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I recently purchased two bearded dragons. One is a juvenile while the other is not much older than a baby. The baby bearded dragon is very accepting of holding and interaction and doesn't do much besides bask. The juvenile seems absolutely terrified of human interaction and even puts itself in danger (trying to jump from pretty high, I am 6'2", to the ground). I am concerned the dragon might have been mistreated to be absolutely terrified as it is the first I have owned that is scared.

The two dragons are in the cage together and get along fairly well. There is no fighting or dominance issues.

Is there a way I can break his fear? Should I consult the sellers about possible mistreatment?

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I am not sure about a beardie, but for snakes when they are scared of hands you have to work with them until they are used to it. A lot of time it is the animals personality but if you are concerned about the breeder you should ask to tour their facilities. You can look at the other animals and see if there are signs of abuse and reputable breeders will let you do this most of the time.

Ill take you through a typical process of working to tame a snake down.

Enclosure: The first thing you should do is move the enclosure to a less public place if it is in a high traffic area such as a living room. If this is not possible then you could put a few hides (beardies need a lot of space so this shouldnt be a huge problem) or put a background image on 2 or 3 sides of the cage (if 4 sides and a top are see-through.

Process: After getting the cage set up to be more private you can start to work with them. Ill say right now that for snakes it can take a week to many months depending, so if you truly want to get it comfortable with humans you should be prepared to put in a lot of effort. You need to be empathetic toward its fear as soon as you approach the enclosure. I am not sure what type of senses beardies have but snakes can smell (/taste) pretty decently. The first thing you need to do is get it used to your smell. You can do this by sitting next to the cage for a few minutes before opening or interacting with them at all. Also make sure to sanitize your hands after interacting with other pets because the smell of those pets could scare the beardie too. After doing this you should aim to pick the animal for short time period. I usually start with a 5-10 minute sessions per day until they seem comfortable enough with them. For you, that could look like the dragon not jumping, not fluffing, hissing, or bobbing their head. Once that is achieved you pretty much have what you want to teach them and can increase holding time and continue. When you increase the time you can just repeat the above. Just keep working with them until they seem fairly comfortable with you holding them.

I should mention that sometimes reptiles will never really grow out of their habits and if that is the case maybe consider keeping as a looking animal or rehome it as such?

Notes: Above is the basic process, but there are other things you can keep in mind. The first is when you first start holding him, make sure you do it over a bed or a couch. This will make falls or jumps a lot less damaging to him if they happen because the small body size can make those falls devastating. You can also kneel or sit and handle him lower to the ground. Another thing to consider is training the reptile to respond to certain triggers. for snakes this is feeding response training (if a snake thinks your hand is food and bites, you have to train them to not bite the hand). This is done with snakes by throwing a tiny bit of substrate on them when they feed so they know it is actual feeding time. The same can be applied to beardies too. If you train it to associate a tiny bit of substrate with getting picked up it may not be as scared because it knows what is coming. Another thing to remember is slow movements and try not to come from directly above. predators in the wild come from above so many reptiles are sensitive to this type of movement.

Hope this helps!

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  • Oddly enough it was not interacting with her that got her to settle down. I stopped trying to pick her up to pet her for around a week. Now she is perfectly okay with me picking her up as long as I don't come straight from above. She also doesn't like to be held for very long. Thank you for such a detailed answer. I very much appreciate the time and effort you spent to make the answer. – DanSchneiderNA Jun 25 '16 at 1:41
  • Yeah that is similar for snakes too. If you get a new snake you need to let them sit for about a week before trying to handle them or they will be incredibly stressed. The same goes for cats and dogs to a lesser extent but they still need an adjustment period. Next time you get a herp try leaving it for 5-7 days before handling it and see if that makes a difference. Some reptiles it doesnt, some it does. I probably should have thought about this when i answered but im just glad it can be handled :) – Ian Jun 27 '16 at 14:18

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