Ackie monitors have curious and active personalities, and they’re highly intelligent. They remember who you are and past interactions that they have had with you. That’s why it’s so important to take care when interacting with and eventually handling your ackie monitor. When you take the time to develop a positive, trusting relationship with your ackie, they become bold, outgoing, rewarding pets. However, if you try to move too fast and force yourself upon them, they can become flighty and high-strung, and you will end up frustrated. Regaining trust that has been lost is much harder than never losing it in the first place (although not impossible!).
Read this section on ackie monitor handling and behaviors carefully in order to create the best relationship possible with your ackie monitor. However, remember that each ackie is its own individual, and that means you may not get the same results as someone else.
Handling Your Ackie Monitor
Even when they’re captive bred and come from a great breeder, it’s important to remember that ackie monitors are still wild at heart, and will take time to get comfortable being themselves around you. This is particularly the case with juvenile ackie monitors, as they’re full of predator-avoidance instincts which tell them that anything big that tries to grab them is going to eat them. And from an ackie’s perspective, you are big, you are loud, and you are very capable of eating them. In other words, you are terrifying, and it will take some time to convince them otherwise.
The good news here is that ackie monitors are generally easy to tame compared to other species. As they approach adulthood and the predator-avoidance instincts start to fade (usually around 1 year old), they will naturally become more curious and confident (Kuhn & Julander, 1999). Until that point, your job is to give them their space and do your best not to make them feel threatened. Once your ackie is near maturity, that’s when the real taming process begins.
If you make a mistake, your ackie won’t necessarily be traumatized for the rest of its life. Being consistent is more important: the more your ackie is accustomed to you and your presence, the more forgiving they become.
Taming a Young Ackie Monitor
Since ackie monitors are so curious, you will want to exploit this behavior from the beginning. You do not need to grab them in order to start taming them. The best thing you can do is not touch them and just be present in their enclosure. Let them know you can co-exist in the same space without always picking them up or interacting with them.
After bringing your new ackie home, give them a few weeks to adjust to their new surroundings before introducing yourself. Professor Herp recommends doing at least 30 minutes of being present in their enclosure, as they will try and wait you out. If you get impatient and leave early, they will learn that hiding makes the scary thing (you) go away. Make sure your motions are slow, as fast ones may scare them and create negative associations.
- Give them their space
- Be present: Do something inside the enclosure every day (spot cleaning, changing water, moving décor, etc.)
- Rest your hand in the enclosure for them to check you out
- Let them smell/lick you
- Let them watch you: Stand/sit outside of the enclosure (doing your own thing) on a daily basis
- Stare (mostly for the first 2 weeks or so)
- Make prolonged eye contact
- Touch them
- Grab them
- Chase them
Taming a Subadult/Adult Ackie Monitor
Taming a mature ackie involves doing the same things you were doing before, but you can start to do more now. Once your ackie has become accustomed to you and starts coming to you, do not immediately grab them. Stay still and let them check you out and go about their day. As the process continues, you can start giving them a quick chin rub or a pet, then gradually escalate the amount of interaction from there.
Most reptiles are food-motivated, which makes food a great bribe for getting your ackie to interact with you. Using feeding to stimulate the taming process can work, but you do not want to teach your ackie to expect food whenever you interact with them. Ackies aren’t dangerous — it’s just that an ackie in “food mode” is pretty excited and can be hard to handle.
When you eventually move to ackie monitor handling, watch how you approach them. Approaching from overhand with your hand in a grabbing, claw-like shape will probably frighten them, as birds are their natural predators and they are “triggered” by anything that remotely resembles a bird.
There are various ways to move forward from here. For example, you can sit in a bathtub with your ackie monitor, which limits the ackie’s ability to hide/run away, forcing the Ackie to interact with you (but watch that they do not escape). For more ideas, here are some helpful videos:
- Professor Herp — How To Tame Your Reptile | The Do’s And Don’ts
- Professor Herp — #1 Method to Tame & Bond With Your Lizard | NO TOUCHING!!!
- Clint’s Reptiles — Reptile “Taming” – Building a Relationship of Trust With Your Pet
- The same things as before
- Try tong-feeding
- Let them come to you first
- Offer a quick chin rub or pet when they come to you
- Handle inside the enclosure first before taking them out
- Do not return them to their enclosure (reward) until they are calm
- Grab them when they’re hiding
- Chase them
- Approach from above
Picking your ackie up by hand is usually fine, but this puts you in control, rather than the ackie. Do not forcibly pick them up. Keeping a level of trust and respect is much more important than handling them at that moment. If they want to move but you want to keep them in your hands, you can “treadmill” the lizard by continually putting one hand in front of the other as they move.
The best way to approach ackie monitor handling is by letting them crawl on you. Stick your arm out, if your ackie trusts you, they should climb right up you. Use your other hand as a way to guide them so don’t go too fast or go somewhere you can’t reach. Keep your arm out in front of you and try to not let them go past your elbow. Ackies will jump from high places (such as your head), so don’t give them that option.
As a note, ackies have very fine nails that can be irritating to human skin. Handling with bare hands or arms may result in small, inflamed scratches or even a minor rash. This is annoying, but normal and not something to worry about.
Unless you are 110% confident that you can trust your ackie not to run off during handling, keep a gentle hold on them. Ackies are extremely fast when they want to be, which means that if you’re not careful, you’ll end up with a lost lizard!
Force handling should be a last resort, reserved only for situations when you have no other choice, like doing a full cleanout the enclosure, going to the vet, moving house, or evacuation. If you can train your ackie to use a closed, removable hide box, that will make removing your ackie for these situations much less traumatic.
Common Ackie Monitor Behaviors/Body Language
Understanding your ackie’s body language can help you understand its emotional state and level of stress, which in turns helps you react to them appropriately. Here are some common behaviors you may observe:
Biting — Last-resort defensive tactic when used against humans. Ackies are more likely to bite other ackies during disputes over territory or mates. Ackie Monitors rarely bite a human, even in self-defense, but if they do the damage will be minimal. In the context of human interaction, it usually indicates extreme fear that has escalated into aggression.
Bolting — Ackie runs to the nearest hiding place. Indicates fear.
Closed Eyes — Indicates stress. Ackie is hoping that by closing its eyes, you will lose interest and go away. This is a signal to back off with whatever you’re doing.
Head Jerking/Waving — One ackie monitor jerks/waves his head in the presence of another. Dominance display.
Tongue Flicking — Tongue flicks in and out of a closed mouth. Seen in both males and females, can be slow or fast. Indicates interest/excitement. Slow tongue flicks usually indicate a normal level of interest in their surroundings as they move about. Rapid tongue flicks indicate heightened interest, usually around food or a potential mate.
Scent Marking — Rubbing the cloaca, neck, head, and/or throat against the ground and objects. This behavior uses the ackie’s scent to mark their territory. However, they may also rub against objects while shedding to help remove old skin.
Tail Lashing/Whipping — Ackie quickly and aggressively whips its tail at a stimulus, such as its keeper’s hand. Defensive behavior used to discourage a potential predator. Indicates fear.
Enrichment Activities and Training for Ackie Monitors
Because of their intelligence, it’s also important to offer sources of enrichment to keep your ackie stimulated and engaged with its environment. Enrichment is important for all reptiles, but it’s especially important for ackie monitors. This may seem redundant since we already discussed enrichment in the Environmental Enrichment & Décor section, but there’s actually another type of enrichment that your ackie needs: enrichment activities. You can learn about the difference between the two here.
Here are some enrichment activity ideas you can use with your ackie monitor:
- Let them hunt live insects, whether in their enclosure or in a separate feeding “arena”
- Use slow feeder bowls
- Use puzzle balls with food inside
- Offer food from soft-tipped feeding tweezers (and make them work for it)
- Put a cotton ball scented with a little essential oil in the enclosure
- Create a “play pen” full of interactive objects outside of the enclosure
Did you know that reptiles can be trained? They may not do “tricks”, but they can be trained to perform certain desirable behaviors and abstain from undesirable behaviors. For example, by refusing to put your ackie back in its enclosure when it’s freaking out, you train it to stay calm during handling. Just like training teaches dogs and horses how to interact with humans, training can also teach ackie monitors how to interact with humans, and decreases stress in captivity.
Providing regular enrichment for your ackie monitor is not optional. According to David Mellor’s 5 Provisions of Animal Welfare, enrichment is a requirement for achieving optimal welfare in captivity.
Keep reading about ackie monitor care:
- Introduction to Ackie Monitors
- Varanus acanthurus Subspecies
- Shopping List: Supplies You Will Need
- How to Select and Buy a Pet Ackie Monitor
- Enclosure Size & Roommates
- Lighting & UVB Requirements
- Heating Requirements
- Humidity Requirements
- Substrate Options
- Environmental Enrichment: Decorating the Enclosure
- Feeding Your Ackie Monitor
- Handling Tips & Behavioral Notes
- General Health Guide
- Additional Resources