Our bearded dragons are always a popular attraction with all of our kids’ friends, and with that often comes the question, “Can you hold a bearded dragon?” The short answer, yes! Absolutely. In fact, bearded dragons love to be held. At least, most of them. Let’s dive into the details of holding a bearded dragon including the best way to pick them up, how long you should hold them, and more!
Answering the Common Question: Can You Hold a Bearded Dragon?
First off, I need to clarify that I am speaking in terms of bearded dragons that are pets, not bearded dragons in the wild. I do not suggest approaching a bearded dragon in the wild and trying to pick it up.
Now, if you have a pet bearded dragon, then yes! In general, most beardies love human contact. It does, however, largely depend on your beardie’s personality, past history, and other factors. For example, if you adopted a bearded dragon who has not been held or cared for properly in a long time, you may experience issues with holding them that you’ll have to work through with them.
We have two bearded dragons, Bill who is currently almost 3 years old, and Toothless who is still under a year old. Bill loves human interaction, especially cuddling up with a blanket and sleeping on my son. Toothless, however, was purchased when he was a little older, and he is a work in progress. We are working on spending small amounts of time with him each day, getting him comfortable with physical contact and making sure he isn’t afraid of us.
It’s important to watch to bearded dragon’s body language to make sure that holding them is an enjoyable experience for them and you. You will know if they don’t want to be held as they will display a defense mechanism like puffing out their body, making their beard black, and sometimes hissing.
Here are a few tips on different scenarios related to bearded dragon handling:
Holding Young Bearded Dragons:
When you get a new baby dragon, holding them can sometimes be a little tricky because they’re just so tiny and they can be a flight risk. I like to hold babies under their stomach, with my hand under belly, and one finger in front of their front legs, so they can’t just bolt (see photo below).
It’s important that you spend plenty of time with your baby beardie so they get used to being held. Just go slow, avoid sudden movements that will spook them, and teach everyone to be gentle with them.
A few things about the above photo (first, I just took off my acrylic nails over Christmas break, so don’t judge those fingers people) … As you can see, I have one finger in front of one leg and one finger behind the leg. I don’t squeeze tightly so I don’t hurt the leg, but this just seems to keep him from taking off. If I don’t have control of one leg, he seems to know he can run! Also, you can see his tail is shedding in this picture. I just picked him up and held him for a bit without touching or messing with his tail.
Personal experience with baby bearded dragon handling:
We did this with Bill, our oldest beardie, when he was a baby and he is totally relaxed being held.
However, with Toothless, it’s a different situation. My daughter wanted a beardie when she turned 8 (my son, Kai, got Bill when he was 8). But she is a lot more skiddish herself, so when we were checking out baby beardies, we saw a slightly larger baby who they said had been there for 3 months. She held him and some smaller babies, and it seemed like it was easier for her to handle the bigger one without being so scared of them running.
Once we got him home, however, we realized that he was very scared, likely because he had spent longer in his former home and was not as cool with the change as the younger baby’s typically are. That has been something we’ve had to work on with Toothless. Besides just having a different personality than Bill, Toothless has taken a while to be easy to handle. Once we do pick him up, he is fine to be held, but he definitely doesn’t love it yet the way Bill does.
Holding Adult Bearded Dragons from a Previous Owner:
Always defer to the person you are getting the beardie from about their personality, handling and more. Worst-case scenario, you’re rescuing an abused adult beardie who is not used to love and affection, has not had much handling, and is probably terrified of you. With that, I have no personal experience but would recommend joining this bearded dragon Facebook group. In it, there are lots of people who rescue beardies and have lots of great tips.
New Beardie Owners:
My biggest tip to new pet owners of bearded dragons is not to be skiddish and scared around them. If you lack confidence and are jerking your hand around every time they move, jumping or screaming, they are of course going to be terrified of you. One of the most important things, in my opinion, is being confident, slow, and gentle in your handling with them, especially at first. New owners should also learn the right way to hold and pick up their dragons (see below).
How to Pick Up and Hold a Bearded Dragon
No one taught me how to hold a bearded dragon initially. I have just learned, over time and experience, how they tend to feel most comfortable. I will say that with age and comfort level of each dragon, the way you hold them may change.
How to pick up your bearded dragon:
The best way to pick up a bearded dragon is to put your palm face up under their belly and gently scoop them up. For an adult beardie, their belly would then be in the palm of your hand. At they get more comfortable, you can then let them explore more, like climb up your shirt, rest on your shoulder when you’re sitting, lay in your lap, etc.
For a baby bearded dragon lizard, I prefer to keep that trick I mentioned above about keeping a finger in front of their leg, to keep them from being able to run off my hand and getting hurt or lost.
Why You Should Hold Your Bearded Dragon on a Regular Basis
From my experience, it is incredibly important to hold your beardie on a regular basis. As a general rule, we try to get ours our a minimum of once per day to be held and spend quality time. If you want a friendly lizard, this is crucial.
If this is your first dragon and they or you (or both) are not 100% comfortable, start with short periods of time and build up as you learn what to expect from them (like will they run) and they learn to trust you (like, oh this human won’t hurt me, they just want to cuddle).
When Not To Attempt Holding a Bearded Dragon
Here are some times when you should give your dragon a break, and not hold them:
If they are exhibiting signs of stress:
For example, our older beardie, Bill, is a very chill dude. He rarely ever gets worked up about anything. In the years we have had him, I’ve only see him get a black beard less than a handful of times. During the times that he did though, and he looked visibly agitated, I would not have tried to pick him up. I just let him chill for a few minutes and then he was fine. If your dragon is displaying signs of stress for longer periods, it may have health issues you need to get checked out.
During the shedding process:
In general, when our beardies are shedding we hold them a lot less, or just give them a break. Especially because I have children holding them, I try to take it easy on the interaction while they are shedding. This is just because we are not supposed to held them shed by pulling at that shedding skin, and that could be tempting for my children. Shedding is a natural process that should be left to nature, without human intervention unless something seems to be going wrong like stubborn shed.
Our bearded dragons go to sleep when their lights go out, so any handling time happens during the day. Their lights are set up on light timers so they come on at the same time each morning and go off at the same time each night. They are used to going to sleep when their lights go off, similar to the way they would sleep in their natural environment, so we don’t bother them after bedtime.
Final Thoughts on Holding Your Bearded Dragon
It’s important to remember that every bearded dragon has a different personality and a different life experience. The only way to get to know their personality and ensure positive experiences for both pet and owner is to spend time with them. By holding them regularly, you can get to know and create a strong bond with your neat little pet.