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Many young bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) are flighty until they get used to their keepers; some may gape their mouths or attempt to bite their keeper's fingers. However, with regular, gentle handling, most bearded dragons calm down in short order -- even the most nervous or aggressive individuals. Part of their popularity, in fact, stems from their characteristically calm demeanor.
Good Husbandry and Health
Begin by visiting your veterinarian to ensure that your bearded dragon is healthy. Then, examine your husbandry protocols to be sure you are providing a proper habitat. This will help keep your lizard stress-free, which will make him less likely to greet you with his beard puffed out and mouth agape. The habitat for a baby bearded dragon should have at least two square feet of floor space; he will need more space as he grows. The habitat needs a basking spot and a thermal gradient.
- the heat lamp is at one end of the enclosure to create a thermal gradient,
- the basking spot temperature is about 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the opposite side of the cage is in the low 80s, and
- the basking spot features a UVB-producing light bulb.
Before you open the cage and attempt to interact with your lizard, remove any stressful stimuli from the room, such as other pets, rowdy children or loud music. The goal is to demonstrate to your lizard that you are no threat, so start slowly by gently touching him on the back. If he reacts strongly to such interaction, stop, replace the lid and repeat the process the next day, when he will, hopefully, feel less threatened. Continue the process until he accepts your touch stoically.
After having dissolved your pet’s initial fears, you can begin trying to hold him. Do so by placing your finger under his chin. Gently lift his head, and he will likely crawl onto your finger. If he does not climb up himself, keep sliding your finger farther under his throat and chest until he shifts position. Normally, when he does this, he will grip your finger. Hold him over his cage or a safe, flat surface, in case he decides to jump.
At the outset, hold him in this manner for only a minute or two, and then put him back down. Increase the amount of time you spend holding him each day until he becomes calm enough to sit in your flattened palm.
Above all else, progress slowly, increasing the amount of interaction only as your lizard is comfortable with it.
- Unfiltered sunlight can make some bearded dragons extremely defensive, so use caution when handling your lizard outdoors -- always use a leash to prevent your lizard from escaping.
- You may be able to accelerate the taming process by hand-feeding your pet. If he is particularly nervous, begin by offering him crickets or roaches via forceps, and slowly transition to holding the prey in your fingers as he gets more comfortable.
- While bearded dragons rarely bite, they certainly can. Accordingly, it is important to begin your efforts while your pet is young and his bite is relatively inconsequential -- hatchling bearded dragons are generally unable to break the skin -- rather than when he is full-grown and capable of causing a bruise or laceration.
- While regular handling will help tame your lizard, excessive handling can stress your pet, increasing the chances that he will fall ill. Aside from giving food or water and cleaning his cage, limit your handling to no more than about 15 minutes each day.