Taming and Training your Reptile FAQ
© Valerie Haecky.
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is included. Faq Contributors
Short answer: YES. Long answer: Most will, some won't. Reptiles have not been selected and bred for gentle temperament, even though some heavily captve bread species, like corn snakes, seem mellower than wild caught specimens.
Some species/individuals are more likely to get used to you than others. Some
species/individuals will get non-shy and eat from your hand but
When buying a reptile, if you want it to become tame, buy and animal that seems calm and friendly. Unless you are prepared to invest a lot of time and effort without promise of success, don't go for the more 'challenging' animal.
Some species start out friendly as babies and will develop a rotten temper when they get older. Reticulated pythons have that reputation. But several people state, that some reticulated pythons are very well-tempered, and that maybe they become less mellow not so much as a character trait, but because they are handled less when they get large.
Some species, no matter how tame, can become dangerous when they get bigger. They
can hurt you, when they get angry or scared. And they can potentially kill you,
if they mistake you for food.
Remember: ALL REPTILES ARE WILD ANIMALS. Treat them as such, and you can avoid trouble.
When you purchase a 'calm and friendly' animal, make sure the animal is not sick.
If an animal is too friendly or sluggish, while
Q: Do reptiles like to be petted ?
Some do, some don't. I know several boas who love to be petted, even on their
head, after they develop a taste for it. And that is the key: many
Many snakes will like to cuddle in warm, dark places, like t-shirts. If your idea
of petting is an animal curled up on yur stomach inside
Turtles and tortoises are not cuddly, but many like their belly scratched, i.e.
the bottom of their plastron, and they will definiteky express their pleasure.
"I had a chance to pet some young Galopagoes tortoises in June. They go off
to Never-Never Land if you scratch the jaws and neck."
Q: How do I know, my animal likes to be petted ?
Your animal likes to be petted if:
Q: How smart are snakes ?
VERY stupid! The animals they eat are a lot smarter than they are (provided they are alive). They can learn certain associations, though. Most notably, if you always drop food into the cage, the snake will associate opening the cage with the coming food and eventually bite the first thing that comes in when the lid opens, including your hand.
Q: How smart are turtles and tortoises ?
A lot smarter than snakes. Turtles can learn a lot of little things and routines, given enough time and food rewards.
Turtles are creatures of habit - they don't like change at all. If they live in
a stable environment, they will learn where to get food and that it comes from
the refrigerator, where their water dish is, where their favorite pooping place
is (and you can put paper there), and that you are the source of good things.
One person informed me, that his wood turtles are potty trained, will walk up to the frige if they are hungry, and go to the bathroom and sit in front of the tub until they get the bath they desire.
All my water turtles know that food comes from the kitchen, and they also can
tell fingers from food quite easily, if they want to. I believe, some turtles
have a concept of fun/play, i.e. doing something of no practical value because
it gives them pleasure or entertainment.(Ever tried to play Submarine with your
Q: How smart are lizards ?
It depends on the species. Anoles and most geckos are not very smart at all. Others, such as some iguanas, are quite intelligent, and some monitors are very smart--almost as smart as, say, a parakeet.
Igs seem to be _reasonably_ intelligent. de Vosjoli, in the Green Iguana Manual,
relates the story of a herpetologist for a major zoo who once saw an iguana hit
a tree with its tail, and two pieces of fruit fell off. Then another iguana ran
up and ate both pieces. The first iguana bit the second on the foot,
Iguanas can definitely learn through experience and recognize simple cause and
effect relationships. It takes time and patience, but several people have reported
success with leash training and potty training (always put the iguana in the same
spot to do it, and eventually it'll do it when put in that spot).
Definitely, but not all to the same extent. It is well known that turtles and tortoises distinguish between people. Snakes that get mostly and often handled by the same person will recognize that person and prefer him/her over others.
And Nile monitors are used as 'watchlizards' in some parts of Africa, as they learn to recognize the person who feeds them.
Q: What do I do if I get bit ? Does it hurt ?
Depending on the size of the teeth and the animal it will hurt, bleed, and be a mess.
All of us have been bitten. It comes with the hobby. Disinfect the wound, get stitches if necessary, and do not make a big deal of it, especially not to your doctor. Or do you want legislation forbidding *your* pet because it bit one person ? (Nevermind that no-one thinks of outlawing dogs or cats because they bite and scratch).
Do not blame anyone else, when you get bitten, not even if it is someone else's
animal. If you get bit, it is usually your fault or nobody's fault.
Sometimes a snake tooth will be lost, when it bites. This is a normal part of life. If one is left embedded in your skin, treat it as a splinter, though a tooth usually comes out easier than most splinters. Reptiles are physiologically incapable of having rabies, a definite advantage over dogs and cats.
Most turtle bites are pinches and will not draw blood. Larger tortoises can have a good bite, though. Especially small children's soft hands should be kept in a save distance. The most unpleasant part of being bitten by a SMALL turtle is often, to get the animal off. Turtles will clamp tightly, and they are good at it! A bite from a LARGE turtle or tortoise is very painful.
Note on SNAPPING TURTLES from an attentive reader (firstname.lastname@example.org):
Q: My reptile is skittish. How do I tame it ?
With a lot of patience.
Once the animal tolerates you walking by the cage, changing the water bowl, feeding, and cleaning, you can try and touch it gently or even catch and hold it. If you pay attention to your animal, you will learn when it is comfortable and when not.
Start out slowly; you do not want to frighten the animal from the beginning! Start by holding it for a few minutes at a time, a few times a day, and just picking it up, not holding and restraining it. When (and if!) it has gotten to the point that it doesn't try to run away after you pick it up, try taking it out of the cage and actually holding it. It will probably squirm or try to get away; restrain it *gently* until it calms down, hold it a few seconds longer, and then place it back in the cage. The idea is to get it through its small brain that being held is not preparatory to being eaten!
Q: How do I know, the animal likes me or what I am doing ?
The hypothalamus is the part of the brain where most of our emotions come from. All reptiles have one, so they have feelings. Since they cannot talk, we don't know for sure, what feelings they have beyond the most basic ones.
The most basic emotions are fear, aggression, and pleasure. I don't think anyone will argue, that reptiles don't have these feelings and express them. They avoid what they fear, attack what makes them angry, and seek out what is pleasurable.
If you create an environment that is comfortable and pleasant, and you do things
to your pet that make it feel comfortable and pleased, then the reptile will
In general, you will know quickly, if you do something your reptile does not like: it will try to get away or even bite.
Whether reptiles have more complex feelings, like 'liking', is a hard question, and I would give a guarded 'yes' for turtles, but I don't know about others. In order to like someone, the animal has to distinguish between people and clearly prefer some over others. Turtles do tell people apart, and they prefer some people over others. I noticed to my surprise, that there are people my friendly snake does not like for no reason I can make out.
One person relates that he has a very social turtle: When he reads a book on the
floor, the turtle comes by and climbs on his back. He'll sit there for up to 15
In general, you can't potty train the animal. It will train you. Many reptiles follow a daily routine which also includes eliminating. Just put paper where the animal usually does *it* and you should be fine most of the time.
There are exceptions and stories, though: Supposedly, water monitors can be litter trained, and Leopard Geckos tend to use the same part of their cage all the time. Many reptiles also show a strong preference for eliminating into their water dishes.
Q: How often should I handle my animal ?
The more the better, but not so much that the animal does not get to sleep or
eat. Especially new animals should be left alone for the first
Of course, to tame the animal, you do have to expose it to some stress. Before you start the taming, make sure your animal is well-fed and settled in. Then a few days of unsettling won't be harmful.
Q: Should I buy a nippy or shy animal, if I want to end up with a tame one ?
Q: Can snakes learn to do tricks ?
NO. Yes. Maybe.
One reader taught his snake to come to him, when he pats the ground.
Q: Can turtles learn to do tricks ?
YES. Just use your imagination, time, and treats.
Q: Can lizards learn to do tricks ?
Not really. Many will learn to eat from your hand, or lounge around on your body, but that's about it.
Q: Can I make my animal stay in the yard ?
No. Reptiles generally come and go as they please.
A good fence will keep turtles and tortoises in.
Q: Can I put my reptile on a leash and go for walks with it ?
Some lizards can be trained to walk on a leash. I have heard of iguanas and Savannah Monitors being able to do this. You would use a cat or rabbit harness for the purpose.
Turtles and tortoises should never have their shells perforated in order to tie them to a leash ! Not only do they not understand the concept of a leash, the damaged shell can get infected. Also, the shell is live bone, and the procedure is not pleasant for the turtle, to say the least.
Q: So, which reptiles are know to tame easily ?
Note: There are individual differences even within the species. I have 2 corn snakes. One is as tame as they get, and I can do anything I want to him, the other one is shy and hates to be touched, even though she recognizes me very well. There are always exceptions!
Corn snakes and most other rat snakes
Q: Which reptiles tend to stay shy ?
Note: There are individual differences even within the species. So, if you have a tame Emerald Tree Boa, I envy you! There are always exceptions!
Green Tree Pythons
Q: Which reptiles are not recommended for the general public ?
Gila Monsters (venemous and illegal)
came across your article on the Taming and Training of Reptiles. I