Are you a new bearded dragon owner wondering how you pet this oddly cute animal?
Do you want to make sure you don’t alienate your reptile by petting him the wrong way?
Bearded dragons aren’t naturally into physical touch in the wild, but they can enjoy some types of petting in captivity.
However, there is a right and a wrong way to go about this.
As an owner, you need to know how to pet a bearded dragon.
Petting a bearded dragon isn’t tough to do if you go about it the right way. Always pet slowly on its head and face, but come from the front of the bearded dragon where it can see you. Going from head to tail is always better, and don’t approach the bearded dragon from above.
If you pet the bearded dragon incorrectly, you may end up scaring, which could result in it associating you with fear, or it could react and potentially bite.
Read on for more details in petting bearded dragon.
Guide To Petting A Bearded Dragon
This section is a brief guide to petting a bearded dragon correctly.
Reading carefully and following these steps will help you to build a bond with your bearded dragon.
#1 Look For Calm Behaviors And Wash Your Hands
Before trying to pet your bearded dragon, look for behaviors showing it’s calm and ready to be pet.
A stressed bearded dragon may react negatively, no matter how strong your bond.
Calm behaviors are more likely to appear if your beardy’s needs have been met by the habitat and diet.
Calm behaviors can include:
- Resting in the basking spot
- Walking around the tank slowly
- Climbing on hammocks
- Looking at you
- Swimming/drinking from the water bowl
If you see these behaviors, it should be OK to pet the beardy.
But if you notice any stressed signals, stop and attempt it again later.
Stressed behaviors may include:
- Puffing up
- Expanding beard
- Turning black
- Mouth gaping
- Arm waving
- Eyes closing as you approach
- Glass Surfing
As you watch for these behaviors, you should wash your hands with warm water and antibacterial soap.
Although you may think you don’t carry any diseases, bearded dragons can catch germs from us as well.
Washing before is a safe and ideal choice.
#2 Approach Slowly From The Front
When the bearded dragon is showing calm behavior, start moving your hand slowly towards the reptile.
As you move, keep your hand in front of the bearded dragon’s eyes.
This prevents it from getting startled.
Keep moving your hand closer until you’re almost touching its head.
Always watch for signs of stress, which may escalate into a bite if you’re not careful.
Usually, if the pet is calm when you start, it will stay calm as long as you move slowly and where the reptile can see you.
Never approach a bearded dragon from above.
Beardies have a “third eye” on the top of their heads, which senses changes in shadow.
If you approach from above, the beardy may see a change in the lighting and think you’re a predatory bird about to attack.
#3 Stroke The Face And Head
Now since you’ve reached the bearded dragon’s body with your hand, begin petting.
With one or two fingers, nicely stroke the reptile’s face and head.
Don’t directly pet its mouth, but it enjoys having its face and head rubbed.
The beard/chin area may be pet, but they don’t seem to like this quite as much.
If you and your beardy haven’t fully bonded yet, help speed the process along by feeding it from your hand before petting it.
#4 Move From Head To Tail
If you’d like, begin to pet the bearded dragon along its back, body, and tail.
Do this with the same one or two fingers.
Always be sure to pet from head to tail direction.
As with approaching from above, moving from tail to head can trigger an automatic defense response.
As you pet, use gentle pressure.
Don’t push too hard, but give some force.
Bearded dragons seem to like a little pressure.
But if the pet is in the process of shedding, don’t pull off pieces of skin proactively.
The new skin may not have fully grown underneath, and taking off the old skin too early can expose tissue to infection.
Once shedding has begun, it’s best to hold off on all rubbing, petting, and scrubbing until the process is done.
#5 Pick Up The Bearded Dragon
When the petting seems to be going well, you also have the option of picking up the bearded dragon.
This is an essential part of taming a bearded dragon and helping it adjust to living in captivity.
To pick up a bearded dragon correctly, follow these quick steps or read our guide to picking up a bearded dragon.
- Put hand under the dragon’s body in a scooping motion.
- Lift with one hand and support the dragon with the other.
- Be sure to support and secure the dragon’s entire body.
Bearded dragons may wiggle a bit right after you pick them.
If it seems like they may fall, use your other hand to press their body firmly but gently, so it doesn’t fall and get injured.
#6 Hold Close To Body And Pet More
Once you’ve picked the bearded dragon up, hold it close to your body.
By pressing the bearded dragon close to your body, you help it feel more secure.
It also increases the beardy’s body temp by sharing your body heat.
This will also help it to learn your scent better and associate warmth and security with you.
As you hold the reptile close, continue to pet with one hand the dragon’s face and head.
Also pet from head to tail, just as we did before.
#7 Put Down Gently
After you’ve done all of this for a while, put the bearded dragon down.
It’s not quite as simple as just dropping the reptile.
Support the bearded dragon and lower your hands until your hand is flat against the floor of the tank.
Then, tilt your hand up at the wrist and gently nudge the bearded dragon off with your other hand as needed.
Now the bearded dragon should scooch off the hand safely.
#8 Wash Your Hands
The final step is to wash your hands.
Bearded dragons carry salmonella, which can cause stomach and digestive issues in people.
Always wash your hands after handling any reptile with antibacterial soap and warm water.
Now you know how to pet a bearded dragon.
Do Bearded Dragons Like Being Handled?
The answer to this is double-edged.
In nature, there isn’t a form of being picked up, which doesn’t result in being carried off by a more giant predator.
However, in captivity, your bearded dragon is going to be picked up and handled.
It’s a simple fact.
Here are some times your bearded dragon may need to be picked up and handled:
- Cleaning the tank
- Taking a bath
- Going to the vet
- Putting them back in the tank after they escape
- Playing with them
Because it’s going to happen, they need to be trained to accept being handled.
This is called taming.
Taming boils down to only spending time with the bearded dragon, picking them up over time, and getting them to associate being handled with positive experiences.
If you skip the taming process, they can gradually get more and more stressed until it gets to the point where they fear you when you come to handle them.
This chronic stress can result in poor health and even aggressive behavior such as biting.
Avoid this by taking the time to tame and handle your dragon.
If you do take the time to do this right, they learn to like being handled.
Beardies can even be trained to come to you.
Where is the best place to pet a bearded dragon?
There are a few good places to pet bearded dragons and a few bad ones.
Even so, the most important thing is to remember to pet them from head to tail and never approach them from above.
Good places to pet:
- Sides of face
Not so good places to pet:
- Under tail
- Starting at the tail
- Starting at the top of the head
Even if you go to pet at a “good” place, the beardy won’t react well if it’s showing signs of stress and fear.
Be sure to read our earlier section, which goes into detail on these behaviors.
We hope you enjoyed learning about how to pet a bearded dragon.
It’s an excellent way to bond with your bearded dragon.
All you need to do is make sure to pet from the head to the tail and only if it’s showing you it’s calm.
Do this whenever you’d like, but just make sure to wash your hands before and after!