Bearded dragons are a very popular choice for everybody, whether they’re people who are just starting to dip their toes into the world of reptiles or people who have been caring for them for years. They’re relatively docile, lightweight, and seemingly easy to handle. But do bearded dragons enjoy being held?
Bearded dragons are generally social, so they like to be held and taken out for interaction. However, this depends solely on your dragon, and whether or not they want to be held can vary. It is best to start handling bearded dragons from an early age.
In this article, you’ll learn whether bearded dragons really enjoy being held. In addition, you’ll learn how to tell when they want to be handled, when to leave them alone, and the best way to hold them. Read on to learn more about handling your bearded dragon.
Do Bearded Dragons Actually Enjoy Being Held?
Reptiles can’t technically feel emotions like humans or even dogs can. However, they can still have preferences.
If handled properly, a bearded dragon will most likely enjoy being held. Holding a bearded dragon and connecting with it will provide enrichment that they otherwise wouldn’t get from being in their tanks. However, if a bearded dragon wants to be left alone, it will let you know quickly.
Do Bearded Dragons Get Attached to Their Owners?
As mentioned before, bearded dragons can’t technically feel emotions the way we can. However, that doesn’t stop them from getting attached to their owners. Rather than being emotional, the connection between you can be purely instinctual; you feel safe to them. They recognize your scent and your voice.
That’s why, when you go to pick them up, they’re fine, but they might get a little antsy if you let friends and family do it. They feel connected to you because you care for them, and more than likely, you’re around enough to establish your presence in their life. Bearded dragons can show that they feel safe with you in lots of ways, but the most common is simply resting on you and even snuggling in for a nap on you.
How Can I Make My Bearded Dragon Feel Safer with Me Handling Them?
If a dragon isn’t really used to a lot of interaction, it can be standoffish and, sometimes, aggressive as a result. An aggressive bearded dragon can be hard to handle, so when you notice any aggressive behaviors, you should always try to identify the root of the problem and fix it as quickly as possible.
If you notice your dragon gets skittish or upset when you try to handle them, you can:
- Start slow. Baby steps are incredibly important for bearded dragons. Never go all in right away. Start by just leaving your hand in the tank for a few minutes at a time. They’ll get used to it being there and realize that you’re not food.
- Only hold them after they’ve eaten. This isn’t insanely important for grown-up dragons, but for babies, you should wait until they have a full belly before sticking your worm-like fingers in the tank. It won’t hurt too bad if they bite you, but it still encourages bad behavior.
- Try holding them when it’s almost bedtime. When it’s getting close to lights-out time, take them out of their tank and just let them sit on you. Near bedtime, they’re slowing down for the night, and they’re less likely to act quickly and aggressively.
Bearded dragons are very capable of making it known when they don’t like something you’re doing. If you notice that they’re only getting more aggressive, stop what you’re doing and try again later. Pushing them past their limits will only worsen the issue.
How to Tell When a Bearded Dragon Wants to be Held
Bearded dragons are exceptional at letting you know when they’re unhappy, but they’re also good at telling you when they do want something. If a bearded dragon wants to come out of its cage, it will:
- Be light in color. Dark, for a bearded dragon, means no. However, if a bearded dragon has little to no black on its beard or underbelly, they’re in a good mood, and it might be a good time to take them out to play. Sometimes, they’ll be darker while in their tank, and their stress marks will fade as soon as you pick them up.
- Be loud. Bearded dragons are also very dramatic. If you walk by and they throw themselves off their basking spot and start banging against the front of the tank, they want to play. If this happens, you best take them out because they can, and will, continue banging on their tank for hours.
- Be moving its head. Especially in old age, bearded dragons don’t love moving around a lot. While they may not create the ruckus they once did, if they’re pivoting their head and looking up at you, they probably want to come out.
- Be alert. A bearded dragon who is ready to come out and play will look like it. They’ll be standing up on all fours and alert so their belly doesn’t touch the ground. If they look like they’re just lying down, it’s best to leave them be.
Do Bearded Dragons Like to be Held While Shedding?
Shedding can turn a perfectly sweet dragon into a cranky little monster. It’s itchy, tight, and uncomfortable for them. Thus, they usually prefer to be left alone while shedding. Take them out as little as possible and try to avoid touching them as much as you can. Their shed, if it’s not entirely ready, could tear or peel off of them.
Shedding coming up when it’s not ready is about the equivalent of a human having a hangnail. It hurts, and it’s all over their body, so be mindful.
How to Hold a Beared Dragon When They Are Shedding
Sometimes, it must be done. For example, baths are great for a shedding bearded dragon. The water can help loosen the shed, and you can use a soft-bristled toothbrush to gently scrub them to prevent stuck shed. But, if you want to give them a bath, you obviously have to get them into the tub somehow.
When you’re trying to hold a shedding bearded dragon, you need to be strategic. Approach slowly since they’ll be easily startled during this time. Scoop them up right under their belly and hold them flat in your palm. Try not to touch them with your nails to avoid scratching and tearing their shed. They don’t like to be touched while shedding, so keep the whole ordeal short and sweet.
How Often Should I Hold my Bearded Dragon?
There are a few things to know about handling a dragon. If you’ve just gotten it, whether from a store or a rescue, always give it a few days to acclimate to its new tank and surroundings before you try to hold it. Do this regardless of its age. If you’d like to, this is the time to put an item of clothing in with the dragon so it can get used to your scent.
In the beginning, you shouldn’t hold them too often, maybe three times a week. While it’s good that they’re getting used to you, they also still need to get used to existing in your space. Leave them plenty of time to explore their tanks, eat, and bask.
However, once all of that is done, and you can tell that they’re really good to go (no tank aggression, little to no stress marks, perhaps some head-banging), there really is no limit. Lots of people take their bearded dragons out multiple times per day, for up to an hour at a time. If you find that your bearded dragon doesn’t really love being held and instead just tolerates it, you can take them out less frequently or for shorter periods of time.
While bearded dragons are generally easy to care for and can have a lot of fun outside their tanks, you need to know when to leave them there.
It’s recommended that bearded dragons bask in their lights for at least two hours after they’ve eaten to ensure proper digestion.
Otherwise, they’re at risk for impaction (a form of constipation), which can be fatal.
They also need to bask to keep up with their rhythm. If a dragon is held and then allowed to roam and take a nap, it’ll throw them off of their normal schedule. This can lead to:
- Improper digestion
- Out of sync basking times
In general, you should only keep your dragon out for about an hour at a time and then put them back under their lights to warm back up.
The Best Time to Hold a Bearded Dragon
To get the best results and most enjoyable experience from holding your bearded dragon, you should try to hold them during the day. That’s when they’re up and around anyway, so they’re more likely to want to come out. You can also hold them when they’re getting sleepier.
Hold your dragon when there’s not a lot going on in terms of other noise. Bearded dragons are easily startled, so if there are dogs or other loud animals around, they’re more likely to respond negatively to being out of their tank. In addition, you should not pick them up and hold them when they’re asleep since it will wake them up and might startle them too.
The same goes for brumation. If your dragon is brumating, leave them be. Waking them up can mess with their cycle, which can be bad for their health long-term or prolong the brumating process.
Some Bearded Dragons Do Not Like Being Held
Every bearded dragon has its own personality and its own preferences. For instance, some bearded dragons go crazy for crickets, and others won’t touch them. The same goes for handling.
Sometimes, try as you might, they just don’t get super excited about being held. They don’t like it. That’s fine, but there are some issues that might arise.
Handling is Vital
Handling your dragon every day is not necessary. If they don’t like it, you definitely do not have to go out of your way to hold them. In fact, that could stress them out more and make the situation worse. But, your dragon absolutely has to have some tolerance for handling in cases such as:
- Bathing. Bearded dragons need to have regular baths. When they poop, they tend to track right through it. This is two things: nasty and dangerous. It’s nasty for obvious reasons, and it’s dangerous because their poop may contain parasites that can re-enter their system. Bathing is also important for shedding and hydration.
- Cleaning. You should not leave your dragon in the tank when you’re deep cleaning it. Using cleaning products near your dragon can be fatal. You’ll need to be able to pick your dragon up and put it elsewhere while you’re scrubbing away.
- Vet visits. Bearded dragons should see a herpetologist relatively regularly for fecal exams and checkups. As such, your dragon will need to be able to be handled by yourself, when you’re going to the vet, and also by the actual vet.
Even though it seems easy to let your bearded dragon go without being handled, it’s ultimately detrimental to the dragon. So, you should still try to follow the steps to help them feel safer with you so they can at least tolerate being held when it’s unavoidable.
How Can I Tell if my Dragon Doesn’t Like Being Held?
Bearded dragons make it painfully obvious when they don’t like something, which is a blessing in this case. Your bearded dragon probably does not like being held if it exhibits these signs:
- Puffing up. Sometimes, they don’t go completely black, but they do puff up. This is a warning sign as if to say, “Hey, don’t touch me.” If they do this when you go to pick them up, you may have spooked them. Take your hand away and reintroduce it slowly into the tank.
- Turning black. This is the most common sign that your dragon is upset with you. If you go to pick it up and it goes black in the beard and belly, it does not like what you’re doing, and you should probably put it down before you get bit.
- Opening their mouth. This is another common sign. They love to open their mouths and hiss at things they don’t like. They don’t do this when they’re happy. Period. So, if they are doing it, it’s time to back away. This is a clear sign that they are ready to bite. Drop the dragon (not literally), say you’re sorry and walk away.
- Running away. In some cases, the dragon will literally run away from your hand if you go to pick it up. This is usually accompanied by the open-and-hiss trick. If your dragon wanted to be held, it would be either staying still or even running into your hand.
What Can I Do If My Bearded Dragon Won’t Let Me Hold Them?
This is tough, because as mentioned above, holding is sometimes necessary, and you need to pick them up. If you’ve just tried to hold them and they expressed disinterest, it’s best to wait a little while before trying again. This avoids stressing them out even more.
However, if you have no other choice, you do have options. Ultimately, you are a human, and they are a one-pound-or-less lizard. Always remember one crucial fact: you have thumbs. They do not. You could really just pick them up anyway. It’ll stress them out, but you can just put them down quickly where they need to be.
If you’re afraid of getting bitten, don’t be. It hurts, but it’s not like they’re strong enough (or really, fast enough) to do any actual damage. If they break the skin, make sure you clean the wound thoroughly. And, if you’re super scared of getting bitten, you can handle them while wearing a clean oven mitt, so there’s a buffer.
Should I Let Other People Hold my Bearded Dragon?
You should try to get your bearded dragon used to at least being touched by other people. That just makes it easier for vet visits, vacations, etc. For most dragons, if they’ve been properly handled since they were young, and this shouldn’t be an issue.
They’re hams. They generally love to roam and interact with people. But, even if they don’t, they should still be comfortable being held by someone else. If handled properly from an early age most bearded dragons like being held.
Most bearded dragons do like being held. They love to come out and play or roam around. Being stuck in a tank all day doesn’t provide all of the enrichment they need.
Generally speaking, bearded dragons enjoy being held and are one of my top lizards for beginners and kids for this reason. Just are just small enough to not be too dangerous and just big enough to not be too fragile.
However, just like some people, some bearded dragons don’t enjoy being touched and held. The best thing you can do is take it slow and try your best.