While most of us never think beyond cuddly puppies and kittens, rabbits and other small mammals or even a friendly bird, for some there is nothing to beat the fascination of pet reptiles. But does this mean that you’re never going to enjoy interactions and affection from your cold-blooded pet? Not necessarily. While reptiles will never be as tame and trainable as say, a dog, it is still possible to teach them to enjoy human contact and interactions.
Is it really possible to tame my pet reptile?
This depends on the individual reptile and also the species to some extent. In general, most reptiles can get used to and even learn to enjoy human handling and interaction – however, certain shyer or more nervous, timid individuals may never become comfortable with human contact.
The degree of “tameness” can vary as well – some reptiles will enjoy being held and handled and even develop a taste for having certain parts of their bodies scratched; some may overcome their shyness enough to eat from your hand but will still never let you touch them, and some will always return any attempts at contact with running away or even biting you. In addition, certain species – such as reticulated pythons – are known for being much more docile when young but turning decidedly unfriendly as they mature.
The key is to remember that all reptiles, even hand-reared ones, are essentially wild animals and need to be treated as such. Whilst they are kept as pets and many do come from captive-bred stock, they still have not been “domesticated” and bred for gentle temperaments, like other animals. Certainly when getting a reptile for a pet, choosing an animal that seems friendly and calm will give you a great chance of taming it but now matter how tame they become, they can still be dangerous if they become frightened or angry – or even in some cases, mistake you for food.
How do I know if my reptile enjoys being petted?
Some reptiles do learn to enjoy human contact and to even develop a preference for having certain parts of their bodies scratched or stroked. However, many don’t take naturally to it and will need time and patience to learn to like it.
It can also depend on your definition of “being petted”. For example, many snakes enjoy curling up in warm, dark places, such as inside T-shirts – therefore if your idea of “cuddling” with your pet is to have him curled up on your stomach while you are watching TV or reading a book, then this would certainly fit! Similarly, turtles and tortoises – while not enjoying being cradled in your arms – will enjoy having certain parts of their underbelly scratched.
In general, the signs that your reptile enjoys being petted by you include: not hissing or biting as you try to stroke it, not trying to avoid your touch and not running away when it has the chance, being relaxed to the point of falling asleep in your arms or hands – and even following you around, craving attention from you.
What can I do to help tame my reptile?
First, know that you will require a lot of patience. Like all animals, reptiles will seek out things they find pleasurable therefore if you create a comfortable and pleasant environment around you, your reptile will start to associate you with “good things” and therefore want to be with you.
Start by getting the animal used to you walking by its cage and cleaning, feeding and changing its water. When it is tolerating all this calmly, start trying to touch it or even gently catch it and hold it in your hands. Make sure you don’t frighten the reptile – only hold it for a few minutes at a time to start with and try to hold it without restraining it too much.
If you find that your reptile is not running away as you go to pick it up, then you will know that you are making progress. If it does try to squirm and wriggle in your hands, make sure you use very gentle restraint until it calms down. Only release it after it has been calm again for a few seconds.
When taming a reptile, the more often you handle them the better. However, this does not mean you keep harassing them so that they do not get the chance to rest or feed. Especially if they are new, make sure that you leave them alone for the first few days so that they have a chance to settle, eat well and establish a routine. Once you start handling them, watch carefully for any signs of stress. Naturally, handling them is going to expose them to some stress but a little bit of unsettling won’t hurt your reptile if it was well-fed and settled to start with. However, reduce your handling if you feel that your reptile is getting too stressed.
It may take a while but with patience, you will usually be rewarded with a pet reptile that learns to enjoy your interactions.