just how much preparation,research,money and labor goes into fully caring for one of these reptiles.
There is no doubt about it, owning an iguana is hard work, especially if you want to get it right! However, if you're prepared to read as much as you can while not taking everything as gospel (including this blog) and exercise a bit of common sense, while empathising with your iguana's needs, then you're well on your way to getting things heading the way you want them, and all of your hard work will eventually pay off; it just takes time....lots of time.
Anyway, if you have come this far then you'll be interested to know how we transformed Jäger from a hissing tail-whipping little cretin into a submissive, calm and cuddly dragon.
|Jäger at 1 year old|
|Jager 2 years old|
|Jager 3 years Old|
|Jager 4 years Old|
N.B we are aware that not every iguana will respond to human contact, and some do prove extremely difficult to tame and handle, however the following information supposes your iguana will be responsive as long as you are patient.
Timescale - why patience is a virtue
Just to give you an idea of time-scale it took us roughly one year just to get him used our hands being near him, and petting him in his vivarium with the odd occasion of being able to pick him up. It took another six months for him to be totally relaxed with us reaching in and petting him; we needed to ensure this before transferring him to a larger enclosure as an unruly growing iguana would have posed big problems!
Handling- the issues.
'Getting your iguana to 'tame' is not going to happen overnight.' We got sick of reading this line and were convinced we could hurry the process up, allowing it to be so much easier to just reach into his vivarium and pick him up without the drama. Unfortunately, from experience we have to declare we were defeated when it came to doing this quickly. It only stresses your iguana out and makes him associate your big hands with negative experiences.
When we very first got Jäger, our attempts to get him out of his vivarium always resulted in him running about, attempting to hide behind things and just being a general tail-whipping nuisance- not a nice experience for him or for anyone involved. Sound familiar? We understood this was typical behaviour of a baby Iguana but knew we had to approach things differently.
In hindsight,thinking that we could reach into his Vivarium every day and chase him with our hands for ten minutes would get him 'used' to us was just silly. Each time we did that, we were further undermining his trust in us and you could see this in his body language as he would 'puff up' as soon as we approached his vivarium, even if it was simply to feed him.
|Jäger trying to escape our attempts of petting him.|
On better days we could possibly lunge in with our arm and scoop him up without giving him a chance to realise what had happened,and once out of his own territory he would quite happily scale our arms, usually aiming to get as high as he could, but the tail whipping and posturing would stop once he was out of his territory. However we were still aware from his body language that he was not truly comfortable in this situation and therefore we would keep his arm roaming time short lived. Of course we wanted more pleasure out of owning him, and were wanting results, and we are sure you do too.
It's all about the hands
In order to truly get anywhere with an uncooperative baby iguana, we have to empathise with them- in other words try and see things from his point of view, programmed with his limited perception of the world. To him, anything that moves is a threat. Unlike your typical pet cat or dog, an iguana is at the bottom of the food chain, an enticing treat to any rainforest forager. Therefore his behaviour will only represent his place in the food chain- he is born to protect himself from day one. To him, you are a predator, and for all he knows, the food you're giving him could just be for fattening him up so you can eat him, and the grasping attempts of your clumsy pink fingers must look absolutely terrifying for him, especially if you're moving quickly! Remember as well, what may seem relatively slow to you may seem very quick to him and an attempt on his little life, so go slower than what you think is slow.
With this in mind, first focus on what you are doing with your hands within your iguana's field of vision, outside of his vivarium. Perhaps this could include reading a book, TV magazine, using your phone or handling the remote. Iguana's are incredibly intelligent and they take everything in. This may seem pretty pointless at first but we found this to be a vital foundation in the building up of Jäger's confidence in us. We kept this up for about a week, in addition to slowly approaching above his head after we had deposited his food bowl inside of his enclosure. Again this was for him to associate us with food, not being chased and stressed out. As expected he would posture and swing his tail back ready to whip, and at first we'd leave him at that, but with each new day we would progress slowly towards him until we could guard his tail with one hand and stroke his parietal eye with the other. This would make him begin to submit while taking the threat of his tail away. Always approach with confidence, not with hesitation, otherwise your iguana will sense your fear straight away. He will act on it if you aren't 100% sure of what you're doing, which to him makes you seem unpredictable and threatening.
Take it nice and slow
After a few weeks of doing the aforementioned, and we did this religiously day in day out, he began to show an interest in what we were doing, and would deliberately position himself near the perspex fronting of his vivarium to observe his human slaves.We realised we had to earn his trust, and this wasn't going to happen as quickly as we had hoped. Nevertheless, progress is progress. Now, the worst thing you could do at this point is get excited that he has come to say 'hi, what you guys doin'?' and leap in and try to grab him because he looks easy to pick up. This is very tempting but believe us, this will totally undo all of your previous hard work you've done over the past few weeks in getting him to trust you.
Therefore in short our method consisted of the following:
- Cease chasing after him with hands- revise tactics
- Start standing or sitting near his vivarium more, allowing him to see what you are doing with your hands, keeping your movements nice and slow, mindful that you are being observed by your iguana.
- After feeding (allow him to see you place food in viv) slowly approach with your hand and allow him to do his thing. If he postures and looks stressed, slowly retreat and save it for later.
- If you have time, or preferably if you can make the time, put your hand near him for five minute intervals through the course of the day. You should find he will eventually go to lick your hand to get an idea of what the heck it is.
- Once your iguana starts to seem more relaxed when you're near the vivarium, don't ever be tempted to rush in and try and pick him up.
- If you feel after a few months that progress is being made and he is happy to have your hands in his territory, start making attempts to stroke the top of his head and dewlap (always guard tail with other hand)
- Begin to present him with treats of your choice (consult treat foods in green iguana society food list).
|Jäger now, getting cuddles|
We hope this has been helpful for any of you struggling to tame and handle your juvenile iguana. Be patient, be content with any progress, don't stress and trust he will come to appreciate all the hard work you're doing for him. Don't give up and feel demotivated on days he doesn't seem to respond, remember your iguana goes through a breeding season and also can be affected by changes in temperature which can alter his mood. Refraining from this practice for too long will also undo any previous hard work, and you might have to start from scratch. Persevere!
What are your experiences of taming and training your iguana? We'd love to know! Please comment below!
In our next post we will discuss free roaming and hand feeding
Until then, happy reptile keeping
Steve and Dawn