For any bearded dragon owner, handling is one of the most important aspects of ownership.
If you can’t handle your bearded dragon correctly then it’s difficult to build a bond and even accomplish everyday tasks such as feeding and tank cleaning without facing awkward issues.
Regular handling of your bearded dragon also gets them accustomed to your presence and smell, as well as human beings, in general. You lower their overall stress level.
In this post, we will dive deep and cover how to handle your bearded dragon correctly, provide tips to make the handling process much smoother and also take a look at all other relevant handling questions.
Read On to Discover…
How to Handle a Bearded Dragon
Whether you’re starting with a baby bearded dragon, a juvenile, or a rescue, you want to follow the same handling procedure.
You’ll establish confidence, build trust with your beardie, and create a pattern your lizard learns to recognize. In time, you’ll find yourself with an established habit both of you can enjoy.
So how do you handle a bearded dragon? Handle your bearded dragon correctly by first approaching them from the side or the front but never from above. Place your palm face-up and gently slide it under the body. Allow the tail to rest along your arm while using your second hand for support and slowly sit down in a comfortable position.
Preparing to Handle a Bearded Dragon
Bearded dragons, especially youngsters, can succumb to illnesses passed from your skin and clothing.
Before you start a handling session, thoroughly wash your hands. Some people consider wearing gloves, but you don’t need to go to that extreme.
Young children, in particular, carry an abundance of germs around. Make sure you supervise their hand-washing. And NEVER leave a beardie in the hands of a small child without your presence. The result could end up traumatic – for EVERYONE.
Next, take a look at your bearded dragon in their enclosure. If they’re enjoying a meal, find something else to do.
Handling a bearded dragon while they’re eating will cause them upset. Not to mention ruining the trust you’ve built up to that point. (Think how you’d feel if someone grabbed you in the middle of dinner!)
Proper Handling Techniques for Bearded Dragons
With your preparations complete, approach your bearded dragon. NEVER reach over the top of your beardie.
Shadows over their third eye will startle them into a flight response. You don’t want to start things on a scary note.
You can find out all about your bearded dragon’s third eye and exactly what it’s used for in this easy to follow article…
Always reach in from the side. (Going to the front and wiggling your fingers may present a “wormy” temptation)
Gently pet your dragon with the flow of their scales. If you go “against the grain,” you’ll feel a prickling sensation and irritate your beardie.
Waiting for slow blinks or closed eyes. This tells you your bearded dragon is calm and ready to start the rest of the handling process:
How to Handle a Bearded Dragon (Step By Step)
- With your palm face-up, slide your hand under your beardie’s body. Your thumb and forefinger support the front legs, while your palm takes the bulk of the body’s weight.
- Allow the tail to rest along your arm. If you have a large beardie, use your second hand to provide support. You DON’T want the tail to spin around. This leaves a bearded dragon feeling off-balance, and it can damage the spine.
- Lift your beardie and settle down in a chair or on the floor. You can then transfer them to your chest or lap (ensure all the limbs remain supported). Keep a gentle hand petting your beardie, especially if they’re young and FAST.
- To return your bearded dragon to the enclosure, repeat the process.
Here’s a video that shares how to handle your bearded dragon correctly…
Bearded Dragon Handling Tips
You always want to move slowly and keep YOURSELF calm. Bearded dragons sense emotions the same as other animals.
If you start to panic, so will your beardie. Quick movements will prompt a bearded dragon to bolt in a flight response. Slow and steady does the trick.
If your beardie fidgets while you’re handling them, don’t close your hand around them in a tight grip.
For all of those armored scales, they’re delicate. You could accidentally cause damage inside. Practice keeping your fingers loose.
When you start to scoop a bearded dragon, and they bolt, stop. For whatever reason, they don’t feel like being handled at that moment.
You don’t want to force things. Reaching out to close your hand around them may injure them.
And it WILL damage the trust you’re building. Close the enclosure and try again later.
Finally, every time you finish handling your beardie and put them away, wash your hands. Reptiles often carry Salmonella on their kin.
You don’t want to inadvertently leave this bacteria on your skin and then touch your mouth.
NEVER eat while you’re handling a bearded dragon! You’re playing a dangerous game that might land you in the hospital! Save the snacks until later – after you’ve washed your hands.
How to Handle a Baby Bearded Dragon
Baby bearded dragons experience everything new. New environments, new owners, and now handling.
If purchased from large chain stores, baby bearded dragons receive little to no handling.
There are simply not enough hands available. So even though baby dragons can start getting handled by two-weeks-old, it often doesn’t happen.
So, how do you handle a baby bearded dragon? Handle a baby bearded dragon correctly by approaching them from the front and not from above. Place your hand slowly and gently under the body and extend a finger under the chin. Position your arm so your bearded dragon’s tail runs along it and once both you and your bearded dragons are comfortable you can then begin to slowly sit down.
Stressing a baby bearded dragon means drawing out the handling process longer and longer. Not to mention causing unwanted fear in your beardie.
You want to keep an eye out for these signs of “Do NOT Pick Me Up:”
- Open mouth
- Black beard
- Puffed up beard (black or not)
- Backed into a corner
If your baby beardie says “not now,” find something else to do and let them calm down.
Once you have a calm, comfortable beardie, follow the same procedure you would with an adult.
When you go to slide your hand underneath, though, extend a finger under their chin.
Most babies will grab hold of the finger for support. (If yours doesn’t, it’s okay – continue as you would for an adult to support their front limbs) Lift up, making sure all four limbs and the tail remain supported. (Don’t forget the importance of supporting that tail!)
While you have your baby beardie out, keep them as close to your body as you can. They’ll feel more secure, they’ll get a little of your body heat, and they’ll stay protected against a dangerous fall.
Due to their small size and vulnerability, children should NEVER handle baby bearded dragons. It’s okay for you to hold your beardie and let them observe, but hold off on handling until the dragon reaches adult size.
Monitoring Your Baby Bearded Dragon While Handling Them
Baby bearded dragons demonstrate a few behaviors that differ slightly from adults.
You want to limit your handling time while they’re young and small in the first place (we’ll talk time limits in a minute).
However, you also want to know what the following signs mean so you can respond appropriately.
If your baby beardie is getting stressed, cut the handling session short.
Here’s a table that shares common behaviors that you may notice when handling your baby beardie and what they mean…
Bearded Dragons Common Behaviors & Meanings
|Head Bobbing||Uncomfortable Or Stressed|
|Arm Waving||Submission Or Fear|
|Raised Tail||Hunting Or Stalking|
How to Handle a Juvenile Bearded Dragon
As your bearded dragon starts to gain experience with handling, you’ll see fewer escape attempts (hopefully).
Of course, if you’re starting with a juvenile bearded dragon, expect to begin the same handling process you started with a baby beardie.
So, how do you handle a juvenile bearded dragon? Juvenile bearded dragons may or may not grip your finger when you extend it under their chin. You want to go through the same handling procedure you would for an adult beardie. This means never approaching from above and always remain both slow and gentle.
If you’ve worked with a baby bearded dragon, and you want to test your handling prowess, start with the normal handling process.
While you lift the beardie with one hand, extend the second flat beside it and encourage your dragon to walk across.
You may or may not see your dragon comply. Many feel comfortable staying on the first palm, waiting for you to take them to your chest or lap.
However, if your beardie’s adventurous, you can graduate to encouraging them to walk onto your shoulder. Just make sure you always have a hand close by. Juveniles move FAST!
It’s tempting to decide a juvenile bearded dragon’s large enough and old enough for children to start learning the handling process. However, beardies in this age group are still small for potentially grasping hands so supervision is needed at all times.
How Do I Handle My Bearded Dragon for the First Time?
Not everyone starts with a baby bearded dragon. If you adopted or purchased an adult beardie, you may wonder how to go about handling them for the first time.
So how do you handle your bearded dragon for the first time? When handling your bearded dragon for the very first time you should take things slowly, and set yourself up for success by associating yourself with positive rewards such as delicious snacks. Make sure you are comfortable and always remember that patience is key.
Even as adults, bearded dragons coming into a new home need time to adjust and settle in.
They’re entering a home with new sights, sounds, and feelings. So while it’s tempting to jump into handling your beardie, let them settle in for at least a week.
During that time, you can “butter them up” with high-quality food and the best enclosure.
Helping Your New Bearded Dragon Adjust
Unless you know everything about your bearded dragon, you may end up with an “untamed” beardie. Unfortunately, some dragons spend miserable lives without handling.
This results in biting behaviors. You don’t want to perpetuate that. And you want your little beardie to have a better life.
You can find out just how likely a bearded dragon is to bite and if it actually hurts in our new article that explains all!
To help with the adjustment process to your happy home – and before you start handling them – try a few of these simple tricks:
- Cover the sides of the tank for that first week, creating a secure “hidey hole”
- Cut up pieces of an old shirt of yours and place them in the enclosure to let them get used to your scent
- Avoid strong perfumes, deodorants, and smoking, which can block your scent
Preparing to Handle Your New Bearded Dragon
When you’re ready to handle your new beardie for the first time, make sure your room gets set for success.
Eliminate possible disturbances such as other pets. A dog or cat making a sudden appearance might frighten your beardie. You want a calm, stress-free environment.
Work through the same handling process as always. Maybe you won’t get past petting your beardie for a week.
Each time you’re able to accomplish a positive interaction, offer a tasty morsel as a reward. Your beardie will start to associate you with treats, forming a positive link.
That will allow the bond to take shape, and you’ll find yourself reaching the point of holding your beardie in your lap. Maybe they’ll even perch on your shoulder. (Keep a hand close by in case they slip, though)
Take things slow; you’re undoing months or even YEARS of non-handling. If you keep your patience handy, you’ll succeed in the end!
How to Handle an Aggressive Bearded Dragon
Sometimes, you bring a new bearded dragon into your home that has an adverse history.
Other times, something causes your bearded dragon to stress or react to you negatively.
If you find yourself facing an aggressive bearded dragon, you want to respond appropriately.
So how do you handle an aggressive bearded dragon? Aggressive bearded dragons always demonstrate explicit behaviors you can recognize. You should never attempt to handle an aggressive bearded dragon. You’ll increase their stress level and break the level of trust you’ve developed. Let them calm down and wait for another time.
You shouldn’t find yourself surprised by a bite from a bearded dragon that DIDN’T want you handling them. Beardies display warning signs for you.
If you see any of the following, close the enclosure lid and step away. Your beardie’s feeling aggressive and isn’t interested in a bonding session:
- Puffed up, black beard
- Gaping mouth (this is a prelude to a bite)
- Bobbing head
Make sure you’re not accidentally influencing your beardie’s aggression. Don’t wear black clothes or black nail polish.
The color signals dominance and aggression (that beard color?) in bearded dragons. YOU might be the problem, however innocently.
If you see aggression, allow your bearded dragon to calm down. For emergencies, consider putting on a pair of thick gardening gloves to protect you from any bites.
You can still use the same handling process to transfer your beardie to a carrier. DON’T leave them loose in a car! They may become trapped under the seat or go under the pedals!
How Often Should I Handle My Bearded Dragon?
You have the handling process down, but now you want to know how often to handle your bearded dragon.
After all, it gets addicting once they decide they aren’t afraid of getting picked up.
So, how often should I handle my bearded dragon? Depending on their age, you should start out handling your bearded dragon around 15 minutes once or twice a day. As they get older, you can increase the time or the frequency (or both!), provided you monitor vital signs in your bearded dragon’s health.
As babies, bearded dragons don’t tolerate handling for more than 10-15 minutes.
Even if you haven’t noticed any of the warning signs noted above, return your baby beardie to their enclosure within that time frame when you first start the handling process.
As your beardies adjust to handling, you can start to increase the amount of time they spend out of their enclosure.
You still need to keep an eye on their behaviors, though you’ll likely see a decrease in tail-lifting and arm-waving. Males may continue to head-bob.
Head-bobbing is a dominance display, and if your juvenile shows the behavior to you, he’s had enough.
Here’s a guide that shares the fascinating and little known reasons why bearded dragons bob their heads…
The most critical determinant on handling frequency and duration is the health of your bearded dragon.
As ectotherms (cold-blooded animals), bearded dragons experience drops in body temperature the longer they’re away from their heat lamps and UVB lights. When beardies get cold, they stop digesting.
No digestion means no energy – for ANYTHING. That’s a dangerous concept.
So while they may show contented signs, if you feel your beardie’s stomach getting cold to the touch, it’s time for them to return to their enclosure. This happens MUCH faster in younger dragons. Make sure you pay close attention.
When’s the Best Time to Handle a Bearded Dragon?
Once your bearded dragon tolerates handling, you want to spend time with them ALL the time.
However, you know there’s a cap on the amount of time they can spend away from their heat source.
So, when is the best time to handle your bearded dragon? Bearded dragons take three hours to digest a meal under a heat lamp and UVB light. As such, you should consider waiting at least that long after your bearded dragon’s previous meal before handling them. This provides them with the best energy resources.
It’s frustrating to contemplate waiting a whole three hours before handling your bearded dragon.
However, if they have a digested meal, their body’s refreshed with a new store of energy. This is the most healthy time to handle a bearded dragon.
Choosing to take them away from their heat source immediately after a meal could compromise the digestion process.
After all, while the room feels warm to you, it isn’t hot enough for their body’s metabolic needs.
And while you may justify handling, deciding your beardie can digest afterwards, it takes ONE HOUR of warmth before a bearded dragon can contemplate eating.
How would you feel if someone cut off your meals so they could entertain you? Not so great. Schedule your handling sessions for the middle of the day, and everyone wins.
Recommended Reading: 9 Reasons Why Your Bearded Dragon Isn’t Eating!
Can I Handle My Bearded Dragon Too Much?
The more you handle your bearded dragon, the easier your life will get. They’ll tolerate their baths, cooperate when it’s time to clean the enclosure, and do well if you need to make a trip to the veterinarian.
As you reach for your beardie for the third time today, you might wonder if you’re overdoing it.
So, can you handle your bearded dragon too much? You can handle your bearded dragon too much. Too much handling occurs when owners fail to notice problems with situations such as preventing essential basking time or allowing your bearded dragon to become stressed and uncomfortable. Providing the right balance of handling and time spent alone is key.
A study by NCBI reported that handling bearded dragons can increase stress and anxiety in certain circumstances.
Responsible beardie ownership requires more than the fun of walking around with a dragon perched on your shoulder.
Sure, handling a happy beardie is a lot of fun. But if you grow complacent and fail to notice changes with your beardie, you may reach in to handle your dragon and end up with a nipped finger.
It’s tempting to blame the bearded dragon, but the odds are YOU missed an important clue.
Provided you’ve observed the rules of proper bearded dragon handling, you need to consider a possible alternative source for the change in the behavior.
You may be facing a trip to the vet for one of these options:
- A painful injury (it happens)
- Recent internal changes
- Association of your hand with food (bad idea)
- Seasonal hormones (check your breeding calendar)
Can I Handle My Gravid Bearded Dragon?
No one wants to interrupt an established pattern of handling. You received an angry nip, checked your breeding calendar, and realized your lady beardie might be gravid.
Should you continue to handle your gravid bearded dragon? Carrying around up to 20 eggs isn’t the most comfortable position for a bearded dragon. As such, gravid females don’t like getting handled. Until she lays her eggs, your best bet is to leave her alone and let her focus on digging in the lay box.
You might feel disappointed, but think how your lady beardie feels. She’s toting around an average of 20 eggs in her abdomen.
And her body’s working to produce and maintain those eggs. With hormones out of whack and the discomfort, the last thing she wants to do is sit in your lap.
Let her stay under the heat lamp and nurture those eggs. She’ll come back around once the eggs get laid.
If you want to know how often female bearded dragons lay eggs, we have written a full guide that explains all you need to know!
Can I Handle My Bearded Dragon During Brumation?
Brumation is the reptile version of hibernation. They bury themselves in the soil and drop their metabolism to the point of needing almost no food.
Rather than drinking, they absorb water through their vents. And while it’s an adaptation for wild bearded dragons, captive beardies often go through the brumation process.
Here’s a great article that explains if bearded dragons can actually drink through their skin!
Handling a bearded dragon in brumation won’t cause harm. You’ll need to do SOME handling to give them a weekly bath.
(Some dragons allow you to drip water into their mouths, but others don’t) A lot of active handling will have the effect of encouraging your beardie OUT of brumation, if not preventing it.
The increased level of activity tells their metabolism they need to stay alert and awake. It’s not harmful (you’re going to keep them warm and supplied with the same level of food), and there are no repercussions.
If your bearded dragon is in brumation, though, take care with your handling.
Make sure you have them completely supported because they WON’T attempt to right themselves or find their balance! Imagine waking up after plummeting from a high distance. You would NOT be impressed.
We recommend you check out this guide that shares all you need to know about bearded dragon brumation…
Can I Handle My Bearded Dragon While Pregnant?
Salmonella shows up in 77% of lizards. The bacteria don’t affect the reptiles themselves, but if you happen to ingest one, it can replicate in your GI tract and make you wish you were dead.
For women who are pregnant, Salmonella infections also present an additional risk to the unborn baby.
So, can you handle a bearded dragon while pregnant? Salmonella bacteria need to get ingested to cause problems. The most common pathway comes from handling bearded dragons or objects which have come in contact with their feces and then touching your face or mouth. Washing your hands or wearing gloves is the best way to prevent this from happening.
Nine months is a long time to expect you to avoid handling your bearded dragon. If you want to avoid the risk, though, that’s your option.
Even as recently as October 2020, beardies found themselves the source of Salmonella outbreaks.
However, if you’re reasonable, you can continue to handle your beardie during your pregnancy.
You just need to follow the precautions:
- Wash Your Hands! Before AND after your touch your beardie. Also, if you touch ANYTHING your beardie touched, wash your hands. You love them, but your bearded dragon doesn’t wash their feet, and they drag their bodies through everything.
- Wear gloves to clean enclosures. After you wash your hands, put gloves on to clean the enclosure. If you can, deputize someone else to do this task.
- No beardies in the kitchen. No one should allow ANY reptile in the kitchen. However, you want to avoid introducing possible Salmonella where you keep food.
- Disinfect scratches. Bearded dragons have long nails, and they may scratch your skin. Scrub and disinfect the skin right away.
Handling bearded dragons gets addictive – for you and your beardie. And so long as you ensure their entire body’s supported and monitor their body temperature, it’s a safe way to improve your bond.
Take your time, and don’t forget to keep some mealworms on hand as a reward!
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