One of the big reasons why beardies are such popular pets is their sweet, patient dispositions. They rarely bite, claw, or tail-whip, and since they’re naturally laid-back, they love to snuggle. That being said, bearded dragon taming is still essential.
Through the process of bearded dragon taming and handling, remember that each has its own personality and will act accordingly—no matter what you do. But here are some general guidelines to keep in mind:
- Bearded dragons have claws. Because they have claws, they do scratch bare skin sometimes. It’ll leave a red line at first, but that goes away soon enough.
- A stressed, frightened dragon will do anything to get away from you. Making sure that your dragon is well-fed, familiar with its environment, and familiar with you is key for long-term trust. Understand that this takes time and effort.
Bearded Dragon Taming
When you first bring your beardie home, resist the temptation to immediately start cuddling him/her. You’re huge compared to a bearded dragon, and s/he needs time to figure out you’re a friend, not a predator. Most sources recommend letting your dragon settle in for 2 weeks before handling. It’s torture, but worth it.
Once your beardie has established confidence in his/her new home, you can introduce yourself. Let him/her get comfortable with your scent by placing an old, used shirt in the terrarium. Offer him/her food from your fingers (I recommend dry food like greens; wet stuff like melon or cucumber will get you bitten). Let your hand rest in the terrarium and allow the dragon to familiarize itself with your hand. This may involve quite a bit of licking.
After your bearded dragon has stopped running away from your hand and seems calm in your presence, you can handle him/her. But just because you have reached this step does not mean your dragon trusts you. Trust and friendship (as far as it goes for lizards) takes time and daily handling.
Since they’re so light, handling bearded dragons is an easy task. Here are some tips to make it a positive experience for both of you.
- Support all four feet. If one foot is left out, s/he will feel off balance and start to thrash to regain it.
- Use slow movements. Large, fast movements remind them of predators. Small, quick movements remind them of prey. Either way, it’s distracting.
- Petting is tolerated and even appreciated, but do so gently. Never tug, pull, or tap. Also resist rubbing against his/her scales.
- If your beardie is shedding, resist pulling at the loose skin. You may pull off scales that haven’t completely detached yet.
Allowing your bearded dragon to roam around gives him/her an opportunity to become completely confident in your home. You can even take him/her to the park if the sun is out and there aren’t many people around. This is great exercise, mentally stimulating, and an excellent source of UVB, so give him/her an opportunity to get out whenever possible. Make sure to keep an eye out, though!
You may be able to prevent your dragon from being stepped on, but part of letting your bearded dragon roam free is becoming proficient at Hide-and-Seek. You can reduce the likelihood losing him/her by “reptile-proofing” your home and being aware of trouble zones.
- Underneath cabinets, couches, beds, etc.
- Behind the refrigerator
- Behind anything
- Clothes/blankets on the floor
I know, that’s basically everywhere. But the good news is that your home is cooler than his/her terrarium, which means s/he eventually has to get tired and take a nap somewhere. So once you’ve checked a spot, you can cross it off the list. Over time you will become familiar with your dragon’s favorite hiding spots.
Bearded Dragon Body Language
Time for a quick lesson on bearded dragon body language. Becoming fluent takes a little while, but soon you’ll be able to read not only general body cues, but the moods specific to your beardie’s personality.
Black/dark beard — Something’s not right. It could be pain, cold temperatures, or general irritability. Maybe you took him/her outside and s/he doesn’t like it. A dark beard is always a bad thing. But if you have a male and there’s a female nearby, he’s just showing off.
Flexed beard — Feeling territorial. Your beardie will expand his/her beard if s/he feels like someone else is getting in his/her personal space. If you have a male and there’s a female nearby, he’s just showing off again. Beard flexing is also a normal behavior in the morning, as they do it to stretch.
“Sexy Leg” — An endearingly cute behavior that is nothing more than a good stretch.
“Pancaking” — If your bearded dragon suddenly flattens against the ground, spreading out his/her body, s/he is feeling frightened. There may have been a sudden movement that s/he didn’t like, or maybe s/he is outside. This is a defensive maneuver dragons use to hide from predators. It also hardens their side spikes.
Gaping — This is a normal behavior displayed by bearded dragons when they get hot. It’s like dogs panting. This is nothing to be concerned about unless s/he is doing it frequently, which means you should reduce temps a bit, or that s/he is sick. A big gape can be a warning that s/he is about to bite.
Tail up — Your beardie is feeling alert! This is typically displayed while hunting down bugs or adventuring. And it’s terribly cute.
Head bobbing — This is a territorial display, as well as a sign of dominance. Bearded dragons do this at other bearded dragons to tell them who’s boss. If a male is doing this at a female, he’s trying to impress her. If your bearded dragon is head bobbing but there’s no other beardie in sight, s/he’s just feeling good.
Arm waving — This is how a head bob is usually returned. Arm waving is a sign of submission, and is very deliberate, so you can’t miss it! If a male is nearby, your female is likely telling him that she is impressed by him. If your beardie is an only child, arm waving may be a sign that s/he submits to you. You can build his/her confidence by arm waving at him/her. S/he will likely give you a funny look, but do it every once in a while and s/he’ll get the message.