One of the best parts of owning a bearded dragon is how fun it is to handle them.
But as any caring owner (like you) would want to do, you need to know how much handling is too much to keep them happy and free from danger.
Personalities vary from dragon to dragon, but these exotic animals generally enjoy human interaction.
Still, you don’t want to hurt your pet or stress it out, so let’s look into the safe ways to handle this reptile.
How Often Should I Handle My Bearded Dragon?
Bearded dragons are docile reptiles who benefit greatly from being handled, and they like it more than other reptiles. Most bearded dragons enjoy being handled daily, which keeps them used to you. This varies significantly depending on your lizard’s age, personality, and history with previous owners.
While reptiles aren’t known to enjoy being handled regularly, bearded dragons are an anomaly.
They are regarded as one of the friendliest pet reptile options available for beginner and expert reptile keepers.
There are several factors you need to keep in mind when handling your beardie, including:
- How old they are
- Their personality type
- How long you’ve been keeping them as a pet
- If they have had negative experiences in the past with other owners
If your beardie has never been socialized or handled before, it will take time for you to introduce yourself to the lizard and get them comfortable with your presence before you start handling them regularly.
Bearded dragons’ temperaments are generally very calm and laid-back, so they enjoy handling far more than most other reptile species.
When starting, handling sessions should be brief, but your lizard will begin to like being around you and tolerate being held or petted for longer periods over time.
All lizards are different, but if you are patient with your beardie, they will reward you with their adorable companionship.
When Should I Start Handling My Bearded Dragon?
So you want to start handling your dragon more often, but you’re unsure when or how to start.
All bearded dragons are different; some don’t enjoy being picked up and petted, at least at first.
Perhaps you’re worried about hurting your baby dragon by roughly picking them up and handling them too.
Hatchlings are very fragile, so it is best to avoid handling them until they are large and strong enough to move around independently.
As long as your lizard is at least two to three weeks of age, it is generally safe to begin handling them.
Still, you don’t want to rush into scooping them up and petting them if they aren’t used to you yet or if you recently adopted the lizard.
Give your bearded dragon ample time to learn you are there to help them and care for them.
It is often scary and upsetting for captive reptiles at first to be kept in a tank by what is, at least in their eyes, a giant predator.
Introduce Yourself To Your Lizard Slowly
A great way to get your new or baby bearded dragon used to your touch is to open the tank lid and place your hand inside the tank next to them.
By doing this for 10-15 minutes a couple of times each day, your dragon will become accustomed to your scent and movements.
Keep an eye out for any warning signs of aggression or discomfort from your dragon, such as:
Darkened or black beard
This is a common defense mechanism and sign of dominance used by these lizards to ward off predators.
You might also notice their dark beard flaring or extending towards you.
They are attempting to make themselves look bigger and more threatening, so you need to back off for a little if they display this behavior.
Bearded dragons make a low hissing sound when threatened or upset.
Running away from you when you reach into the tank
Your beardie might be skittish for a while until they get used to your presence.
Give them time, and only put your hand in the tank for a few minutes at a time at first.
Don’t hover over them with your hands or limbs because beardies see shadows as signs of an incoming predator.
Biting or charging at you
Some beardies are more aggressive than others, and rather than running away or simply attempting to make themselves more intimidating, they will charge at you and bite.
Your lizard likely needs more time to get used to you if they attempt to attack.
Perhaps they’ve had a traumatizing experience or other issues with a previous owner.
Dragon bites are painful, but still, be patient with your pet.
Another great way to slowly acclimate your beardie to being handled is to pet them gently on the head or back before picking them up.
Approach them very slowly to the side rather than overhead, so they don’t become scared or feel threatened by you.
Keep your bearded dragon in a room with as little noise, bright lights, and stressors as possible.
Keep your lizard away from other animals and keep noise like music and your TV in the background to a minimum.
If its surroundings constantly stress out your dragon, any human contact will only make them more upset.
Once your lizard has become used to seeing your hands in the tank more often, they will slowly allow you to begin picking them up on occasion.
Further Reading: Complete list of aggressive behaviors in bearded dragons
How To Pick Up Your Bearded Dragon
So now your beardie has become comfortable enough with you to tolerate you putting your hands in their tank and even petting them every once in a while.
At this point, it is safe to attempt picking them up and handling them more directly.
When you pick up your bearded dragon, you want to scoop them up from the sides with both hands.
This will prevent them from being spooked at by the sudden appearance of a shadow hovering over them.
Their skulls are structured to allow them to see around themselves very well but not directly in front of or above their heads.
If their parietal eye senses darkness overhead, the lizard will panic or attempt to defend themselves.
You will want to carefully and slowly slide your hands underneath the lizard’s belly and pick them up as you support their entire body and tail.
This is an essential step in proper handling.
And sometimes, they’ll stick their tails up when they’re excited to see you.
Further Reading: Reasons bearded dragons stick their tails up
If your dragon shows any signs of protest or frustration, put them back down, leave them alone in their tank for a bit, and go back to simply petting them.
Give them ample time to calm down and pick them up again in a day or two.
Slow movements are key when handling your beardie.
It could take days, weeks, or even months before your lizard is comfortable with allowing you to hold them, particularly for adult bearded dragons who have had previous owners.
The earlier you start getting your lizard used to human contact, the better, so begin socializing them as a baby dragon if possible.
It is best to handle your bearded dragon while seated and holding them over something soft like a bed or a pillow.
This way, if your lizard slips in your hands, it won’t fall very far and will have a soft landing.
Over time, your dragon will sit calmly in your hands and even allow you to pet them gently while you hold them.
Many beardies even grow to enjoy being held and handled.
It’s possible to even hand-feed them some of their favorite treats to help build trust.
This bonding time with your dragon will help both of you learn each other’s boundaries and develop a stronger friendship.
What NOT To Do When Handling A Bearded Dragon
When picking up and holding your bearded dragon, there are a few behaviors to avoid at all costs. Here is a list of the main things to never do:
Never, ever hold your bearded dragon on its back
Their belly should always be facing the ground.
Your dragon can suffocate under the weight of its organs if held on its back for prolonged amounts of time.
Being flipped onto their back is also very distressing for them.
Don’t make any sudden movements or loud noises
Your dragon will interpret this as a threat and either struggle in your grip or bite you.
You would be stressed out if a giant held you in their enormous hands, too, so be as gentle as possible.
Don’t squeeze your beardie tightly
If your lizard begins to struggle, hold them firmly, but never squeeze them or pinch them.
This will hurt both you and the lizard because their rough skin and scales are sharp in some areas.
Move them back to their tank carefully and quietly to allow them to calm down and don’t reattempt handling for at least another day or so.
Don’t introduce them to other animals
No matter how tame or calm your beardie is, showing them to your dog or cat (or any other animal, for the matter) will be upsetting and stressful to them.
Don’t handle them with other people in the room
Keep handling time one-on-one so your lizard is not overwhelmed by other strange humans touching them.
In general, be gentle, quiet, and calm.
Your beardie will pick up on your body language and respond to you accordingly if you handle them with respect.
Other Ways To Bond With Your Beardie
If your dragon is comfortable with being held and handled regularly, you might have considered other ways to spend time and bond with them.
Many bearded dragons greatly enjoy enrichment time with their owners.
Here are some ideas for bonding with your dragon further:
Related Reading: 15+ ways to enrich your bearded dragon’s life
Give your beardie a bath
An occasional bath time is great for helping to remove stubborn skin during sheds and ensuring your lizard has regular bowel movements.
A large, warm water bowl with no additional soaps or cleansers is perfect.
Remember: your dragon might poop in the water dish (or your sink or bathtub) when they’re ready to come out; this is a normal and well-known occurrence amongst bearded dragon owners.
Feed them a treat
Does your bearded dragon have certain food items they go crazy for?
Hand-feeding them pieces of their favorite fresh vegetables or fruits is a great way to get your dragon to look forward to being handled, as they will associate future sessions with food.
Sprinkle these treats with calcium to help keep their bones strong and avoid calcium deficiency.
Sit with your beardie while you watch TV at a low volume
Many lizards enjoy watching the movement and light on the screen.
However, this is stressful for some dragons, so get to know your dragon’s preferences first.
Take your dragon outside
Some beardie owners hold their dragons while they walk around outside with them.
Some buy special harnesses such as this one on Amazon to give their lizard some freedom while they absorb natural heat and UV rays.
Set up a playpen outside for them to run around in.
All bearded dragons are different, so your particular lizard might not enjoy all of these options.
Get to know your pet as you spend more time with them and figure out their favorite ways to bond with you.
Further Reading: Making your own bearded dragon harness
When Should You Put Your Bearded Dragon Back In Their Tank?
A 10-15 minute session once every day or two is ideal when handling your lizard.
When you are just beginning to handle your beardie, they might only be comfortable with being held for a few minutes before they squirm in your grip.
On the other hand, some beardies will sit calmly and happily for as long as an hour or more at a time before you eventually have to place them back in their enclosure to keep them warm.
The answer to this question is, again, heavily dependent on your beardie’s age and personality.
Younger juvenile dragons tend to be more skittish and fearful and will not be as receptive initially to regular handling.
If your dragon has had a previous owner who was abusive or inexperienced, they might be similarly turned off by any human contact at first.
You never want to keep a cold-blooded reptile away from their heat and UV lighting for too long, as they will become cold and uncomfortable.
This is the primary reason handling sessions should only last around 20-30 minutes unless you’re handling your beardie outside on a particularly warm day.
Overall, use careful discretion when deciding when it’s time to put your beardie back in its tank.
If your lizard shows any signs of stress or discomfort, it’s probably time to leave them alone until the next session a day or two later.
If your dragon is enjoying being handled, then great!
This is a good sign for you to continue handling them more often in the future.
The lizard ultimately decides how long and how often you handle your bearded dragon.
Depending on your dragon’s age, personality, history, and personal preferences, handle them anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes or more every day or two.
The key to getting your lizard to enjoy being handled is to be as calm and gentle as possible with them.
If you are patient with them, over time, your beardie will go from being timid to relaxed in your presence, and they will even look forward to spending longer amounts of time with you.