Dogs love belly rubs. Cats like to sleep in your lap. Even pet goats, rabbits, and hamsters show obvious affection to their owners. But what about bearded dragons? Do our scaly little friends like being held? Do they enjoy it when their owners hold and pet them?
Even though they are solitary animals, most bearded dragons enjoy interacting with their owners. They usually like being held or having their head, cheeks, or chin scratched. Some may pull away or turn their beard black, but they may change their mind if you set them down and try again later.
We love spending time with our beardie. Whether it’s letting her nap on our shoulder, explore the room, or holding her and giving her affection and love, it’s a fun activity for us and our bearded dragon.
Bearded dragons are solitary animals.
On the whole, bearded dragons do not want or need companions. As adults, they should live alone in their enclosure unless they are part of a breeding pair.
Some people wonder if they are happy like this, and the undeniable answer is that yes, they are. This is how they live their lives in the wild, and this is how they prefer to live their lives in captivity.
In fact, the stress caused by being in a tank with other bearded dragons as an adult can be detrimental to their health. Our beardie was a rescue whose growth was stunted from living in the same enclosure as another, more aggressive bearded dragon!
It’s easy to see why some people would wonder if they like to be held or pet with this in mind. If they don’t want to live with another beardie, why would they want to spend time with their human owner?
Bearded dragons are curious.
One of the first clues that beardies like their human owners is their curiosity toward them. We keep our beardie in our home office, and she loves to sit and watch us as we work. If we move, her gaze moves with us.
If we have her out and she is exploring, she will often come right up to us and start climbing. Every once in a while, she will even curl up in our lap and take a little nap. It’s adorable! It’s also a great sign that she likes being with us. She wants attention and companionship. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t do these things!
Not all bearded dragons are alike.
This is true of all living things, and it’s certainly true of bearded dragons! While most bearded dragons like to be held and given affection, some will not.
In fact, some may even be aggressive toward their owners. While this is rare and almost always caused by abuse as a young dragon, it can happen.
Please keep this in mind as you read this article. What works for us and the bearded dragons we have interacted with may not work for you. Take it slow and put in the time.
Even aggressive bearded dragons can come to love attention, love, and being pet. It just takes some time and effort!
The importance of regular handling
For a variety of reasons, it’s essential to handle your bearded dragon regularly. The more you handle them (correctly, gently, and without causing them stress), the more they’ll get used to, and even like, being held.
This is very important when they are young and impressionable. If they grow up with handling by humans as a part of their daily life, they will make better pets in every way. If they are handled infrequently, they may not react well during the rare instances when they are picked up.
We recommend at least a few minutes of one on one time every day. That could be bath time. That could be feeding time. And it could and should include time for snuggles and love!
Above all, please remember that to your beardie, you are a giant! Imagine switching places and having someone your size reaching towards you with giant hands, picking you up like you were nothing!
If you aren’t careful, you’ll scare them! Scared dragons may become stressed out, or they may bite. Knowing how to pick up and handle your beardie is a critical skill. In fact, it’s important enough that we wrote a step-by-step guide with pictures that you can refer to!
Providing a calm environment
Along with picking them up and holding them properly, the environment you provide during this time is equally important.
Our beardie likes to sit on the couch with us while we watch TV. She does not like it, though, when her dad decides to watch an action movie in surround sound and turns up the volume!
She likes to wander around the floor and explore. She does not want to wander around when loud children are stomping around, yelling, and moving very fast.!
Remember that bearded dragons are prey animals. They are wired to always be on guard for predators. Fast motion, loud noises, and large people all can trigger their fight-or-flight instincts.
You have a much better chance of your beardie enjoying time spent with you if you pay attention to these things.
Get to know your bearded dragon.
One of the best parts about your bearded dragon’s daily handling is that you will get to know them very well. You’ll know their moods. You’ll know their habits.
You’ll also get to know when your attention is and is not wanted. While they will undoubtedly enjoy one on one time with mom or dad, they may not always appreciate that time. They will give you subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) cues when this is the case.
For us, when Bacardi, our beardie, does not want to be held, she will wriggle around and try to escape our grasp as we pick her up. If she continues to do this for more than a few seconds, we put her back.
When she wants to be held, she’ll often crawl right into our hands and sit there quietly. It’s a huge and very noticeable difference!
Your dragon will have their own signs that tell you what they like and don’t like. Some may try to get out of your hands. Others may puff up their beards. Still others may turn their beards black in warning that they are stressed.
There are a lot of ways your dragon may say, “Put me down!”. Learn what they are, and then pay attention! This is especially true if you have kids.
Teach your kids these signs. Sometimes a child doesn’t understand that even though they think it’s beardie cuddle time, their beardie may not be in the mood. Beardies rarely bite, but when they do, it can really scare a child.
The best way to prevent a bite is to teach your kids how to recognize what their beardie is feeling and how to react appropriately!
How long do bearded dragons like to be handled?
A good general guideline is no more than 1-2 hours. As we noted above, you’ll get to know your beardie and what they like, so use this as a starting point.
For our bearded dragon, she starts to get a little antsy at the 30-45 minute mark, and we can tell she wants to go back in her home.
Sometimes, though, what could be construed as wanting to be put back is actually your curious bearded dragon wanting to explore. Set them down and let them wander (be careful of what they can put in their mouths as beardies are known to try to eat anything that will fit!).
Many bearded dragons enjoy spending time exploring new areas, so when you are done giving them a nice pet, let them walk around a bit too!
General Bearded Dragon Handling Tips
Aside from properly picking them up, which we address fully here, there are some general guidelines to follow when handling your bearded dragon.
Wash your hands before and after
Before and after handling your bearded dragon, you should wash your hands. You don’t want to give them any unwanted bacteria, and you don’t want them to give any to you.
Bearded dragons can carry salmonella, although that is typically only found in their feces. So it’s best to be safe and wash after you handle them. Needless to say, try not to touch your face or mouth while handling them either.
Don’t disturb their sleep
If the lights are out and your bearded dragon is sleeping, let them be. It’s never a good idea to disturb them while sleeping, which is a stressful encounter for them.
Instead of handling them at night, stick to the daytime hours when their lights are on, and they are awake and can enjoy the time with you!
Put them back under their basking lamp
Bearded dragons are cold-blooded animals that can only get heat from outside sources (they are exothermic). If it’s cool in the room you are handling them in, you’ll even see them turn a darker color all over as they try to absorb more heat from their surroundings.
When you put them back in their homes, it’s a good idea always to place them under their basking lamp. Our beardie will bask for quite a while after being out of her home.
Visits with young children should be supervised
Young kids don’t always understand how big they are compared to their bearded dragon. They may also become careless while handling their beardie.
It’s always a good idea for younger kids to be supervised while handling their pet. This will help keep them and the beardie safe and happy!
Sources and Further Reading
Do bearded dragons get cold when out of their tank?
As long as the temps aren’t below 65 ℉ (18 ℃), you shouldn’t have any issues. Temps below that can foster respiratory problems, but anything above that will be okay. Especially if it’s just for a limited amount of handling and playtime.
Can I take my beardie outside?
Bearded dragons can and should spend time outside. As long as temps are above 70 ℉ and humidity is below 65%, time outside is healthy and enjoyable for your bearded dragon. Make sure to always use a harness, never let them eat wild plants or bugs, and keep an eye out for birds and other predators too.
We have two really helpful articles for you on this topic. One is all about taking your beardie outside.
The other is about training your beardie to be on a harness and leash. Both are invaluable if you are planning some outdoor adventures!
I took my bearded dragon out, and they puffed up and turned their beard black. What do I do?
Put them back! Your beardie is stressed and not happy with being handled right now, so put them back in their home and try again later. Their attitude may be completely different another time!