Taming and Socializing
Taming and socializing an iguana is a large undertaking. There are several important points to keep in mind when you begin to tame and socialize your ig.
A healthy young iguana is a wild young iguana. Iguanas are wild animals and their first instincts are to escape from predators. For all their large size, to them, we are huge scary monsters that might want to eat them! *WE* know the opposite is true, but they don't. As a result, iguanas will posture, gape, tail whip, bite, struggle, and flee when a big scary human tries to handle them. A young iguana that does NOT is probably a sick iguana.
Taming and socializing your iguana is a long term project. It requires a lot of time, effort, and often blood! ;) Iguana owners almost always bear 'battle scars' from the claws of igs. Taming is a long, difficult process most of the time (we all envy those lucky few whose igs tame down seemingly overnight!) but can be very rewarding in the end.
The first thing you have to do is prepare yourself mentally for the time it will take, both in the day to day taming work, and as part of the entire process. Taming will not happen overnight, or in a day, or in a week. With most iguanas, taming can take 6 months to a year or more.
Patience and consistency are the two most important things to remember. Negative reinforcement (hitting, squirting with water, etc) usually does not work well with igs. They can *really* hold a grudge! Positive reinforcement (rewarding for desirable behavior with treats and praise) works a lot better in the long run. You want your ig to realize that being out and about with you is a GOOD thing.
Frequent handling is a must in the taming process. Start with short sessions - holding and talking to your ig for 20-30 minutes every few hours. As your ig becomes more used to you, increase the amount of time you spend interacting with him. Try offering him his favorite foods while he is out with you. Instead of adding his fruit treat to his salad in the mornings, save it for when you handle him. He will probably not want to take it from you by hand at first, but many igs will gradually learn that coming out means treats!
Be gentle but firm with your ig. If they start struggling and thrashing, restrain them. Do NOT put them down or back in their cage if they start fussing. That is a win for them! Instead, hold them firmly (not squeezing) until they stop struggling. Once they stop and spend a few moments without fussing, THEN they can be let down.
One of the safest ways to restrain an iguana, especially a large one, is to get them turned so their back is against your chest. Use one hand around their hind legs and base of the tail, and one hand around their chest just below the dewlap. In this position, it is very difficult for them to be able to bite or severely tail whip you. Most igs will settle down quickly in this grip. Please, keep their head away from your face when using this grip!
It is a good idea to wear long sleeves when you first start taming your ig. Those claws can do a lot of damage without the iguana meaning to. Sturdy gloves with the fingers cut off so you can feel how much pressure you are using can be useful, or a pair of custom made IgGrips!
In time, your iguana will come to realize that you are not going to harm him, and will begin to settle down. How quickly this happens truly depends on the individual iguana. Remember that this is a LONG process. Don't get discouraged if you work with your iguana for a month or two and they are still wild and flighty. Hang in there, be patient, and keep working with him.
Socializing is a little different than taming. Tame igs tolerate human interaction. Socialized igs enjoy human interaction and adjust well to new situations. Socializing comes along with taming. Once your iguana is tolerant of handling, start expanding their experience. Get them used to new places and situations. Get them used to other people handling them. Again, it takes time, but the results are worth it.
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