When my kids first asked me to take on the unique bearded dragon, I was a little worried.
I wasn’t worried about taking care of the pet, or if my kids would step up the responsibility plate, I was worried about how my dog would handle all of this.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my dog to death, but he’s a bull in a china shop when it comes to meeting new people and creatures, especially those smaller than him.
Before I committed to buying the new reptile, I searched and spoke with others to come up with a list of helpful tips to help your dog live safely when you add unique pets like the dragon, a lizard, a frog or even other mammals like a hamster or gerbil.
Helpful dog and unique pet habitation tricks are there to help your new pet, and your dog get along safely. Most of these tricks will work with any unique pet, but be sure to check out the behavior of the specific species before bringing the two together.
Introduce them in short periods
Gear yourself for a slow process. Your end goal is two-fold:
- Get the new critter to feel relaxed around your dog
- Have your dog accept unique pets into your family and not see it as prey (harsh but true)
This will take time.
The best tip to follow is to bring them to the same room for short periods regularly. Aim for at least once per day.
In the beginning, you’ll notice your dog will likely show extreme interest in the new pet, and your new pet will exhibit stress signs.
Keep these visits short 5-10 minutes and start with the animals far apart. It may be helpful to have another person to handle one pet while you handle the other.
As they start to get used to one another, bring them closer together while still being under your control. Do this consistently over time, and both pets will be used to each other in a few weeks.
It took my dog two weeks to get used to the new pet, but yours may acclimate faster.
When they’re used to each other, it’s still important to keep an eye on them at all times and forever. They are animals, and you never know when something will set one of them off.
One time a couple of years into owning both of the pets, they were interacting with each other as my bearded dragon explored the bedroom a little. The two had been getting along for ages, but I made sure to stay nearby at all times.
Good thing I did!
My wife accidentally dropped something in the other room, which spooked the dragon. It took off running.
My dog saw the running, and his chase instinct was activated through no fault of his own. I’m sure all my dog wanted to do was catch and pick it up, but I was able to command him back to me and avoid a potentially deadly encounter.
The moral of the story: Always be close by.
Watch their body signs
Whatever unique pets you have or dog you adopt, you need to know their body signs. These signs give you hints as to how they feel and how they may react to any situation.
With your unique pet, learn about their signs for stress, submission, and defensive behaviors. When you see these behaviors, it’s time to remove the pet from the situation, or it may end up biting or running away so hard it injures itself.
Keep an eye on your dog’s behavior. Stress and fear behaviors not so much (although some unique pets are quite large), but keep a close eye out for aggressive and chasing behaviors such as hair standing up, body and eyes locked, tail still, and others.
When you see these from either animal, take a break from having them together.
Pets such as the bearded dragon will have specific noticeable stress signals, so make sure to research what these signals might be for your pet.
Use separate rooms
Even if your new pet and dog are best friends, they still need time away from each other. Keep the main room (where the enclosure is located) for your unique pet separate from where your dog spends most of its time. Preferably, this room has a door kept shut most of the time, so your dog doesn’t have its nose against the walls of the cage bugging the new friend.
Train your dog to “Leave it”
When I took my dog through obedience training, one of the most important commands we learned was to “leave it.” Our instructor explained this was necessary because dogs are curious animals and may end up trying to eat or mess with something seriously dangerous.
After we adopted our bearded dragon pet, I stumbled on how useful this command was for this circumstance too. Many dogs instinctively play by grabbing or tossing things in the air, but this isn’t how other pets want to play (namely, as the object being tossed).
My dog saw our new unique pet, and after a few days, he went to play with it by trying to pick it up. Without thinking, I commanded, “Leave it.” My dog instantly backed off and left it alone.
Ever since I encourage dog owners to train their furry friends to “leave it” on command, this is safe for them and your new pet.
I’m no training expert, but all we did to teach our dog to leave it was walk with our dog. When the dog showed interest in something it didn’t need, we tugged the leash and commanded in a strong, firm, but not yelling voice: “Leave it.”
If and when the dog backed off, we immediately gave it a treat (usually a piece of dog food, nothing too unhealthy). Over time and with consistency, the dog learns to leave it on command.
Be patient, be consistent
My final tip is an obvious one: be patient and consistent. This whole process will take time, and more than this, it’ll be something you need to stay on top for the rest of the pets’ lives.
Hopefully, you have other people to share this burden with at home, but if you don’t, make sure you follow these tips and put in the work for the safety, health, and happiness of all of your pets.
I’m glad I did because it opened up a whole new world for my family and me!
Wesley Oaks is the founder and editor of Oddly Cute Pets. He launched the website after his children asked to get a pet frog. Wesley works to provide information about the habitat, health, care, supplies, behavior, and dietary needs of unique pets.