Unlike domestic animals, species that have lived in the wild or are genetically programmed to stay away from humans may find it challenging to adapt to live with humans. They may go wild and hurt themselves or their human caretakers if taken out of their natural habitats. The bearded dragon is one such reptile and, therefore, requires taming.
The first and most crucial step in taming your pet bearded dragon is letting it adapt for a couple of weeks to get to know its new surroundings better. Post acclimatization, feed the reptile with your hands. At this point or over a period, the dragon will be okay with you touching or handling it.
Compared to most reptiles, bearded dragons are a lot calmer and more obedient. However, you need to work with the animal before you could have it entirely in your fold. Keep reading to learn in detail how to tame a pet bearded dragon, besides a host of other vital information that could help with petting the reptile.
A Brief Intro to Bearded Dragons
A bearded dragon is a lizard species mostly found in the semi-desert, rocky areas of Australia. The term “bearded” refers to the skin under the reptile’s chin that distends upon sensing an external threat or disturbance. Besides deserts, a bearded dragon can be found in a few other habitats, including eucalyptus woodlands and shrublands.
Bearded dragons socialize or tolerate human touch or handling pretty well, making them quite popular pet animals. The scales found on their heads and bodies are sharp but do not hurt when touched. They are primarily to scare off or repel predators.
In captivity and when taken good care of, the animal can live for anywhere between seven and ten years. And it can grow as long as 20 inches (51cm). Male dragons can grow up to 24 inches (60 cm) long, and females grow up to 20 inches (51 cm). Thanks to the minimal care requirements and ability to survive in fairly diverse conditions, bearded dragons are commonly found in zoos as well.
Bearded dragons are active in the day, and they rest at night. The omnivorous reptile eats insects, fruits, plants, and flowers. It becomes capable of reproduction around the 10 to the 18-month mark. Some of them could ever so slightly change their external hues when in an aggressive state or in response to changes in the ambient temperature.
The Conspicuous “Beard”
A bearded dragon’s beard is its most unique and distinctive feature. The reptile, however, could employ its beard for multiple purposes. The beard is typically used to mate and exhibit inner aggression. The beard also helps the animal send across various signals and gestures, which allows it to carry out essential communication.
Both the male and female dragons have beards, but the former tends to display or employ the same frequency, particularly during courtship rituals. Female dragons can also use their beard to showcase aggression. When used to exhibit aggression, the beard could change colors and inflate. Besides beard expansion, the dragon could also open its mouth in the quest to intimidate predators.
Besides the aforementioned ploys, a bearded dragon can also showcase extreme behavior by hissing. It hisses when it senses a threat, inflating its body and tilting toward the predator or threat in defense. Kindly note, it launches a physical attack only as a last resort. It tries to forestall altercations as much as possible and turns offensive only when pushed to the wall.
Let this, however, not scare the caretaker in you as it’s very rare and highly unlikely for bearded dragons to attack humans – mainly if you’ve put in efforts to befriend the animal and take good care of it overall.
The attacks are usually directed at their kind or another bearded dragon. If you’re considering confining two or more bearded dragons to the same physical space, you need to be wary of this. (More on the co-living topic later)
Bearded Dragons in New Surroundings
Most young/baby bearded dragons are flighty or act erratically in new surroundings, or when encountering a human, they’ve not met before. If you try to touch an untamed, baby bearded dragon, it will likely gape or open its wide mouth in response (as mentioned above).
If you let the baby dragon be or give it some more time to know its new environment better, it will eventually calm down or not act unpredictably anymore. Once it starts to feel comfortable, it shall turn friendly and docile in no time.
One of the major reasons why bearded dragons are so popular as pets are their innately calm demeanor. Even the most aggressive and nervous appearing bearded dragons are peaceful and stable at a deeper level. They behave uncharacteristically, however, only when they find their surroundings to be alien.
If you’ve brought home a bearded dragon, you may want to learn how to work with it or truly make it your pet. There are steps/stages of the process.
Let It Adapt to and Get Familiar With Things
The key to taming a bearded dragon is getting familiar with it. Therefore, start “passively” interacting with the animal quickly after you bring it home. “Passive” interaction entails being in the vicinity of the reptile or close to its terrarium as much as possible – irrespective of whether you’re working, cooking, watching TV, playing games, etc. Do it in front of the reptile so that it gets to see you often.
This “acclimatization” phase/process helps with pretty much anything and everything you’d want your bearded dragon to recognize and accept. If you want the reptile to grow friendly with your kid(s), for instance, the same process applies.
Do not attempt handling it in this initial stage. The bearded dragon could take at least a couple of weeks to get familiar with its new surroundings, i.e., you and your home.
Feeding your pet dragon is the next step in helping the animal get to know you better. Do not throw the food in its enclosure if you’re serious about befriending the animal. Hand-feeding helps your pet get familiar with the notion of your hand entering its physical confines.
Just make sure you’re not feeding the pet with your bare hands. Use tweezers so that your hand is close enough to the pet but not too close and vulnerable. Don’t use your regular tweezers. Buy a purpose-made tool, such as this Thyores Stainless Steel Feeding Tongs, check out the latest price here on Amazon.
The other good thing about this feeding practice is you’ll know how much your pet dragon eats – be it crickets, fruit, or anything else. Just make sure the food is dry and not slick so that it’s easier for the reptile to grab it off your fingers. When the food smoothly transitions from your fingers to the bearded dragon’s mouth, there are little possibilities of the dragon scaring or attacking you.
Hand-feeding is recommended only initially or when the two of you are just getting to know each other. Once the bond has been created and you also know how much food your dragon eats in general, alternate between hand-feeding and placing the food in its enclosure.
When putting the food in its territory, try interspersing the food and not bunching it up so that the dragon could actively hunt for it when it’s hungry.
Touch and Handle It
After around two to three weeks of manually feeding food, you may contemplate touching the bearded dragon with your bare hands. Begin with a gentle tap on its head with your finger. If the dragon reciprocates affably or doesn’t spring into action aggressively, slide your finger over its back.
But if your pet dragon cowers, retreats or jumps, retract and give it some more time and space. Maybe your pet dragon is still in a state of fear and needs a bit more time to get warmed up to things.
If the bearded dragon is accepting of your touch, the next step is handling the reptile. This may seem like taking things a bit too far, but it is not. The goal is to hold the dragon in the palm of your hand, and to accomplish this; you’ll need some food.
Hold the food in your dominant hand (with or without the tweezers) and place your less dominant hand right below the food so that the dragon could use it as a pedestal to access the food.
The introduction of another hand into the enclosure could put off or be distracting to the pet, and it may not be welcoming of that move initially. It could take a few days or even weeks for your pet dragon to accept the fact that you have your other hand thrown in there too.
To expedite things or push the reptile to hop on, skip the meal when it hesitates to embrace your other hand. With meals getting skipped and hunger mounting, the pet dragon will give in soon.
If the thought of not offering food to the reptile for a day or two sounds cruel or makes you feel bad, take respite in the fact that bearded dragons can go without food for up to two months.
Ideal Living Conditions for Your Pet Bearded Dragon
A well-behaved pet bearded dragon is one that’s healthy and has a happy, stress-free abode. Besides taking your pet dragon to the veterinarian for routine health check-ups, make sure you’re providing it the ideal habitat at home.
The physical space earmarked for your pet dragon must be a floor area of two square feet (288 square inches) at least. As the reptile grows at a quick pace, the area requirements will increase rapidly too.
The bearded dragon’s house must be a well-ventilated, large enclosure – ideally a glass terrarium that’s 20 to 40 gallon in size. Such terrariums are readily available, and you can customize one to your requirements too. This Reptizoo 34 Gallon Reptile Glass Terrarium from Amazon is a good size for pretty much all sizes of bearded dragons.
Adapting to the Climate
The bearded dragon’s space must consist of a thermal gradient and a basking spot. Reptiles generally prefer or thrive in environments with fluctuating temperatures. A thermal gradient offers them temperatures that range across the extremities. When stationed in such an environment, the animal moves to a lower or higher temperature as per its requirements.
When it’s relatively cold, bearded dragons undergo brumation, a kind of hibernation. During this phase, they can go months without eating, sporadically drinking water. The temperature range that usually prompts the reptile to hibernate is 60 to 70 °F (15.5 to 21.1 °C) at night and 75 to 80 °F (23.9 to 26.7 °C) during the day. If it gets too hot outside, the bearded dragon will likely burrow underground.
Proper Indoor Lighting
A bearded dragon is a wild reptile that has been naturally designed to live in the outdoors. By bringing it indoors, you’ve pretty much robbed it of its natural habitat.
To make amends, create an environment within its enclosure that mimics the outdoors. In short, a bearded dragon needs proper heating and lighting for its physical and psychological health. Sunlight not just offers the necessary vitamins, but it also lends the feeling of happiness and warmth.
A bearded dragon benefits from the sun as well. It will require UVA/UVB, full-spectrum ultraviolet light for 12 to 14 hours every day in summer and spring, and eight hours during winter and fall. The high-intensity rays won’t transcend the plastic or glass case of the light source.
The light and heat provided by the specialized bulb also help the bearded dragon be more aware of its surroundings or know when to eat, play, sleep, etc. In other words, the heat and light dictate the reptile’s circadian rhythm.
Without the right light, the reptile can feel stressed and, as a result, behave oddly. Long story short, providing proper lighting and heating and offering food and water to your pet dragon is equally important.
If you’re looking for bulbs, this Evergreen Pet Supplies 100-Watt UVA/UVB Mercury Vapor Light is a solid option. If you’d like to learn about bearded dragon/reptile UV lighting in even more detail, watch this video:
Housing Multiple Pet Bearded Dragons Together
As briefly mentioned above, living in harmony with other lizards of its kind is not something that comes naturally to a bearded dragon. But the possibilities of bearded dragons living like siblings, a couple, or a happy family cannot be completely ruled out. There are a few things you should know before you go ahead with the thought.
First, petting multiple dragons that share the same terrarium is not that straightforward. The arrangement may work in specific scenarios, but there are several situations when it may just not be ideal. Here are ways and tips you may do to facilitate things:
Get a Large Enclosure
As mentioned above, you’ll need a 20 to 40-gallon terrarium for a single, fully-grown dragon. If you’re planning to house multiples of them in one terrarium, you would probably need an even bigger enclosure. Premade terrariums bigger than 40 gallons may not be easy to find. Therefore, consider getting one customized.
How big is enough or too big? How big the terrarium should depend on how many bearded dragons you intend to house in a single dragon paddock—also, the ready supply of UV light and temperature gradient maintenance matter.
Ensure Size Uniformity
The multiple bearded dragons housed within the enclosure should be the same size roughly, which will negate the possibility of the bigger bearded dragons bullying or dominating the smaller ones. A big no is placing a mature, fully-grown bearded dragon in the same terrarium as a young, fledgling dragon.
No Two or More Males Together
A couple or more bearded dragons in the same enclosure is a recipe for disaster. When male dragons live together, they are likely to partake in territory-fuelled, aggressive duels resulting in physical harm to the reptiles.
Female Dragons Must Be at Least Two Years Old
A female bearded dragon mustn’t be kept in the same reptile house as a male until she is around two years old (old enough for mating and reproduction). Besides age, also make sure the female dragon is in good health and shape.
Kindly note that meeting the above conditions doesn’t guarantee harmony between the bearded dragons. Males tend to be aggressive with their female counterparts, especially during breeding. If you can or have the option, try to pet/raise your pet dragons discreetly. If you’d like to give communal living a try, be prepared for the evacuation of one or more dragons from the assigned terrarium at any time.
Bearded dragons are not your conventional pets. If you’re handling an untamed dragon for the first time, chances are it will grow aggressive and scare the life out of you. The tendencies to puff up, bite, pretend to do so when touched, etc., are the animal’s natural self-defense tactics. They also denote the reptile in good health and shape.
It’s possible to tame a bearded dragon and make it more human-friendly. You just need to be gentle and caring with the dragon and accept the likelihood that it could take time to get acclimatized to you and the new surroundings.