenile? This usually happens when they are first bright home. I would start holding your gecko a few mins a day. The squealing will stop after a few handlings. Just be very careful when handling and don’t be scared. If your gecko is a juvenile, the bites won’t hurt at all. It’s more of a head bump then a bite.

  • I just got my leopard gecko about 4 days ago, and the lady at the pet store said he was already kind of socialized, so the first three steps of this proccess were done in a short amount of time. Yesterday, I was feeding my leopard gecko (he is a baby, I think the pet store lady said he was 14 weeks old) and he took two crickets from my hand, but still seems reluctant to crawl directly onto it- should I start from scratch again, and go back to step one, or should I just move on to the next step? I really like my little leo, and I would’nt want for him not to trust me, so any advice is greatly appreciated! Thank you! (Also this is not my first time owning a leo, but I have not owned a baby leopard gecko before)

    • Billy

      Hey tyr3x,
      I would just move on to nexthe step. If you are hand feeding already and he is taking it, it seems that he is pretty social already.

  • Oh yeah- I forgot to mention earlier, that Rex (thats my leopard geckos name) would always stare right at me whenever I looked in his cage, but now, after I left my hand in there for a bit, he is not doing that anymore. Is this good or bad? Shpuld I be worried about him?

  • Hi Billy! Thanks so mich for the advice! When I touched my leopard gecko, he was really squirmy, and he was trying to avoid my hand at first, but he slowly calmed down without any squealing. Im sure he will get used to it! Thanks again!!:)

  • icantkeepstill

    It’s the second day that I’ve had my little gecko, who is a girl, her name’s Pixel. She basically doesn’t even react to my hand anymore since I’ve placed it in front of her multiple times and let her lick it this morning, which took about an hour… She now walks onto my hand and lets me lift her up, or walks over it without a problem, and it’s the second day. You don’t need 6 weeks if you’re experienced enough, or if you’re calm enough and feel confident you can tame your little gecko.

    • Billy

      Hey icantkeepstill,
      Thanks for your experience. You definitely don’t need six weeks if your leopard gecko comes social already as most do if coming from pet shops since they are handled almost daily. The multiple weeks guide is more for the very scared and timid leopard geckos. It seems that you got yourself a very social little girl.

  • Austin Velliquette

    I have had my new gecko now for about two and a half weeks. he eats just fine and is not scared of me being by the glass or having my hand in the tank with him. He will actually come out when I sit down and start digging out his worms. He will watch and wait as I drop them in. He will also take them right out of the tongs. He looks at my hand as if he’s interested but won’t come up to me yet. I think I’m going to try and put some feeders on my hand and see if he will come up to me.

    • Billy

      Hey Austin,
      It sounds like he is being very social with you. You can try handling him if he isn’t hiding from you right right away. Just make sure to only handle him for short periods of times at first.

  • I didn’t realize that leopard geckos are nocturnal. My kids wanted to play with ours after lunch, but the little guy was out of sight all afternoon. I’ll have to talk to them and change their expectations to him being a nighttime entertainment.

    • Billy

      Hey Rachel,
      Great decision! It’s always good to learn about the animals we keep to better understand their needs and preferences.

  • Jasey

    Whenever I try to pet my leopard gecko he jumps out of my hand and onto my bed, the pet store said he was socialized and when I held him at the store he did not do this. Am I moving too fast?

    • Billy

      Hey Jasey,
      How long ago did you get him? This is common for some leopard geckos. If he is a new gecko, he may take a few days to get use to his new environment.

  • Lewis

    So I’ve had my gecko for almost 2 years and I haven’t done any of these methods apart from leaving him alone the first week I had him and he seems all fine with me now I’m just wondering how to get him to feed from the food bowl because he will only eat if I put it in front of him out of the bowl. Also, is it normal for him to not walk onto my hand because he never does unless he’s outside of the enclosure
    Thanks

    • Billy

      Hey Lewis,
      Different methods work for different people. Our method is mainly for people who really have no idea what to do. Leaving them alone may work also. What items are you putting in the food bowl? Mealworms? Could it be that he can’t see into the food bowl, therefore, he can’t see the movement of the live insects?. And yes, it’s totally normal for him to not walk onto your hand.

  • I just got two Leo’s three days ago. They are about ten months old. The one is already coming out and just kinda staring at me. The other will not come out of his hide. I moved the hide today just to try and get him to eat. As the crickets seem to know to hid between their hide and the wall of the cage so they cannot eat them. The one guy still did not eat. Is there anything I can do for him?

    • Billy

      Hey Jenifer,
      Leo’s are nocturnal, so you can’t really determine if they are truly eating or not, as they mostly do their hunting at night when we are all sleeping. It may be that one is a bit more scared and/or shy than the other. Have you tried feeding mealworms?

  • Trinity Green

    We are on day 12 of our new baby/juvenille leopard gecko Ryan seems to be very happy we read A LOT before we got her she seems well adjusted and is eating like a pig she doesn’t seem to like mealworms though two questions is just crickets okay for her? (she’s already put on some weight) and my other question is how often should my son put his hand flat in her tank is it every other day or every day? she bit him the 1st day of course being so scared (of course) but now she is licking him so mainly I would please like to know how often Thanks in advance p.s. GREAT pin!

    • Billy

      Hey Trinity,
      Biting is normal in the beginning, especially in the beginning. Is he a baby, juvenile, or adult? You can do either way, everyday or every other day. If he is really scared and skiddish all the time, start off by doing it every other day, then build your way up to everyday.

      And yes, crickets as a staple feeder is perfectly fine. Don’t forget to gutload the crickets with nutritious food like carrots, collared greens, zuchini, or a good quality cricket diet.

  • alyssa

    I’ve had my leopard geckos since November of 2015. (Tater&Savage)
    I naturally did all of the things as stated above (taming wise) when I first got them. Tater adapted well to me and his environment. I can lay down and watch TV with him if he’s up to it, but Savage on the other hand is wild. I can pick her up but she still bites and screams at me once I try to put her down on my shirt, or bed. She always tries to run away from me, I don’t know what to with her. tips? anyone?
    They’re probably 9 months or so.

    • Billy

      Hey Alyssa,
      Sounds like Savage has an attitude problem and a name that represents her personality. LOL But in all seriousness, let’s get this solved! At what age did you get Savage?

  • Lena

    I have a five-month-old leopard gecko it hisses lunges and bites me when I try to feed her or pick her up the first week I left her alone did not try to pick up the second week I tried your recommendations and it didn’t seem to be getting any better she just seems to be getting more aggressive is there anything else that I can do

  • Ali

    I need help please and can’t seem to find the answer anywhere..okay so I bought my leopard gecko in march 2016 she was about 2 months old had her in a 10 gallon then when she got bigger I moved her about 2 months ago into a bigger tank and she is well adjusted to her tank..when she was younger she showed interest in me and would lick me and climb on my hand..but now she avoids me and when I put my hand in the tank she stares and stays extremely still like a statue..she never approaches my hand or licks me..then she slowly makes a run for it and hides..so I leave her alone..she’s about 8/9 months old now. I tong feed her and talk to her but she doesn’t seem to be interested in me. Is it too late to tame her? Any tips??

    • Billy

      Hello Ali,
      What you described does not say that your leopard gecko isn’t tame. You could just have a shy leopard gecko. The whole point of taming an animal is to prevent the animal from biting or snapping at their owner. If your leopard gecko isn’t squealing, biting, or anything crazy, I would say it’s safe to say you can pick her up. Not all geckos will walk onto their owner’s hands, lick them, etc…

  • Ali

    Thanks for the information..I’ve been working with her and finally decided it was time to scoop her up..I showed her my hand then went to scoop her up from the side she backed away from me then ran over my hand and went as fast as she could to a hide.. then left her alone..should I just go for it and scoop her up she seems terrified of me??

    • Billy

      Hello Ali,
      You should be okay to pick her up. Running away is totally normal. Just take it slow if she starts squealing. If she doesn’t, then you are good.

  • Ok so I’ve had my Leo for about 2 years and I live away and do t see him a lot so not a lot of social he lives with my mom but imma am going to keep him but want to tame him he doesn’t bite and he doesn’t squeal so he good on that but he runs from my hand and won’t stay in.yes he is coming to live with me forever

  • Alex

    Hi I just got my leopard gecko Albus a couple weeks ago. At first I tried to hold him but he tried to run off. After like two of him getting used to his new environment my mom tried to hold him but he is so jumpy.Is there any way to solve that? He also like to climb but We are running out of ideas of stuff for him to climb on. Any ideas??? I am also really scared to hold Albus.

    • Billy

      Hey Alex,
      You just need to keep working at it with Albus daily until he becomes use to you. They very rarely bite. If anything, they will squeal which might scare you. I would hold him on top of a bed or something soft just in case he runs off your hand or you jerk your hand from underneath him. I wont lie, I’ve done that once or twice when I first got my gecko. The squeal got me sometimes. Then he just stopped running, squealing, and running away. Albus will be use to you in no time. Just don’t be scared.

  • Marko

    Hi All, we got 3 Leo’s for our family this christmas ‘second hand’ from a previous owner, she couldn’t tell us the age of them at all, is there any way to determine this please?
    Thanks

    • Billy

      Hello Marko,
      I wouldn’t be able to tell you the age! I’m sorry. I don’t think anyone would be able to.

  • Kitty

    Does it mean anything if my leopard gecko Snickers eats right when I put the crickets in the tank and does it mean anything if she also is always by the heat mat chillaxin? Also I’ve had her for about a year and she’s still skittish is that bad?

    • Billy

      Hello Kitty,
      All it means is that your leopard gecko has a good appetite. Leopard geckos love their heat mats and warmth, this is totally common. All leopard geckos might be a little skiddish (it’s normal). We all look like giants to them. As long as she is not biting you or squealing, then you have nothing to worry about.

  • Annaliese

    Thank you so much for this article! We’ve had our Leo, Lily, for seven months. Since she was a baby. My five year old daughter chose her as her birthday gift. We tried to handle her too soon (against recommendations to wait) and she bit and became pretty reclusive. We decided to just let her be and just talk to her, feed her, keep up with normal care. Lately she’s been really social and showing a lot of interest in me when I clean her tank, change her water, feed her, etc. I was so scared she was going to bite me if I let her get too close but after reading your article, I had the confidence to let her lick me (a lot!) and climb into my hand! The patience and love and attention paid off! I know she wants to come hang out. She’s so beautiful and smart! Like a little velociraptor. Just wanted to say thanks! Oh, and what’s their ideal tank temp? She seems comfortable at 80 so that’s what I keep hers at. With a 60 watt night bulb and a 60 watt day bulb plus a small heater on the side of the tank by her day hide. I’m excited to spend more time handling Lily now! Yay!

    • Billy

      Hey Annaliese,
      Thank you very much for the feedback on the article and I am so happy it worked well for you and your leo. 80 degrees Fahrenheit is the average ambient temperature you want.

  • Jake

    I have a adult leopard gecko that has never been handled, should I do anything different?

  • Luke

    Hey, I got my female leopard gecko,Link, 3 days ago.She is eating for me but runs if I put my hand into the 10 gallon cage. I held her at the pet store but now she won’t let me.I really need somebody help. I think she is untamed. Also, she is a juvenile.

    • Billy

      Hey Luke,
      This is totally normal. I would let your gecko get use to his new surroundings for a few more days until he feels secure ad ‘at home’. Then try handling him.

  • Julia

    I am a first time reptile owner, and have had my baby leopard gecko for almost a month now. He eats crickets every other day and last week after I had fed about 5 or 6 small crickets to him (ate them all with in a few minutes) I tried to start getting him acclimated with me. He is definitely not scared of me anymore (he was a bit shy at first and wouldn’t come out for feedings, so i had to put crickets in his den). He was walking around his tank, so I decided to put my hand at the bottom of it. At first he went up to my hand and licked it. I thought that was a huge step, so I backed off for a bit and let him hang out for about 5/10 minutes. After that, I put my hand back in and he launched at me and bit me! It totally freaked me out! I haven’t tried to lay my hand down since then. What does this mean?
    Also, he has never made any noises at me, or anything.

    • Billy

      Hey Julia,
      Forgive me, but I literally laughed out loud while reading your comment. I can so picture that scene in my head. Anyways, I am sorry you had to go through that experience. He could have bit you for 1 of 2 reasons. The first, he was scared of you and freaked out and tried to scare you away. Second, he may have mistaken your fingers for worms. Next time you try to handle him, make sure it’s a few hours after feeding so that he is not confused with your fingers and his diet. A confusion is probably what happened.

  • Cotard

    I’ve had my juvenile gecko for two weeks and he already shows interest in me and knows when it’s time to eat. He’ll eat from my fingers with no problem and I let him hunt the crickets (I always make sure he eats them right away so there’s no problems with biting his tail). I’ve handled him once directly when he went into shed a week ago and he didn’t scream or hiss too much, but it only seemed to be because he trusted me just barely enough to keep him out of the water. But he has this quirk where when I put my fingers in the terrarium, he jumps out and nips them. He only does this when there’s no food – otherwise he only nips when he missed a wriggly mealworm. Any tips?

    • Billy

      Hey Cotard,
      Juveniles are very well-known for quirking when they are younger. This phase will end soon. Keep handling him from time to time like you are doing. Let us know how it goes.

  • Karlene

    I have a juvenile gecko that has been in my care for almost 2 months now. I bought him from a pet store and he seemed fine with my presence. He’s been eating a lot and is very healthy. I’ve been handling him every other day (atleast once a week) and my family members have held him as well. Recently I finished feeding him and about 5 minutes later I removed the hides and went to hold him like I usually do. Out of nowhere he launched at me and bit me! It scared me so much that I’m very hesitant to hold him again although I have twice. The problem is that now he is very defensive and scared of me. Yesterday when I went to hold him, he started waving his tail rapidly at my hand and he runs away from me very quickly. He has become terrified of me and I have no idea why! He hates my presence and backs into a corner whenever I am near. I have never done ANYTHING harmful to him in any sort of way! He runs away from me and last time I held him, I put him on my lap and he started waving his tail defensively again. I never did the thing where I put my hand on the bottom of the tank but now I feel as if he will just bite it if I do… Whenever I try to hold him, he runs away from my hand so I just I put my hand infront of him until he runs on it.

    • Billy

      Hey Karlene,
      I am sorry that this has happened. It does sound like one of those unusual cases that the taming is actually going in reverse. Could it have been possible that a fellow family member might have tried to hold him while you weren’t home and did something (like drop him) that you don’t know about? I don’t see why the gecko would react like this as mine has never done this (only when juvenile).

      Please update us on your geckos relationship with you now.

  • Meslf333

    Hello I just bought my leapord gecko about 2 and a half weeks ago and in DYING to handle her. I’m being patient though because I know it can be a long process. I have stared putting my hand in there and she just stares at me and backs into a corner. Also, I have a little food dish out and I put food in it but She never eats it. I have to put the worms right in front of her and leave the room or else she wont eat. I think its because she is to scared to come out of her hides and has not explored much. I have not seen her drink either. She is about 2 years old and I’m just wondering what I should do so I can handle her asap. Thanks!

    • Billy

      Hello Meslf333,
      Good job on being patient. You will have plenty of time to handle her. Expect your gecko to be shy for the next few weeks. She is in a new environment and is still shy. Over time, she will get use to you. As for the drinking and eating, it’s possible that she does this at night when the lights are off. This is when they see the best. If there is a dish of water that she can drink out of, she will if she’s thirst. Don’t worry too much about that. I think you are doing just fine right now with her. Taming takes time and your little one will get use to you soon. Just keep working on her and try different food like crickets. Sometimes mine will ignore the mealworms, but attack the crickets. You could also wound the crickets in a manner you are comfortable with to make it easier for your leopard gecko to catch. We all have our own methods. Hope this helps.

  • Grace

    This is the third day I’ve had my gecko and I have tried feeding her twice but she hasn’t eaten a thing! I’ve been handling her about 30 min a day. I’ve put my hand on the floor of the cage but all she does is lick it! I don’t know if I’m just being really impatient or if I’m doing something wrong. Please help me! Also her tank does not have a humidifier and my mom won’t let me get one. Is there something else I can do to keep her tank warm? I really love my little Alice and would be in tears if something happened to her! Please help me figure out what I’m doing! She is my first pet bigger than my hand! She is also an adult. Thanks so much to whoever helps me!

    • Billy

      Hello Grace,
      I would allow the gecko to get use to the new surroundings before trying to handle him. Everything is new to him, so expect him to be shy at first. Not eating the first few days is normal. As for the humidifier, you wont need one. They like a dry environment. Basking bulbs and ceramic heat emitters are the only sources I know of to produce heat in the tank.

  • Grace

    I have a heat lamp for her but the night time lamp gets up to 100 degrees I have had her for two weeks and she still won’t eat we left the heat lamp off last night and it stayed around 70 degrees my mom has started trying to force feed her but even when she does this my Alice only eats half a worm. We have only been handling her 15 min. a day at 9:00. Her day time heat lamp stays around 95 degrees the person we bought her from says we should mist her once a day and a book says I should soak her once a week. I tried soaking her but she hated it so I put her back in her cage. She was breathing very hard and she was very stressed should I try again and if so when? The first week and a half she never ran from me when I tried to pick her up but lately she has. Also she used to be very active but now she won’t come out from under her rock she gets cold faster when I handle her. Is there anything I should change or should I keep doing what I am doing thank you

    • Billy

      Hey Grace,
      Turn the heat lamp off for now at night. 100 F is too hot. Do not mist or soak her. What you can do is add a humid hide to her enclosure. That’s about all they need. This helps with their shedding process. But overall, they prefer a dry environment.

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