Bearded dragons are among the most docile of pet reptiles. Their easy-going nature has made them very popular. With some time and patience, you can create a strong bond with your beardie. Petting your dragon is one of the easiest ways to show it how much you care.
EditCaressing Your Bearded Dragon
- Get the dragon’s attention before you reach your hand into its habitat. To get the most out of your interaction, it's best to avoid startling the animal. Make a noise or talk to your dragon until it responds by looking at you.
- Check to make sure the bearded dragon is not eating or hunting. You will have a better interaction with the animal if you are not interrupting these activities.
- Take a few moments before approaching your bearded dragon to check in with your own general mood and stress level. The more relaxed you are, the more comfortable and happy the dragon will be when you interact.
- Place your hand in the aquarium. Now that you have its attention, move your arm and hand toward the top of the habitat. Keep your hand where the dragon can see it and avoid positioning yourself right over its head. As you lower your hand down, avoid making any sudden or quick movements. Don't back it into a corner and keep your eye out for signs of stress or agitation.
- If this is your dragon and you are still getting used to one another, feel free to use food to encourage the interaction. Associating treats with getting handled can help some beardies relax.
- Pet the beardie gently from head to tail. Once the dragon has relaxed with your hand near, place your first two fingers on its head or back and stroke gently toward the tail. Pick up your fingers and start again, stroking toward the tail. Never stroke a bearded dragon from the tail to the head. This causes pain and will set you back in trying to gain your dragon’s trust and confidence.
- Remember to be watching the dragon for signs of stress, agitation, or contentment.
- If the dragon’s eyes are drooping and it seems at ease with you, consider picking it up.
- Scoop the bearded dragon up from below if it appears to be relaxed. Place your hand palm up under the dragon’s belly. You can use your fingertips to support its front legs. The length of its body should rest on your arm, including the back legs and the tail. Once it is stabilized, slowly lift the dragon out of the habitat.
- Baby beardies are more skittish and can panic when they are picked up. If this happens, use your other hand to cup over the baby’s body to give it shelter and hopefully calm it down. Don’t squeeze or put pressure on the baby’s body to contain it.
- If a beardie loses its balance, it may dig its nails into your skin. Make sure to disinfect any scratches that you get.
- Never grab or hold a bearded dragon by its legs or tail.
- Hold the bearded dragon close to your body. Once the dragon is on your arm and out of the habitat, bring your arm close into your body. This will give it a sense of ease and protection. Walk your dragon slowly around, eventually settling down somewhere calm and quiet. Continue to gently stroke the animal from its head to its tail.
- If someone else wants to pet the dragon while you are holding it, make sure to instruct them to move slowly and to not approach the dragon from directly overhead.
- If a child wants to pet the dragon, get down to their level so they are not straining to reach the dragon. This can startle or stress the animal.
- Release the dragon back to its habitat when you're finished petting it. When you are finished petting and bonding with the bearded dragon, slowly move your arm away from your body and lower it into the habitat. Once your hand has touched down, lift up from your elbow to give the dragon a ramp down into its home.
- After a nice, long handling you can reward your beardie with a treat.
- Make sure your dragon isn't getting too cold. When taken away from their warm enclosure into a cool room, they may chill quite quickly. If your dragon's color darkens this may be a sign he is too cold.
- Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds with an anti-bacterial soap after handling your bearded dragon.
EditRecognizing Bearded Dragon Body Language
- Back off if your bearded dragon fluffs its beard. This is the behavior that gave the bearded dragon their name. When a dragon inflates its beard it seems larger and more fearsome. It is considered a defensive move and can mean the animal is feeling threatened.
- Bearded dragons also fluff their beards occasionally when not threatened. Once the two of you know each other better, it will be easier for you to determine when the fluffing is a defensive move and when it is not.
- Look for signs of stress like flattening and tail twitching. Beardies’ bodies are already flat-ish, but when stressed they can flatten their bodies even more. A twitching tail is a sign of contained nervous energy and might be a sign of mild agitation.
- Bearded dragons also twitch their tails when they hunt and mate. If you want to pet your dragon but see a twitching tail, check to see if it is on the hunt for crickets. If so, wait until after the animal has fed before you put your hand in the aquarium.
- Avoid contact with a bearded dragon that is hissing. This is a very clear-cut signal that you should give the animal its space. Hissing can be a prelude to biting.
- If you do get bitten by a bearded dragon, be sure to clean the wound thoroughly with an anti-bacterial soap and apply an antibiotic ointment.
- Don’t interrupt two dragons that are bobbing their heads at one another. If you are reaching into a habitat that houses more than one dragon, be on the lookout for a face-off between the animals that includes head bobbing. This is a show of dominance, usually between males, and means that the animals are not in the mood for a gentle pet or being held.
- The faster the head is bobbing, the more aggressive the behavior.
- If your dragon is bobbing its head very slowly at you, not another lizard, this could be a sign of submission.
- Proceed with caution if you see mouth gaping. This behavior resembles a frozen yawn and can either mean that the dragon is mildly agitated or that it is hot and attempting to cool down. Being overheated could be related to stress and agitation or not.
- As you get to know the animal, you will be able to tell the difference between a stressed state and a relaxed one. Either way, this behavior might be a signal to give your dragon some time before you pet it.
- Keep up the contact if your bearded dragon has heavy eye lids. Just like in humans, this means there is a high degree of relaxation and trust. If your dragon is closing its eyes while you pet him, you’re in!
EditMaintaining Good Hygiene
- Wash your hands before and after handling a bearded dragon. Reptiles are vulnerable to human diseases and vice versa. Bearded dragons carry a bacteria called Salmonella and can pass it on to humans with weakened immune systems. The chances for infection are quite slim but washing your hands before and after petting your dragon will protect you both.
- Be sure to lather up when washing and scrub all parts of your hands: in between your fingers, the palms, the back of the hands. Scrub for a full 20 seconds.
- Wear gloves if you want extra protection. If you have a weakened immune system, or are feeling nervous about handling the dragon, wear disposable latex gloves. Gloves can also protect you from scratches and bites.
- Don’t wear rubber gloves that you keep and use to do chores.
- Wash any scratches or bites thoroughly with anti-bacterial soap. Apply an antibiotic lotion to prevent infection and cover the wound for a few days with a band-aid to keep it moist and speed healing.
- Biting is extremely rare in bearded dragons and scratching will generally only occur if the animal is trying to regain its balance.
- Avoid eating while handling a bearded dragon. There should be no contact between your hands and your mouth while you are petting a dragon. There should also be no contact between your mouth and the animal’s skin.
- When a child handles a bearded dragon they may want to give it a kiss. Let them know they should keep their affection limited to petting!
- Always wash your hands with an anti-bacterial soap before and after handling your bearded dragon to protect yourself from salmonella.
- Avoid handling a bearded dragon that is exhibiting aggressive behavior. If you are bitten or scratched, make sure to thoroughly wash the wound with an anti-bacterial soap.
- Avoid leaving children alone with a bearded dragon.
- Do not allow contact between a child’s mouth and the dragon.
EditSources and Citations
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