How to Earn Your Bearded Dragons’ Trust:
We LOVE our Bearded Dragons, and we know you do too! Why else would you be here? One of the most common questions in our Facebook Group, Evidence Based Bearded Dragon & Reptile Info, is “How do I get my Bearded Dragon to trust me?”. We wanted to address this question head-on and speak from some of our experiences with Bearded Dragons.
Bearded Dragons VS other mammals:
Bonding with your Bearded Dragon means building a safe and positive association between you and your reptile. It’s essential to remember reptiles, including Bearded Dragons, form bonds differently than other pets like cats and dogs. Most reptiles are solitary animals in the wild and don’t form friendships or relationships like we do with other animals or people. Luckily for us, Bearded Dragons are usually more laid-back and more tolerant of human attention. While we can build trust in our animals, it shouldn’t be confused with our own human emotions and how we as humans display love and affection.
Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human needs or characteristics to animals. Negative anthropomorphism is particularly harmful, which determines the reptiles’ needs, or projects a reptile’s needs and preferences based on the human frame of reference. We see a lot of common misconceptions about reptiles, particularly Bearded Dragons. As previously stated, Bearded Dragons are not like other mammals. Some common forms of negative anthropomorphism:
“My Bearded Dragon hates sleeping in their enclosure; he prefers to snuggle with me at night.”
“My Bearded Dragon is very lonely and prefers to cohabit with our other Bearded Dragon.”
“My Bearded Dragon is best friends with our dog! They can’t stand to be apart from each other”
“My Bearded Dragon always looks hungry, so I feed them until they can’t eat anymore!”
“I saved this Bearded Dragon from neglect and abuse. They looked so sad and lonely so I brought him home!....can you teach me how to take care of it?”
“I know temperatures for basking spots, but it just seems too hot! So, I’m going to lower the temperature!”
Patricia Ganea, a psychologist at Toronto University, says it best in Anthropomorphism: Pros and cons., “Anthropomorphism can lead to an inaccurate understanding of biological processes in the natural world. It can also lead to inappropriate behaviors towards wild animals, such as trying to adopt a wild animal as a ‘pet’ or misinterpreting the actions of a wild animal.” (Greene, 2017)
Give your Bearded Dragon time to adjust
If your Bearded Dragon is a new addition to your family, give them time to settle in. Your Bearded Dragon may not be eating, not moving around much, or even running away from your and hiding, and we are here to tell you this is very common. Like any other pet, they go through a phase of relocation stress, and it can last up to a month! Try not to stress out too much, and do not force your dragon to do anything it refuses to do. Forcing interaction with a dragon can be highly stressful, and your dragon will start associating that stress with you. We always advise keeping handling to a minimum and allowing your Bearded Dragon to get used to their new surroundings on their own time. They will come around!
Sit and watch
This one is easy and self-explanatory! Sit near the enclosure and watch your Bearded Dragon for a few minutes every day. This is a great way to monitor their health, their interactions with their environment, and how they are adjusting. Feel free to talk if you want; your voice won’t deter them away from you!
Start with Positive Interactions
From here on out, every interaction with your Bearded Dragon should be positive! You can start with tong feeding or even being obvious about giving them their daily salads. You can try hand-feeding; I suggest laying the bug flat on your palm because it will hurt if they chomp down on a finger!
Start Slowly & Handle with Care
Determine a small amount of time; 5-10 minutes should be good to start handling your Bearded Dragon. Make sure to handle with care by approaching straight forward rather than from above, and use this time to hold your dragon. You can do this daily until and increase the length of time your handle your Beardie as they grow more comfortable!
If you notice your Bearded Dragon is a little dehydrated or is refusing its daily greens, you can place your dragon in a small tub with Luke-warm water. You can make small movements in the water, encouraging your dragon to drink up! This is an excellent activity because *most* dragons enjoy the water and will swim and relax, which is also a great way to help them poop!
Be Consistent & Stay encouraged!
No matter what happens, stick with your routine! Once your dragon warms up to you, consistency can vary, but until then, make sure you stick to a daily routine. The consistency will help your dragon adjust and become more tolerant of you. If your dragon flares up or runs away, go back through the steps and repeat the process. Don’t be discouraged! Every animal has their unique personality, and they are on its own time with comfort; stick to keeping all interactions positive.
BONUS TIPS: Safe Free Roam & Outside Time
When your dragon has finally progressed, you can start incorporating some safe, free roam around the house or outside if the weather allows. Make sure you monitor their time outdoors to ensure their safety! Don’t be alarmed if they are on edge, flare-up, or are angry their first time outdoors! This happens just like with their tolerance of you; they become more tolerant of being outside.
In Conclusion: Patience is Key
You will hear us say this a lot; our number one goal as keepers is to promote thriving over surviving! An essential aspect of keeping is building trust and confidence with your reptiles so they can thrive. Being able to handle your Bearded Dragon will be convenient when taking your reptile to the vet or doing routine health checks on your animal. Whatever your reasons, it’s always a good idea to build this rapport with your animals. The biggest takeaways when earning your Bearded Dragon's trust are avoiding the pitfalls of anthropomorphism and remembering that patience is key when building your relationship with your reptile.
Tifani & Whitney
We would love to hear from you! What does bonding with your Beardie look like? Tell us in the comments!
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Greene, A. (2017, July 25). Anthropomorphism: Pros and cons. Jackson Wild: Nature. Media. Impact. Retrieved June 28, 2022, from https://www.jacksonwild.org/blog/anthropomorphism-pros-and-cons