The Power of Trust: Building strong relationships with your reptile companion

You finally bit the bullet and got yourself the pet reptile you always wanted. Congratulations! You're in good company. Around 5.7 million US households own at least one reptile as a pet. Bringing a new reptile into your home can be an exciting and rewarding journey. As an owner, one of the first things you want to work on is establishing a solid bond with your new scaly companion.

Creating a strong foundation of trust can ensure they feel comfortable being touched and handled, which will help build a positive and enriching relationship for both of you. Let's look at eight practical tips on bonding with and training your new reptilian friend.

1. Don't rush the process.

Building a strong bond with your reptile is a journey that requires patience, time, and understanding. Like humans, trust is earned over time and cannot be rushed. Reptiles, by nature, can be timid and wary of new surroundings and human interaction. Give them time to acclimate to their new habitat and gradually build a connection with you.

It's important to remember that every reptile has its own personality. Some may be naturally more curious and open to interaction, while others may be more cautious and require extra time before they're comfortable with you. Embrace each step of the process and celebrate small victories along the way.

2. Create a stress-free environment.

To help your reptile feel at ease, it's essential you give them a stress-free environment. This means setting up a secure enclosure with the appropriate temperature and humidity levels and hiding and basking spots. Minimize loud noises, excessive foot traffic, or sudden movements near their enclosure to create a calm and peaceful atmosphere where they can thrive.

3. Observe their body language and respect their boundaries.

While you may be eager to interact with your reptile as soon as you bring them home, it's important to respect their boundaries. You can gauge their comfort level and adjust your interactions by paying careful attention to their behavior and body language.

Avoid making sudden movements or touching them before they're ready. Be wary of signs of stress or discomfort, like hissing, puffing up, whipping their tail, or retreating into their hiding spot. If you see them calmly exploring their enclosure, basking, or showing curiosity toward you, those are all good signs they may becoming more receptive to interaction.

4. Start interactions slowly and incrementally.

Start by introducing your hand into the enclosure without making any sudden movements. Allow your reptile to become accustomed to your presence and associate your touch with positive experiences, such as feeding and enjoyable physical touch.

You may wish to start with feeding tongs first and see how it goes before using your hand to feed your reptile. Allow them to approach and eat at their own pace while you remain still. Once they appear relaxed, slowly and gently stroke their back or chin. Remember to approach them from the side, as coming from above may be perceived as threatening, and pay attention to their response. If they show signs of distress or discomfort, back away and give them more time to adjust.

5. Use positive reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool to help train your reptile to associate handling and touch with rewards. Give them their favorite treats or use a gentle voice every time you interact with them. Remember to be consistent as you reward good behavior and avoid using punishment or negative reinforcement, as it can damage the trust you're trying to build.

6. Gradually increase the duration of interactions.

As your reptile becomes more relaxed with your touch, gradually increase the duration of your interactions by a minute each time. What your pet is comfortable with may vary according to their species and temperament, but the important thing to remember is to stay aware of their comfort level and end the session right away if you see any signs of stress or agitation. The experience should always be positive and enjoyable for both you and your pet.

7. Introduce new experiences bit by bit.

Once your reptile is comfortable with your touch, you can gradually introduce new experiences to further deepen your bond. This may include supervised exploration outside their enclosure or supervised interaction with other members of your household. Always ensure any new experiences are appropriate for your reptile's species and size.

8. Seek professional advice when in doubt.

Seek advice from a reptile and amphibian veterinarian or an experienced reptile owner if you encounter challenges or have any concerns with training your reptile. They can provide valuable insights and guidance tailored to your reptile's specific species, needs, and preferences.

Building Trust Takes Time and Commitment

These eight tips can help you establish a strong bond with your new reptile built on trust and mutual respect. The connection you forge can be a source of joy and fulfillment for years to come. It's important to understand the process takes time and patience. But be sure to enjoy the journey along the way!