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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.