Indigenous to Australia, bearded dragons are common in the pet trade. At 16 to 20 inches long, they are small enough and docile enough for first-time lizard keepers. With proper care, most bearded dragons flourish in captivity. Bonding with a lizard, however, is unlike bonding with a dog or a cat. Time, patience and a consistent routine are the keys to success.
Unlike common house pets, bearded dragons do not have a long history as companion animals to humans. Captivity is not their normal state; even those who were bred in captivity take a long time to adjust to new circumstances. Be patient with your new pet, especially during the first few days and weeks. Provide plenty of private time for your beardie to explore his new enclosure alone and get used to a new routine. Consistent handling is important, but begin with sessions that are just a few minutes long. Gradually increase to longer handling times as your beardie begins to relax.
Like all creatures, bearded dragons need to feel safe. Before handling her, wash your hands thoroughly with scent-free soap to remove threatening smells. Approach her horizontally rather than from above; pick her up gently, supporting her legs and feet firmly in your hands at all times. Keep her away from anything that makes loud noises or is visually intimidating. If she begins squirming or fighting, lightly cover her head to block out stimuli. Use slow, steady movements and a soft, calm tone of voice.
Reward your pet for socializing with you. Depending on your dragon’s personality, he might enjoy hand-fed treats or lukewarm soaks. Be careful not to reward bad behavior. For example, if your beardie fights to be put down, do not let go of him until he is calm. Otherwise, you'll accidentally teach him that struggling gives him freedom.
Bearded dragons communicate with each other in a variety of ways. Head bobs and arm waves are the most visible means of communication. If you have two beardies, watch their interactions. Pay attention to the behaviors that each demonstrates after a series of communications to determine their meanings. Learning what your dragon is trying to say can help you respect his desire to eat, sleep or simply relax, and identify when he feels playful and wants to socialize.
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer specializing in disabled adventure travel. She spent 15 years working for Central Florida theme parks and frequently travels with her disabled father. Fritscher's work can be found in both print and online mediums, including VisualTravelTours.com. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of South Florida.