In the short time I have been working with geckos I have learned that the more I work with them the more fun they are to handle. I have also been able to structure a daily routine which seems to help condition them as well. How often have people said that all they have to do is grab a leash and their dog gets excited because it knows it’s going for a walk, or that a cat will come running to the kitchen when it hears the can opener being used? This same concept can be applied when working with geckos. I’m not saying you will be able to teach your lizard to play catch or shake hands. Instead I hope you will be able to see how the same basic concept is applied to hand taming the animals.
Each day I spend an hour or more with the geckos. The whole time I am with them I am talking. I will talk to them, sing along with the radio, or be talking with somebody else. That way they are not surprised by the noise in the room when it comes time for their turn for a paper and water change. We have our animals in a rack system with some separate quarantine tanks for new animals. Each day I change the papers and water in half the racks, then the other half of the racks and the tanks get done the next day. That means each animal is handled at least every other day. I also do a quick glance at each animal whose paper is not being changed just to check for any other activity that may need to be recorded. I have found that the earlier this is started the more quickly they become hand tame. Therefore this routine is started from the time they hatch, or the time they are placed into our care if it is an animal we have purchased. We have purchased various animals from several breeders, and they all have a different degree of tameness. There are many factors that become part of that equation. The age, species, natural temperament, and amount of previous handling all play a role in how the animal reacts to human contact when we get it into our custody.
Hand Taming Example
Currently I am working with several pictus geckos to get them more accustomed to handling. I have started a routine where each animal is placed into its hide when it is picked up. This is conditioning the animals to associate handling with safety. I have noticed a difference since I have started working with them. Recently I have observed that the more a person panics or acts nervous around the animal, the more nervous and jumpy the animal gets. This was illustrated when I was away visiting family. Ryan, who normally handles other aspects of the business, had to take care of “paper duty” while I was gone. He informed me that the animals were not as cooperative with him as they are with me. Pictus are by nature more shy than a leopard gecko or fat tail gecko. The more they jumped around, the more anxious he became trying to handle them which in turn made them more jumpy. It was a vicious little circle that a gecko does not have the reasoning skills to break. That means it is up to us humans to take the initiative to consciously calm ourselves before handling the animals.
Hand Taming a New Gecko
These types of observations should also raise our awareness when at shows or when handling animals that are not our own. It’s not fair to automatically judge another breeder’s animals as jumpy or ill tempered. After all, at a show they are in a completely different environment than they are used to for day to day living. This raises their stress level. Also, when first bringing an animal home it is good to give them a day to adjust to new surroundings. When browsing through forums hand taming techniques are often described. There are slightly different timelines people have found that work. I will not say any of them are better or worse than others. Remember a general guideline is just that-GENERAL. There are always exceptions to the rules, and each animal is unique. The time it takes to help an animal become hand tame can vary greatly. It is important to remember to stay calm, don’t get frustrated, and remember a gecko is a living creature that you have agreed to care for. This may include a few bumps along the way.
An example of a long timeframe for taming is Big Red, one of our pictus geckos (Paroedura picta). He is very territorial. He will defend his home. He is the animal I would be least likely to sell to somebody who wants a pet that they can handle. Why is he that way? Who knows? I don’t ever expect him to be one that can be handled easily, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t worth having. An example of success would be Valhalla, a leopard gecko that used to vocally protest each time he was picked up. He is about 2 years old, so it took a long time for him to come around. He is part of the reason I am still encouraged to work with others such as Big Red. I am hoping to not only produce animals that are interesting to the eye, but animals that can be easy to care for as well. This is a goal of mine because I believe the more you are able to interact with your pet, the more you will enjoy it. The ones we have hatched out we have handled since the beginning. I hope this will make them not only good for breeders and other pros in the field, but also great pets for others who simply have an interest in the animals.