Are Bearded Dragons Friendly? (Towards Humans and Other Pets)

Beardies are a fantastic first reptile pet.

Like birds, cats, dogs, guinea pigs, and other pets, bearded dragons have their personalities. Some even show signs of being relatively intelligent. The assumption made by many that reptiles are not smart creatures is undoubtedly proven wrong by many a bearded dragon.

But, are bearded dragons friendly? And if so, to whom?

Bearded dragons are a docile and friendly species of lizard and – while not as friendly as a dog – make excellent companions. A caveat, however, is that each individual bearded dragon has its own personality, and some may be more agressive or docile than others or tolerate handling better or worse.

From a young age, many bearded dragons show signs of having an individual personality. Some bearded dragons are relaxed and mellow; some are feisty and aggressive. There are differences in their behaviors as well as their apparent personalities. And, it varies not only from one to another but also between the sexes as well.

Are bearded dragons friendly?  They are quite docile, but each has its own personality.
Credit: Jeremy Shantz

We’ll take a look into the differences in how friendly they are toward people, each other, and other pets. And talk a little about their intelligence too. We’ll start by talking about some of the practices that are associated with a friendly bearded dragon.

Defining A Friendly Bearded Dragon

Before you think your bearded dragon is trying to get your attention or do something friendly or playful, it’s best to understand some of the basic behaviors. The behavior of a bearded dragon is quite different than that of a human, so we need a bit of bearded dragon translation here. Let’s start with some basic gestures and movements.

Bearded Dragon Communication

Our friends, the bearded dragons, have some exciting ways of expressing themselves. If they were people, they might like drumming because they sure do like to bob their heads. When a bearded dragon is in the company of another of its species, they typically use head bobbing as a significant form of communication. I suppose when you aren’t born with vocal cords like we are, then you make do with what you have.

There are three basic kinds of head bobbing that can tell you whether the bearded dragon is feeling friendly towards you.

  1. Fast head bobbing means the lizard is aggressive, challenging, or feels threatened. When threatened, the bob is usually two quick bobs of the head. The ‘challenge’ bob is two fast and two not as fast or exaggerated bobs (four bobs total). These head bobbing sequences do not always stay the same. Sometimes the individual personality of the lizard takes over, and they add a unique flair to the series. Challenging behavior may also include a wave of one of the front feet, usually in a circular motion.
  2. Slow head bobbing is a sign of content, often observed after mating.
  3. A single slow roll of the head in a circular motion is a sign of submission.

Communicating with head jerking happens in both the wild as well as in captivity.

And now that we know the basic bobbing let’s move on to more about how friendly these dragons are to us, others of their kind, and to other pets.

We’ll also talk a bit about what they are like in the wild. Only if we understand their behavior in the wild, will we know it in captivity.

Are Bearded Dragon Friendly Towards Humans?

Pay attention to any head bobbing or gaping of the mouth. If they open their mouth wide and lift the body off the ground, it might be afraid or angry and ready to bite you. Depending on how big the lizard is, it might hurt, or it might not.

Most of the time, bearded dragons don’t bite and are mellow and calm around people. I’m not sure if they fear or respect us, but these cute little lizards have become a trendy pet amongst lizard owners.

There are a few things to remember about bearded dragons, no matter how friendly they are. Like many other reptiles, the bearded dragon can transmit salmonella. It can make you really sick and possibly worse, so it’s important to know that you should practice safe handling with a friendly bearded dragon, even if they are calm and let you handle them.

The chances of the lizard carrying salmonella are rare but entirely possible. Always wash your hands right after handling them with soap and water, and you should be fine. But be aware and follow the proper precautions.

Not to worry, bearded dragons aren’t diseases waiting to happen, it’s just smart to be proactive when it comes to your health. Safety first, after all.

Bearded Dragon Behavior Towards Other Pets

Due to the bearded dragon’s territorial behavior, it is not good to have them in the company of other pets.

Animals like a dog or cat may attempt to kill the lizard as they might consider it prey. Similarly, bearded dragons might injure or kill other lizards.

Always use extreme caution if introducing your lizard to other reptiles, and only those with advanced knowledge of herpetology should even consider it.

As a general rule, the bearded dragon is a solo pet that shouldn’t be in the company of other pets.

Male Or Female, Which Bearded Dragon Is Friendlier?

When we look at which male or female is friendlier, we need to look at what and whom we are comparing.

Females tend to be friendlier toward other bearded dragons.

Toward humans, however, there doesn’t seem to be a huge difference in how friendly males are vs females.

Since we are talking about males and females, some breeders have witnessed pairs forming of these lizards who are monogamous and breed for life.

As this is not the case with all bearded dragons, it seems as though it was by choice rather than instinct.

If that is the case, these lizards are far more intelligent than we give them credit. Further study on this topic is needed.

How Smart Are Bearded Dragons?

Many sources state that bearded dragons have equivalent intelligence to that of dogs.

Dragons can understand specific phrases and, by adulthood, know their name. These lizards are intelligent, curious, and deserve the same respect that you would want any right family pet to have.

Bearded dragons have even been known to scratch at the wall or door of their enclosure when they are excited about something.

It is similar behavior to a dog scratching at the entrance to go outside. Think about that the next time you see one in a tiny aquarium at the pet store.

Not So Friendly Dragons In The Wild

Our calm and docile little bearded friends are quite the characters in the aquarium (or cage, or whatever enclosure that’s in use). In the wild, they are quite a bit different and have a complex social structure.

Bearded dragons are territorial. The males usually stake out a decent sized territory, and the hierarchy is based almost solely upon size and strength. The region will always include the dominant male’s favorite or favorable basking locations. And they will fight other males to determine who is the king of the hill.

The aggressive behavior displayed between males is nothing more than a circling match and some tail biting. Sometimes they draw blood, but most of the time, only one’s pride is injured. The dominant male will lay claim to his territory and all females within it.

Speaking of females, they too are territorial. Although, the territories the females lay claim to are often much smaller than the areas claimed by the male.

With all this territoriality, you wouldn’t even recognize the calm little docile buddy hanging out with you. Bearded dragons don’t generally play well with others of their species. Unless you’re breeding them, it’s best to keep only one to an enclosure by itself. But they do need to be handled to keep them stimulated, and it will keep them tame too.

Conclusion

Bearded dragons are hardy and intelligent lizards. Originating from the desert and semi-arid regions of central Australia, these reptiles have adapted well to life in captivity. They are a very friendly, calm, and active lizard that makes a great pet. Understanding how these lizards act in the wild is an integral part of understanding why they are so friendly to people. From bobbing their heads to having a scratch at the wall or door of their enclosure, these lizards have many ways they try to communicate to you what is on their mind. Bearded dragons are one of the most docile and intelligent of reptile pets, and as long as you’re committed to ten years or more of caring for one, they make a great pet.

Bibliography

  1. Philippe De Vosjoil, Terri M Sommella, Robert Mailloux, Susan Donoghue, Roger J. Klingenberg; The Bearded Dragon Manual: Expert Advice for Keeping and Caring For a Healthy Bearded Dragon. Lumina Media, September 27, 2016
  2. Brattstrom, Bayard H. “Social and Thermoregulatory Behavior of the Bearded Dragon, Amphibolurus Barbatus.Copeia, 1971, no. 3 (1971): 484-97. Accessed April 9, 2020. DOI:10.2307/1442446.
  3. Green, Darren. Keeping Bearded Dragons. Australian Reptile Keeper Publications, Burleigh BC Queensland, Australia. 2014