Lizards aren’t like puppies. They won’t wag their tail when they’re having a good day. So how do you tell if a bearded dragon is friendly or wants to bite your finger off?
When socialized properly, bearded dragons become extremley friendly animals. Most handled bearded dragons are calm and chill with anyone, even strangers they’ve never met before. If they’re not happy, the spikes around their face will flare out.
But how should you take care of them so they don’t become aggressive? And if you get a bearded dragon that’s not a baby, will it still be nice and friendly? Don’t worry; we’ll answer all your questions and more.
How to Properly Handle Bearded Dragons
Handling and caring for a bearded dragon properly is the key to enhancing their already gentle nature. Socialized dragons will be as relaxed as a golden retriever, just not quite as fluffy. They are generally quite calm, but there are things that owners can do to make them more comfortable around people.
How to Handle Babies
If you get a chance to raise a bearded dragon from infancy, first of all, lucky you. Second of all, you should do a lot of research on how to raise a baby bearded dragon, as they’ll have more needs than adults. And socializing them at this age is absolutely necessary.
If you’re on this article, it’s probably because you’re doing some research before you drop money on one of these little lizards. But if you’re raising a baby bearded dragon, then how friendly they are is entirely dependant on you.
Obviously, different lizards have different personalities. But if they’re not given the opportunity to be handled from a young age, when they’re adults, they won’t know what’s going on. They might freak out, and who could blame them? If they’ve never been handled before, and then suddenly someone lifts them off their feet out of nowhere, they have no context for this activity. They might think they’re being attacked or taken somewhere else—somewhere scary.
Handling a bearded dragon is really simple. But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it should be taken lightly. It’s an easy process, but it needs to be done right every single time in order to establish trust with your dragon. To pick up your dragon, you need to reach slowly and carefully into their tank, giving them plenty of time to see your hand. Then, grab them around the front and lift the front half of them gently, as a warning.
If they react to this aggressively (by hissing or flaring out their spikes, or both) then they don’t want to be held. But if not, keep going.
Next, you need to lift them out of the tank and make sure to hold your hand under their stomach while still supporting all of their limbs. You can hold them up vertically or down horizontally, but if you don’t support their stomach and limbs, then they’ll start flailing. They’re not being aggressive when they do this–they just want sturdy support, and they’re flailing their limbs as a way to find something to hold onto.
If they start walking up and down your arm, let them. If they start going somewhere you don’t want them to be, gently guide them away. But never squeeze them or hold them in one spot if they’re restless. Sometimes, even if you’re holding them properly, they still will wriggle away. That happens, and it might just mean they’re not in the mood to be held right then.
To get them used to being held, you should plan to hold them for 10-minute sessions at least twice a day. Once they get used to it, many of them love being held, and they’ll love chilling with you for hours at a time.
How to Handle Adults
Holding adults is the same process as holding babies. The only difference is, bearded dragons are a lot bigger when they’re older. So when you hold them, you might need to use two hands to support them properly. After all, adult bearded dragons can grow up to 24 inches long.
Just like babies, if they’re not supported properly, they will start flailing around. Even if they’re used to being held, it still can be scary for them. After all, in their mind, they’re way off the ground, and falling could be deadly. Show your dragon that they can trust you by taking care to hold and love them properly whether they’re babies or adults.
Some experienced lizard owners will put adult bearded dragons on their shoulders and let them hang out on them all day. But don’t do that until you’re comfortable enough with your dragon that you know you can safely take them off and put them away.
When handling bearded dragons, you need to make sure you wash your hands before and after. Bearded dragons have bacteria in their habitat with them, and when you handle them you might pick up some of that bacteria or possible salmonella.
You should wash your hands after every time you hold them, and you should especially wash them if your bearded dragon accidentally scratches you and breaks your skin. If the scratch is red and infected, try using Neosporin, and if doesn’t go away after a few days, contact your doctor.
Bearded Dragon Personality
Bearded dragons, like most lizards, are friendly. In fact, they’re some of the friendliest lizards out there, right next to leopard geckos (you know, the lizards that look like they’re smiling all the time).
PetSmart classifies their bearded dragons as “Beginner-level pets” because of their sweet and docile nature, despite the fact that bearded dragons have very specific environmental needs. Bearded dragons are beginner pets because they’re usually extremely friendly and love being held. This makes them good pets for kids.
Bearded dragons and humans can be great friends. Humans like friendly little creatures and bearded dragons love being held. They’re all practically Disney sidekicks, just waiting for a hero to whisk them off to an adventure.
Bearded dragons are also diurnal, which is the opposite of nocturnal. Bearded dragons sleep at night and wake up with the sun, just like us. So when you reach in their tank to handle them during the day, you’re not waking them up in the middle of their sleep cycle. Unless you’re nocturnal…which would make this a little awkward.
Even if you didn’t raise a bearded dragon on your own, if they were raised correctly, they’ll still love you. Bearded dragons are friendly, and they don’t discriminate against people unless they’ve had bad experiences in the past. They can chill with anyone, adult, child, or teenager, as long as the person holding them is giving them the proper support.
With Each Other
Bearded dragons aren’t as friendly with each other as they are with us, so you might want to hold off before buying a bunch to put in a habitat together.
Bearded dragons as a species are used to surviving all by themselves in the wild. They don’t need companionship aside from mating and introducing more than one bearded dragon in one habitat will add unnecessary stress to you and your dragons.
When more than one lizard is in the same habitat, it will turn into a competition—they’ll fight over the best basking spot and other resources, even if you fill their habitat with plenty of food for the both of them.
They’ll either tolerate each other or despise one another. More aggressive lizards will try to establish dominance via head-bobbing, and if the other ones are smart, they’ll accept submission by hand-waving. But if one clear leader isn’t established right away, the dragons won’t be happy. Male bearded dragons are especially territorial. So having two males in the same tank is almost a guarantee that they’ll fight to the death.
If you want to breed your bearded dragons, you totally can put them in the same habitat while they mate. But once they’re done, separate them again. Don’t plan on keeping a male and female in the same tank for their entire lives. They’ll mate, sure, but they’ll still fight over resources. And one of them might start bugging the other one incessantly if they want to mate, causing unnecessary tension and stress.
To learn more about how to breed bearded dragons, check out this article from reptilemagazine.com.
Bearded Dragons in Distress
These lizards are simple. They have very clear ways to tell you: “leave me alone, dumb human!” And you should have plenty of time to react before they lash out aggressively.
A distressed bearded dragon will bob its head, hiss, and puff up the spikes around its face. If you pick them up after they’ve exhibited all or some of those signs, then they might give you a warning scratch or nip. And if you keep holding after that, it’s likely they take it a little bit further until you finally leave them alone.
When a bearded dragon is bobbing its head, it’s trying to establish dominance. If you finish handling a bearded dragon, and they start bobbing their head after you put them back in the tank, it just means they’re reestablishing their dominance in their tank…even if they’re the only one in there.
If you notice your bearded dragon wheezing at you, it’s not a form of defense. Bearded dragons are known to have respiratory issues, and it’s possible that they have an infection. If they’re wheezing a lot, or if they have mucus/slime around their mouth, then there’s a high chance that they’re sick, not angry.
But don’t confuse wheezing for hissing. Wheezing means they’re sick. Hissing means they want to be put down. Now.
How To Tell if They Like You
Honestly, it’s not very hard to tell if they like you. If you handle the bearded dragon and it doesn’t react aggressively, it probably likes you. If they’re chilling with you, as still as a statue, then you and your bearded dragons are BFFs. So, most of the time, they like you.
If your bearded dragon is being held, but it keeps trying to crawl to someone else in the room, that might be their favorite person. But there’s really no way to tell who their favorite is. Generally speaking, whoever they spend the most time with is who they’ll bond with the most.
Bearded Dragon Care Needs
Yes, they’re friendly, and yes, you’d love having one. But you’d probably love taking care of their habitat and diet much less.
Bearded dragons are ectotherms, so they need a nice heat-basking spot and a place to go when they need to cool down. Reptiles are cold-blooded. They can’t control their internal body temperature, so it’s up to you to make sure that their tank has the right temperature and humidity.
Bearded dragon tanks should have a hot side and a cool side. That’s why most experienced dragon owners recommend having a thermostat on both sides of the tank. According to PetSmart, the hottest basking spot should be around 100F or 38C, and the cool side should stay around 75 to 85F (or 20 to 23C). Dragons love having a spot to bask in the heat, and if it’s not hot enough, they won’t have a high enough body temperature to stay healthy. On the other hand, if the tank is too hot, they’ll get dehydrated.
The best way to regulate temperature is to have two thermostats, one for each side, and use a UVB/UVA bulb to heat up one spot of the tank (usually a basking rock). But the bulb isn’t the only source of heat you should provide. You should have another heat source, usually a ceramic heat emitter. Ceramic heat emitters only provide heat and no light. Center the heat source and bulb in the same area to make sure it’s getting up to 100F or 38C degrees.
Dragons thrive in 20 to 30% humidity. If it’s too dry, you can mist the tank using a spray bottle. If it’s too humid (if you live somewhere like Florida where the air is a lake), you can buy a dehumidifier made for reptile tanks.
The bearded dragon also has specific dietary needs that change throughout their lives. Check out this informative article we have written to learn how to best care for your adorable bearded dragon.