Picking up and handling your bearded dragon is a great way to bond and appreciate owning one. However, doing it safely is important for your dragon’s safety.
In this guide, you’ll learn:
- How to tell if your bearded dragon is ready to be handled
- Step-by-step how to pick them up properly
- How NOT to pick up a bearded dragon
When you bring home your new bearded family member, handling them for the first time may be nerve-wracking. It can be good to visualize being a bearded dragon and having a human hold you; we are much bigger than them! If we do not approach them carefully, it can be very stressful. You do not want to stress your bearded dragon because it can break its trust in you, causing aggression when you try to interact with them in the future. Start with good habits; you and your dragon should have no issues!
Bearded dragons are prey to many animals in their natural environments. We do not want to recreate the actions of their predators by grabbing them from above as a bird would with its talons. Be calm and follow these steps to handle your bearded dragon safely.
Think like a prey animal. Think about the natural predators that your pet may have in the wild. Your pet is hard-wired to react to certain stimuli that seem like these natural predators, for example, shadows from above. If your dragon is responding aggressively, something environmental in your home may make them feel like they are under attack.
Study Your Bearded Dragon’s Body Language Before Handling
Your bearded dragon has moods just like you. Sometimes they are not in the mood for handling, which should be respected. Some signs your beardie is fired up are listed below:
- Hissing: your dragon will open its mouth and hiss at you if they are not interested in interacting.
- Open mouth: your dragon may open their mouth and breath heavily; this is a warning that they have teeth and can bite if you bug them
- Puffed-up beard: bearded dragons get the name for a reason! They use this beard to ward off predators by making themselves look more prominent. They even do this to appear larger than other bearded dragons. It is a display caused by fear or asserting dominance; give them space if they puff up at you.
- Black beard color change: bearded dragons often turn their beard black or darken their body colors when they feel moody.
- Flattened body: to appear larger to predators, beardies will flatten their bodies. This action also pushes the spikes on the sides of their abdomen, making them more rigid and sharp as a defense.
- Head bobbing and arm waving: when your bearded dragon waves or bob their head, it does not necessarily mean they are angry, but it could mean they are fired up and feel like mating. If you try to handle them during this time, they can get upset and react with a bite.
If your dragon is going through a grumpy phase for an extended period, giving them privacy to calm down by removing visual and audio stimuli can be helpful.
You may have to move their tank to a location with less activity for sound.
For visual stimuli, covering the viewing side of your dragon’s tank can be helpful so they can have privacy and relax. You can do so with wrapping paper, cardboard, plastic, and pretty much anything opaque and available. Do not put it inside the tank, only on the outside.
How To Properly Pick Up A Bearded Dragon: Step By Step
- Approach the tank calmly and be visible. Make eye contact with your beardie and give them time to understand what is happening so they can decide if they want to participate.
- Wash your hands with warm water because we can carry chemicals on our skin that are safe for human use but deadly to dragons.
- Open the tank calmly and quietly while allowing your dragon to show you how it feels using body language.
- Reach in the tank, always allowing your dragon to see your hands. Place the palm of your hand in front of them under their chin and slide toward their chest. Alternatively, you may slide your hand under their belly from the side. Keep a loose grip but not loose enough to drop them and support all four feet of the lizard.
- Return your dragon to the tank by placing them down gently or allowing them to walk off your hand on the hot side of its tank. Do not let your dragon jump because they could accidentally injure themselves.
Approach the tank calmly and be visible
You do not want to sneak up on your beardie when you attempt to hold it. Keep calm and let them know you are approaching by making yourself visible to them. To prepare your beardie further, I recommend approaching the tank until they see you and look at you, then walk away. Shortly after, return and begin the handling process. This gives your beardie time to decide if they are interested in being held, and if not, they will be prepared to show you their body language when you return.
Wash your hands
Humans often forget the things our hands come in contact with, like sunscreens, bug repellants, cleaning chemicals, and other harmful things that can be toxic to bearded dragons. If you are handling your dragon and they lick you, this could make them sick. Sanitize your hands with soap and hot water before handling your beardie. Hot water will also warm your hands up, making it more comfortable for them to be held by you.
Open the tank
Avoid loud noises or quick motions when opening your dragon’s enclosure. You do not want to startle them, especially if they are sleeping. It is at this point you want to look for signs of distaste like:
- Open mouth
- Puffed up beard
- Color change
- Flattened body
- Head bobbing/arm waving
If your dragon displays this behavior, please give them their space.
If you use a screen-top heat lamp, be careful where you place it when you remove it to open the lid. These bulbs get hot and can melt laminate, carpet, and more. Place the lamp on heat proof surface when removed.
Reach in the tank
When you reach into the tank, avoid coming from behind or above them. Allow them to see your hands the entire time they enter the tank. Optimally, place a flat hand in front of them under their chin. You can pause here and give them time to decide if they want to step up. If they do not step up independently, you can gently nudge them under the chin toward their chest to encourage them to step up. You may also loosely wrap your hands around your bearded dragon by sliding your hand under its belly, then lifting them up. From here, walk slowly to wherever you want to rest with them, supporting all 4 feet the whole time.
If your dragon is flailing when you lift them, this is a sign they are uncomfortable. Lift them slowly and ensure you are supporting all four of their feet.
Return your bearded dragon to its tank
When placing your dragon back into its enclosure, it can be helpful to put them on its hot side so it can warm up after being in your home with you. Never drop your dragon inside; always place them down gently. Sometimes they can be eager to return, make sure they do not jump, as they can accidentally hurt themselves.
Remember to wash your hands after holding your bearded dragon!
Before walking over to the tank with your dragon, ensure it is already open and ready to place the dragon inside. Removing the lights and lid can be difficult with one hand, and you do not want to avoid accidentally dropping your dragon.
How NOT To Pick Up A Bearded Dragon
- Never approach from above and grab their back
- Never lift them by the limbs or head
- Never lift them by the tail; they do not grow back like geckos
- Do not be fearful
- Don’t be too loud
- Do not use quick hand movements
- Do not force your dragon if they are not in the mood
How Frequently Should You Handle Your Bearded Dragon?
Bearded dragons can be held daily if they allow for it. Some enjoy being held more than others and may want to interact with you multiple times daily. It is good to start in small increments so your dragon gets used to you, about 15 minutes each time. You do not want to keep your dragon out of their habitat for more an hour as they need to maintain high body temperatures and your home does not suffice. When your dragon starts running away from you or displaying any signs of aggression, it is time to place them back into its enclosure and give them a break until next time.
Do Bearded Dragons Like To Be Handled?
Generally, yes, bearded dragons like to be handled. However, each beardie has a personality; some may enjoy it more than others. Read their body language and allow them time alone to relax if necessary.
How Do You Pick Up A Bearded Dragon Without Scaring It?
Allow your body to be visible to the dragon at all times. Start by approaching their tank and making eye contact with them. When opening the tank, do so calmly and quietly. Do not grab them from above; allow them to see your hands approaching slowly. Place your hand under their chin and slide towards their belly to lift or slide your hands under their stomach from the side. Support all four feet when lifting.
Do Bearded Dragons Bite?
Bearded dragons can and will bite if their emotions are not respected. They must feel confident and trusting in you for a positive handling experience. Listen to them by giving them space when they seem uncomfortable. Follow these steps, and your dragon should not have a need to bite!