Bearded Dragon Behavior and Handling Tips

Photo Courtesy of Elvis Santana

Bearded Dragons are a fascinating reptile that makes a great pet for inexperienced reptile hobbyists. They are a very gentle breed and an excellent choice for first-time reptile owners. This reptile thrives well in captivity with good care and proper handling. Bearded Dragons as pets are growing in popularity and are easy to find in most pet stores. Owning a Bearded Dragon is fun because its docile nature and willingness to be handled once it knows its owner has great appeal. 

Bearded Dragon Behavior 

It helps to understand the behavior of Bearded Dragons in order to provide the best care for them and derive the greatest amount of pleasure while owning one: 

  • An inflated beard – one of the most common behaviors is displayed when the reptile is becoming aggressive (both males and females). When the mouth is opened during this time, the lizard is signaling to the enemy that an attack will follow if further provoked. Bearded Dragons also display this behavior when they are mating.
  • Head bobbing – is displayed mostly by males to show supremacy to nearby male dragons when there is more than one in the cage. If there is a female Dragon nearby, head bobbing is a sign of courtship.
  • Curling the tail – up over its body towards its head is a sign of a strong, healthy dragon showing he is content and fully alert to his surroundings and nearby activity.
  • Arm waving – is shown as erect posture with one forearm lifted off the ground. This behavior is generally displayed by dragons who are sharing a cage with a dominant male, as a sign of respect and understanding that they accept the dominant dragon’s seniority.  However, if a female displays this posture to a male, she is rejecting his courtship.

Proper Handling 

Learning to handle your pet Bearded Dragon requires practice, patience and gentleness to prevent frightening or injuring him. Here are some guidelines for proper and safe handling of a Bearded Dragon, that are very important and always need to be followed, no matter how long you’ve had your pet: 

  1. A quiet room is best when you are going to handle your dragon. If you have other pets such as a cat or dog, it is a good idea to have them in another room so that they don’t accidentally startle the reptile.
  2. Do not ever lift a Bearded Dragon by its tail. Unlike some lizard species, if the tail becomes injured or severed, it will not heal or regenerate.
  3. Be aware that until your dragon becomes familiar with you and your handling of him, he may be tense and more easily startled. He may even bite you simply as a means of self defense if you are too rough at first. Be patient, as you are both getting to know each other and this behavior will disappear over time.
  4. When handling your reptile, make sure you are calm, confident and do not hesitate when picking him up. Pausing and nervous hands may frighten the lizard.
  5. Pick up your dragon by gently scooping him up by his underbody. Try to support the entire body, including his legs, as you lift him up and out of his cage. If a limb is left dangling your pet may become nervous and start jerking around.
  6. It is best to approach and pick up your Bearded dragon from his side, rather than overhead; as this allows him full vision of you and helps to keep him calm and understand what you are getting ready to do. When learning to pick him up, try to do it the same way each time, so he will be more at ease and learn the handling process sooner.
  7. Baby bearded dragons are more fragile, so require even more care when handling. Be aware that younger dragons are naturally more active and squirm and wriggle about more than the older reptiles.
  8. When handling your reptile, keep it short at first until he gets used to you. If you enjoy handling him, you can handle him more for shorter periods, rather than less often for longer periods. Reptiles become restless quickly and you do not want him to jump out of your hand or off your shoulder.
  9. Always use good hygiene when handling your Bearded Dragon, both before you pick him up and after you put him back in his cage to prevent zoonosis (transfer of bacteria between animal and human). Reptiles are highly susceptible to infections and once your pet gets ill, it may be difficult for him to recover. Prevention is always best. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after feeding your dragon too.
  10. It is very important that you never allow your reptile to roam around the house, especially in the kitchen where food is prepared and served. This is also critical if you have a dog or cat, as they may chase or frighten the lizard and harm him or critically injure him.

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