Have you ever wanted to train your bearded dragon?
Is it even possible to train them?
It is hard to tell how intelligent reptiles are.
After all, they don’t respond or behave like most mammals.
Still, you may feel like your pet has a level of awareness around it, leading you to wonder:
How smart are bearded dragons?
While a few lizards are smarter than bearded dragons, we are still learning how intelligent these reptiles are. Bearded dragons are capable of imitating others of their species and learning to solve problems. They will also recognize their human owners and respond to positive or negative experiences. They remember routines and patterns, which a bearded dragon owner might use to train or tame some aspect of their behavior.
How Smart Are Bearded Dragons? An Experiment
Experts once considered humans the only animals with the capacity to learn through imitation.
As scientists studied and learned more about animal intelligence, they discovered many mammals, and some birds could also learn by imitating others.
Until researchers at the University of Lincoln in the U.K. and Hungary experimented with bearded dragons, it was unknown whether these reptiles could also imitate behaviors to solve problems.
The researchers set up a few bearded dragons in their terrariums.
This experiment was only done with bearded dragons, so there would not be any confusion over data evidence.
Within sight, a simple wire door separated the beardies from a delicious mealworm.
In some of the compartments, a monitor showed one of three videos: one, a bearded dragon opening the door from the left, one in which the beardy opened the door from the right and one where a human opened the door.
A control group of four bearded dragons got no video instruction.
There was no way for the bearded dragons to get the mealworms except by opening the trap door.
The bearded dragons who had seen the videos of their fellow lizards followed their example exactly, even down to the direction from which the bearded dragons opened the door.
Those who had watched the video where the human opened the door did not learn from this example.
The control group, which did not watch any videos, never learned how to open the wire door to get the mealworm.
These results led the researchers to two conclusions: yes, bearded dragons learn through imitation, and they imitate other bearded dragons more successfully than they imitate humans.
How long it took them to learn varied from bearded dragon to bearded dragon in the experiment.
On average, a bearded dragon took three weeks to understand and follow the video instruction.
Like in other animals, the level of intelligence seems to vary between beardies.
Signs Of Bearded Dragon Intelligence
Though it took an experiment to prove bearded dragons could imitate other bearded dragons, owners of captive beardies have noted other intelligent behaviors and signals in their pets for years.
Many animals kept as pets will remember and learn routines and patterns.
Bearded dragons are no exception.
As a rule, beardies are very food-motivated and will easily remember and follow routines around feeding time.
Keeping their food bowls in a single place in their enclosure will often mean your beardy will meet you in the spot when you feed them.
If you call them by name before you feed them, they will remember the sound of their name and associate it positively with food.
If you have just gotten your bearded dragon and set it up in its environment, it may take a few weeks for it to adjust to your presence.
However, once it has adjusted, your bearded dragon will recognize you and differentiate you from other humans.
Hopefully, it has associated you with pleasurable experiences, like eating and cuddling.
You may notice your beardy hiding or showing discomfort around people they do not know.
Likewise, if your bearded dragon has had a bad or painful experience with someone or another animal, they may adopt an aggressive posture towards them.
These behaviors show bearded dragons not only remember positive and negative experiences; they learn from them as well.
Bearded dragons are one reptile well-known for being escape artists, learning different ways to get out of their enclosures.
Make sure your enclosure has a screen or cover on top.
Do not let your bearded dragon out of their enclosure without supervision.
Notably, bearded dragons are conscious of entities apart from themselves.
They will acknowledge other bearded dragons by nodding and waving to each other.
This not only applies to other bearded dragons but humans and other animals in their captive environments.
Recognition of other entities is a great indicator of animal intelligence.
Can I Train My Bearded Dragon?
Before asking, consider what you mean by training.
If you want to train your beardy to perform tricks, it is unlikely it will happen.
A bearded dragon is not a dog or a cat, and you do not need to push them to be something they are not.
Even other lizards, like tegus and iguanas, are considered to have more intelligence than bearded dragons.
Making your beardy learn tricks will probably result in frustration for both you and your pet.
The length of time it took for the beardies to learn to open a door varied from lizard to lizard in the experiment.
The same is true of pet bearded dragons.
While someone online may have successfully potty trained their beardy, yours may struggle with it.
This is normal.
However, remember what we mentioned in the previous section: a bearded dragon remembers and learns from positive and negative experiences.
You want your bearded dragon to associate you with pleasure rather than pain, anger, or fear.
This is especially important if you are getting your beardy used to handling.
Remember, their biggest motivator is often food.
Beardies love mealworms and superworms.
Taming Your Bearded Dragon
While your bearded dragon may not learn tricks, it will quickly learn to accept handling if you are willing to do some work to make it a pleasurable experience for them.
Bearded dragons are more openly affectionate than other reptiles, and their affection will grow as they age.
If you build their trust from the beginning and are considerate of their stress signs, they will learn you are not a threat and handling is not something to fear.
Stress signs in bearded dragons include:
- Head bobbing
- A frilled or expanded beard
- A dark-colored beard
- Hiding from you or others
First, you will want to make sure you wash your hands before and after handling your lizard.
You do not want to give your germs to your beardy, and bearded dragons, like other reptiles, carry salmonella and other parasites.
Second, make sure to offer your hand to the front or side of your bearded dragon.
Do not grab your beardy by its tail, as this will cause stress. Properly support the trunk of their body with your hand and arm.
Stroking their backs will help reassure them at this stage of handling.
Wait for signs of calm, like closed eyes and a relaxed posture.
If the stress and aggression continue, make sure to stroke your beardy’s back as you put them in their enclosure.
You do not want to immediately put them back, as they will learn from this experience they can get you to let go of them if they act aggressively.
At the same time, have patience: training a beardy to accept handling takes time, but they will probably understand after a few tries.
Owners have also found some success when “potty” training their bearded dragons.
Though some beardies do not pick up on litter training, others will adjust in a matter of weeks to going to the bathroom in the same spot in their enclosure every time.
Beardies do not want to be near their poop, so they will generally find a spot and stick to it.
Sometimes, this means they go outside their enclosures.
Once you have picked up on their habits, you may want to encourage them to poop in a separate “litterbox.”
Do not use cat litter, as a beardy may ingest it.
We hope this article has helped you recognize how smart bearded dragons are.
While tegus and iguanas may be smart reptiles, bearded dragons do show some notable signs of intelligence.
The University of Lincoln experiment with the wire trap door and the mealworm proved bearded dragons are capable of imitating and learning from each other.
They also recognize entities outside of themselves, a great indicator of their intelligence.
Bearded dragons remember and learn from both positive and negative experiences.
They recognize and distinguish between different people and animals in their lives.
Though you probably will not teach them tricks with any success, you may be able to get them used to handling, and potty train them using positive reinforcement.