Would you like a closer relationship with your pet lizard? Would you enjoy being able to handle your lizard more and maybe even teach him to interact with you? Then read on for some tips on how to train your pet lizard:
1) Know What to Expect
First, it’s important for you to realise that your pet lizard will never be like a dog – or even a cat. You will never be able to have the same level of interactions and trick training as with a pet dog. If this is what you are after, then you might be better to consider a different sort of pet. Reptiles have much more primitive brains than mammals and simply don’t think or react in the same way. This does not mean that you cannot have enjoyable interactions with your pet lizard but just be sure to have realistic expectations of what can be achieved.
2) You Can Still Have a Friendly Pet
Even though your pet lizard might never compete in Obedience, it is still possible to tame him so that he is a friendly and entertaining family pet. While the level of tameness does depend on species and individual temperaments, in general, most lizards can be tamed with a bit of effort, patience and perseverance.
3) Create the Optimal Set-up
When you are first beginning to tame your lizard, it may help to keep him in a smaller enclosure temporarily and to remove all cage decorations and accessories, except for one hiding log and the water bowl. This means that you won’t have to chase your lizard around a large enclosure full of potential hiding spaces when trying to catch him. You simply have to remove the hiding log and pick him up in a matter-of-fact manner with as little fuss and stress as possible. Once he is tame, you can then move him to a larger enclosure for everyone in the family to enjoy.
4) Perfect your Capturing Technique
Since you will need to capture your lizard each time in order to handle him, try to make this as stress-free as possible. Keep your hand flat, with the fingers stuck together so that it makes a flat barrier – this means that it is also less likely for your lizard to bite a finger. Drop your flat hand directly over the lizard and gently press him down to the floor of his enclosure. Next, gently wrap your fingers around his body and lift him out. Take care to keep a firm grip and make sure he doesn’t get the chance to bite you – particular with long-necked lizards such as monitors who can reach around when they turn their heads.
If your lizard is aggressive or a nervous biter, you may want to use a towel or wear thick gloves when capturing him.
5) Make it a Happy Experience
Once you are holding your lizard firmly, you can gently rub the area behind his eyes, close to his ears – many reptiles enjoy having this area stroked and it will hopefully help him calm down. If he does struggle, make sure that you wait until he has calmed down again before returning him to his cage. As soon as he calms down & relaxes, you can return him to his cage – this will reward his calm behaviour with a return to security in his habitat.
Do this two or three times a day so he gets used to being caught and handled. Talk in soothing tones and try to avoid using any hissing sounds as sounds hostile to a lizard. Also, never grab a lizard by the tail as it will often break off, leaving you with a wriggling stump and no lizard.
6) One at a Time…
Although many lizards can certainly learn to differentiate and distinguish between different people, it is best for one person to do all the handling first when trying to tame them. Once they are comfortable being handled by that person, they can be gradually introduced to other members of the family.
However, all members of the family can take part in stopping by his cage whenever they walk past and spending a bit of time talking to your lizard. This desensitises him to human contact and shows him that you are not predators and he has nothing to fear.
7) Repeat, Repeat, Repeat!
Reptiles have very small primitive brains so they will need many, many repetitions of pleasurable experiences before they will begin to remember you and associate you with good things. This is why taming reptiles takes time & patience.
8) The Scent of Success
You can use scent to help you – for example, handle all food to be fed to your lizard so that your scent is on the food, You can also place a small towel with your scent in the enclosure, perhaps under his hiding log, so that he can get used to your scent.
9) Keep it Simple!
Once you have tamed your lizard and he is comfortable being handled by you, you might attempt to do a few more things with him. But as mentioned above, this is a long way short of the kind of trick training you can do with dogs and it does depend very much on species. However, lizards can learn through experience and understand simple cause-and-effect relationships.
If you have the time and patience, it is even possible to toilet-train your lizard and teach it to walk on a leash, using a cat or rabbit harness. Several reptile owners have reported being able to teach their pets these things. However, most pet owners would be satisfied with a pet lizard that has learnt to eat from their hands (without biting them!) and enjoys lounging around on their bodies.