Why taming and training is important - Taming and training an iguana that is generally a house pet is necessary if any human contact with the iguana is planned. Unless the iguana is given a huge environment, much like its natural rainforest, human contact is inevitable and some type of training and taming should be done. Green iguanas are wild animals. They are very capable of being aggressive and sometimes extremely dangerous. Taming and training can help control some of this type of unwanted behavior. Most iguanas will respond to taming and training, but there are definitely iguanas that will not respond and remain very wild and aggressive. Iguanas that are not trained or tamed in any way may remain wild and may not be very pleasant or even safe to keep as a house pet. The Green Iguana Society recommends that all iguana owners attempt in some way to train and tame iguanas that are kept as house pets, especially in a family environment.
Acclimate - To get used to something, to feel comfortable about, to become accustomed to.
Whether you have a new baby iguana, a new older iguana, or you have had an iguana that has yet to become tame, you will need to acclimate it if you plan on keeping it as a pet. Some people prefer not to tame their iguanas. Many people have trouble with their "wild" pet iguanas, so we hope to provide some help with turning their wild iguanas into pet iguanas. There are many different approaches and methods people use to tame and train their iguanas. We're not saying that these are the ways you must tame and train your iguana. These are only some recommendations, and other methods may be more helpful to you. We simply hope to provide you with some advice and help with dealing with many common problems that are experienced while taming an iguana.
Why acclimation is important - If you plan on keeping your iguana as a pet and plan on handling it, it's important to let your iguana get comfortable with its habitat, your home and most importantly, you. A new iguana and one that is not properly acclimated has to deal with a great amount of stress. Too much stress not only makes acclimation more difficult, it also can put strain on your iguana's health. Your iguana will need to slowly adjust to everything. This is the most important part of acclimating your iguana...go slow! Take your time and absolutely do not rush it. Most people that get a new pet will want to play with it, show it off, and basically, enjoy having a new pet. Sometimes with iguanas, it's just not that easy. Take your time, make sure your iguana has properly adjusted to everything, and the days of playing with your iguana, showing it off and basically, enjoying your new pet will be here eventually. As strange as it may sound, the longer you take to acclimate your iguana, the quicker it will happen.
Dealing with stress - Stress can be high for an iguana during any type of training or taming session. Signs of stress include but are not limited to wildly running away, hiding, loss of appetite, sudden darkening of its skin, erratic defecation, signs of sickness and changes in its sleeping pattern. When an iguana owner begins to see signs of stress during a taming or training session, we recommend that the session be stopped and the iguana should immediately be given a secluded, private and safe place to hide and get away from whatever it may feel is a threat to its life. As for the stress the human may experience, taking the training or taming slow and trying to have as much patience as possible is the best way to deal with it.
Be patient - Acclimating and taming your iguana may take some time. It may take a week or it may even take up to a year before your iguana is comfortable with you and its home. There is no set time frame on how long it takes to get an iguana to become acclimated and tame. Many iguana owners have had the good fortune of practically bringing home an already very tame and well adjusted iguana. Others have struggled with the entire taming process. Every iguana is unique, all have different personalities, and some simply take longer than others.
Below is a step-by-step approach of acclimating and taming an iguana. These are only some recommendations, and there are definitely many other ways. This approach is also intended for people that have a properly set up habitat that the iguana will be living in. Acclimation for free roaming iguanas is much the same, but since the majority of iguana owners opt for their iguanas to live in a habitat, and since free roaming can involve many other factors, the steps listed here are aimed towards iguanas that will be kept in a habitat. This approach is also designed to be as stress-free and non-confrontational as possible for both the iguana and the iguana owner. The goal of this approach is to slowly build trust between you and your iguana. During this time, you will also begin to learn and understand the body language and behavior of your iguana. The amount of time you spend on each step totally depends on how your iguana is responding to you and its surroundings. Some of these steps can be completed quickly, but some could take days, weeks or even months to complete, depending on the attitude and cooperation of your iguana. There is absolutely no rush, so just be patient, stay observant or your iguana's body language, and take your time.
Make sure your iguana has a habitat that is set up properly - The first and probably the most important step to properly acclimating your iguana is to make sure you have a properly set up habitat. Although you should already have the habitat set up properly, it's a good idea to go back and make sure you've done everything right. Some things that aren't done properly when it comes to setting up a habitat can cause problems with acclimation. Improper temperatures can cause your iguana to be stressed. Too hot or too cold in certain areas of the habitat can also create habits where your iguana will not want go to certain areas. This can lead to an iguana that constantly hides, not to mention the health risks. Proper lighting is also very important. As always, we definitely recommend that you provide proper lighting, but not only can improper lighting cause health problems, it can also make your iguana nearly impossible to acclimate and tame. You also want to provide a place for your iguana to hide. This can be a box, an attractive looking cave (not a heated one) or any other type of place inside the habitat where your iguana can hide if needed. For more on providing a proper habitat, visit our Habitat, Enclosures & Cages page for more detailed information.
Give your iguana time to adjust - Assuming that you have properly set up your iguana's habitat, it's now time to give your iguana time to adjust to being in the habitat. If at all possible, the habitat should be placed in an area where there is very little activity. Try to find a somewhat private place where your iguana will be able to comfortably roam around inside the habitat without fearing people walking by, people or kids trying to see the iguana, other pets, or other distractions. This doesn't have to be the permanent location of the habitat. Having it in a secluded area of the house where there isn't a lot of activity is definitely recommended. If possible, you can move the habitat to a more permanent location later in the acclimation process. During this adjustment period, the only contact between you and the iguana should be the very short time you spend putting fresh food and water in daily and cleaning the habitat. Make sure during the entire acclimation process that you always provide fresh food and water and continue to properly clean the habitat. When you do provide food and water and clean the habitat during this time, make sure that you move very slowly. Cleaning during this time does not have to be totally thorough, but you should make your best effort without disturbing the iguana. Removing waste as soon as possible is always recommended, and more thorough cleaning during this time can easily be done while the iguana is hiding in a hide box. During the adjustment time, you may notice some things that may concern you. Your iguana may show some loss of appetite and it may want to hide in its hide box literally all the time. At first, place the iguana's food on the opposite side of the habitat from its hide box. This should force your iguana to come out to eat. If you notice your iguana is not eating at all or hiding in the box, not even to come out to eat, simply place the food closer to the hide box. Don't place the food inside the hide box. You can easily place it near the entrance to the hide box and slowly move it a little further away each time. You may find that over time your iguana rarely, if ever, comes out of its hide box. This is quite normal and as long as it's eating, defecating regularly, and remains somewhat active, you don't need to worry too much. Basically, during this time it's important to not disturb your iguana, have very little contact, provide fresh food and water every day, and clean it's cage when needed. If you are new to iguana care, now that you have some time letting your iguana adjust, it is a very good time to start reading as much as you can about iguana care.
Give your iguana time to adjust without the hide box - A hide box is a very good place for your iguana to hide and be comfortable, but it can also be a place for it to hide so much that it will take longer than normal to acclimate. This is somewhat of a debatable subject as to whether or not you should remove the hide box during acclimation. It's now time to decide whether or not you want to remove the hide box. Removing the hide box can cause more stress, but leaving it in the habitat and allowing the iguana to hide too much can make for a very long and agonizing acclimation process. So, at this time you'll need to decide how much your iguana has relied on having that hide box. If you feel like it's been in the hide box for more than half of the time, you may want to try to remove the box all together. You'll then want to leave your iguana alone while it gets comfortable living without a hide box. You can also return the hide box occasionally during this time, if you feel your iguana is overly stressed without it. You can always provide a hide box later on, after it's totally acclimated. Many people provide their iguanas with a place to hide throughout their entire lives, but other iguanas become so acclimated that they don't really need one. An ideal iguana habitat should be large enough to allow an iguana to feel safe by simply hiding in a somewhat secluded area of the habitat. Your goal during this time is to get your iguana to feel comfortable throughout its habitat, and not just while it's inside the hide box.
Watch your iguana watch you - Now your iguana should be fairly well adjusted to living in its habitat. Now you must get your iguana adjusted to seeing you. You'll want to start by sitting across the room and watching your iguana. Make sure you're close enough that your iguana can see you, but not so close that you may seem threatening. Just sit there, watch your iguana, and let your iguana watch you. You'll learn a lot about your iguana and even more importantly, it will learn a lot about you. Don't make any sudden movements and when you have to move, go slow. Start by watching it for a short time and work your way up to longer sessions. Also, each time, start by sitting a little closer. Pace yourself so that by the end of this step, you're sitting next to the habitat for as long as you want, without any signs of stress from your iguana. During most of this process you want to make sure you move as slowly as possible, but during this time, you may want to occasionally move around and let your iguana see you do it. If you sense that your iguana feels threatened or acts jumpy, don't be afraid to just take a step back or walk away for a while. During the time you're sitting there, you may even want to read a book. Your iguana will probably watch you and it won't seem like you're wasting any time. While you read, turn the pages slowly, and then after a few sessions of this, you may even want to turn the pages in a quick motion to get your iguana used to unexpected movements. This is just one example of how to get your iguana accustomed to seeing people and the things they do.
Open door policy - Now that your iguana has adjusted to seeing you, you can go on to this step that will build more trust. Throughout this entire process, you're basically building trust and with each step you'll build a little more. Depending on the way your habitat is set up, now you'll want to slowly approach the habitat and slowly open the door. If your habitat has a door that is on the front or side, simply open the door and sit in front of the open door and watch your iguana as you did in the previous step. If your habitat has a door on top, simply open the habitat and sit next to the habitat watching your iguana. Most of an iguana's natural predators attack from above and your iguana will most definitely be quite leery of anything or anybody standing over it. A habitat with an opening on top, such as an aquarium, may make this step a lengthy one. Many people use aquariums for habitats, but this is yet another reason why aquariums are not at all suitable as habitats. During this step, you're basically letting your iguana know that you're opening the habitat and that you're not a threat. Already your iguana has seen you open the habitat to feed him, put water in, and clean. Now, you're telling your iguana that you're opening the habitat for no real reason what-so-ever. There's really nothing to this step, except for slowly working your way into the next step. It will also add onto the trust you built in the previous step. The next step involves placing your hands in the habitat, which will be quite stressful for your iguana. If your iguana is already accustomed to you opening the habitat, it will make the next step that much easier.
Hands in, hands off - The next step is one of the most important steps and should be taken as slowly as possible. This step simply involves your iguana getting accustomed to seeing your hands as a non-threat. Reaching in and grabbing your iguana is a whole lot at once. If you put yourself in the iguana's place, it would be quite a shock for that large human that you've been watching to all of a sudden just grab you. Your iguana will need to adjust to seeing those big hands entering its territory. This is really simple, but it can be really hard to not touch your iguana. Fight the urge and take your time as always. Start with one hand, move as slowly as possible and place your hand in the habitat as far away from the iguana as possible. At first, simply place your hand in and let your iguana see it. Keep your distance and if at any time you see any signs of stress, back off and try again later. Do this several times per session while increasing the amount of time your hands are in the habitat. You should also, very slowly over the span of this step, place your hands a little closer to the iguana. By spending more time and getting closer each time, you should be able to move your hands around inside the habitat (very slowly of course) and be moving your hands close to (but not touching) the iguana without any signs of stress. Don't move on to the next step (touching your iguana) until you and the iguana are comfortable with having your hands in the habitat and near the iguana.
Touching your iguana - Well, hopefully by now your iguana is totally at ease with you and your hands near it. It's now time for your iguana to get comfortable with you touching it. It's not time to grab your iguana or pick it up. First you should let your iguana become comfortable with you touching it. At first, you're simply going to touch your iguana with one finger. Approach the iguana from below or from the side, move as slowly as you possibly can and simply touch the side or back of the iguana. At first avoid touching its head and definitely avoid touching its tail or anywhere near its tail. Touch it, maybe pet it a bit with your finger, and then go away. Chances are, your iguana may get upset or stressed with you touching or petting it. The trick is to pet it and then slowly move away and leave it be before it gets upset or stressed. Chances are when you leave and stop bothering it without making it upset, it will remember this as a good experience. If you overstay your welcome and cause the iguana to run, hide, bite or whip its tail, it will probably remember that a petting session is a bad thing. Simply starting slow, petting or touching with a finger or two for a few seconds will do just fine. After a while, you should have worked your way up to being able to pet your iguana with little or no incident. If not, just keep working with it. If you're having a hard time getting your iguana to accept your petting, slow down to where you are moving as slowly as you possibly can. You may also want to back off and just do the same as you did in the previous step, without touching it. A very good time to try petting your new iguana is after the lights have been turned off and it's started to go to sleep. Your iguana may be so tired that it won't want to run, and chances are that your petting will even put it to sleep. Always move slowly, take your time, don't rush it, and your iguana should eventually accept you petting it. Once you've gotten your iguana comfortable with you touching and petting it, continue to do so for some time before you try to pick it up. Many iguanas absolutely love to be petted by their owners. Try rubbing the top of its head, lightly and very slowly stroke your fingers across its closed eyes, and rub its dewlap and jowls. Some good signs that your iguana has become comfortable with you petting are: your iguana closes both eyes, relaxes its dewlap, raises its front legs and sticks his nose up in the air, and if you're lucky, it will lay down and flip its front legs back, along its side. When you've noticed that your iguana has become comfortable and is showing some or all of these signs, you can then move on to the next step.
Holding your iguana, inside the habitat - By this time you and your iguana should be quite comfortable with petting sessions. If your iguana has shown any of the signs of being comfortable while being petted, chances are you'll be able to pick up your iguana with little or no incident. You could have done this from the very beginning, but your iguana may have had little if any trust in you. It's also important to hold an iguana properly. Please read our Handling Iguanas page for more information on how to hold your iguana. Never pick up an iguana by the tail. Iguanas have a defense mechanism that allows their tails to break off in order to escape predators. Although it is very important to pet and touch an iguana's tail during taming sessions to get it accustomed to being touched. Usually, an iguana that is accustomed to humans touching its tail is less likely to try to escape when someone touches or momentarily grabs its tail. Now, you're at a point where your iguana trusts you near it and assumes that you're going to come in for a comfortable petting session. Pet your iguana and make sure you feel that it's comfortable. Slowly pet its side and back and slowly try to pet its underside. With luck, your iguana will even raise up a bit so you can pet its belly. A young iguana can be picked up very easily by petting its side and sliding your fingers underneath it. You'll then have your fingers on one side and your thumb on the other side, with the iguana resting on the base of your fingers and in the palm of your hand. While you do this, you may want to keep petting it with your thumb and fingers. If you've managed to pick up your iguana and you see no signs of stress, set it down and go away. If you see any signs of stress, such as your iguana trying to get away, darting its head around or whipping its tail, very slowly set it down, and slowly move away. Some people prefer to hold on and show their iguana "who's the boss", but this can usually be avoided by moving slowly and taking your time. If all else fails after trying to slowly pick your iguana up in this manner, you may have to use the "who's the boss" technique (shown below). It's suggested that you try your best to not get to that point, especially with young iguanas. If you've taken your time throughout this process, you should be able to avoid the "who's the boss" technique, but all iguanas are different and some need to be handled that way to achieve results. Once you've managed to pick your iguana up and set it back down, you should do this several times. Don't move it, don't take it out of the habitat...just pick it up for a few seconds at a time, set it down, maybe pet it for a little while, maybe pick it up again, and then go away. Don't be afraid to back off and just simply pet it occasionally instead of picking it up every time you handle the iguana.
Moving your iguana, inside the habitat - If you've managed to easily pick up your iguana with little or no signs of stress, this step will be the easiest step of all. Simply do as you did before, pet your iguana, pick it up and move it very slowly a very short distance and set it down. Do this a few times per session along with some petting. By the end of this step, you should be able to easily pet your iguana, pick it up and move it wherever you want inside the habitat. Don't take the iguana out during this time, just simply move it and let it get used to you picking it up and moving it. You should also try to let your iguana walk from hand to hand while inside the habitat. This is a very good technique of getting your iguana familiar with you and your hands. You should also practice holding your iguana with a slightly firm hold. Before now, you should have held your iguana with little or no pressure. Practicing these techniques inside the habitat will get your iguana comfortable with being held firmly and should prevent your iguana from jumping away when you practice this outside the habitat in the next step.
Taking your iguana out and holding it outside the habitat - It may have taken you a while to get to this point, but you should now have an iguana that is somewhat tame and easily handled. Now it's time to take your iguana out of its habitat. You must be very careful when you take your iguana out. If you have any doubts about how well your iguana acts when you pick it up, don't rush into this step. An iguana that isn't totally comfortable with you holding it can quickly get away, and the stress involved in an incident like that may set you back. At first, simply pet your iguana, pick it up and take it out for only a few seconds. You can then place it back in the habitat and pet it, hold it for a while, move it around the habitat, etc. Each time you handle it, take it out for a little while longer and then make sure you put it back before it starts acting any other way than sitting comfortably. After some time of just getting it out for a short period, you can slowly increase the amount of time outside the habitat. You can begin to hold your iguana outside the habitat, slowly move around from room while holding your iguana, and practice letting your iguana walk from hand to hand. It also can be a very good idea to sit down while you hold your iguana. You can even sit down with your iguana and watch something on television. Work your way up to doing these things. Take your time, and when any signs of stress are seen, simply put your iguana back in its habitat. It's not at all uncommon for an iguana that has shown little or no sign of stress to suddenly show them once outside the habitat. This may include biting or more commonly, tail whipping. If your iguana suddenly starts to whip its tail or squirm, slightly tighten your grip and slowly work your way back to the habitat and let it be. This is a time when many people prefer to use the "who's the boss" technique and either way you want to do it is fine. Many times, an agitated iguana will whip its tail or bolt out of your hands. If this happens, do not chase the iguana. Let it go, make sure you know exactly where it goes, and observe it from a distance. Take a few minutes to let your iguana calm down. Chasing your iguana at this point will usually just cause it to run - even an iguana that has acted totally tame up to this point. After a few minutes, you can begin to get down on the floor (assuming the iguana is on the floor), and crawl as slowly as you possibly can over to the iguana. Slowly try petting it. Slowly pick it up. If it runs, back off, take a few minutes and try again. Only chase your iguana if you feel that there is a very serious reason to chase it (such as a child, a dog or an open door, all of which should have been avoided before you got the iguana out). Whenever you put an agitated iguana back into its habitat, it's a good idea to leave it alone for a few minutes and then go back and have a short petting session with it until it calms down.
Briefly setting your iguana down, outside the habitat - Now that you've gotten your iguana comfortable with being held outside the habitat for an extended amount of time, it's time to try to let your iguana down outside the habitat. At first, this will be a very brief experience for your iguana. Simply pet your iguana, slowly take it out of its habitat, and let it get comfortable. Go to a chair or couch and sit down with your iguana. Sit there for a while, which should be nothing new to your iguana. Simply set it down next to you or on your leg. At first, simply start by letting it sit there for a short while. Start increasing the amount of time you let it sit there. Chances are, your iguana will want to walk around and explore. When it starts to walk away, you can now decide how well you know your iguana. If you're lucky, you can just let it walk around without any worries about not being able to recapture it. This may take some time, but with a little practice picking up your iguana outside the habitat, it will become second nature to both you and your iguana.
Freedom outside the habitat - This step is basically the point you've been working towards since you brought your iguana home. You can now practice with your iguana on letting it free roam about the room or the house, with little worry on your part. Use caution when allowing your iguana to freely roam about the house. Read more about the safety issues of free roaming on our Freedom & Free Roaming section. You should be able to get to the point where you can sit down to read a book, use the computer or watch television while your iguana freely walks around the room. Hopefully after all of this, your patience and hard work has paid off with an acclimated, trusting, and happy iguana.
"Who's the Boss" Technique - This method of taming and training is one that is used by many people and has been shown to produce good results. It may not be a good idea to use this technique on young iguanas, unless absolutely necessary and after attempting in every way to slowly acclimate the iguana. Basically, the main idea behind the "who's the boss" technique is that you must show the iguana that you are in control, you are the one who's in charge...you are the boss. This technique has several different approaches, but the main one used in taming an iguana is when dealing with an iguana that is trying to get away from the hands of its owner. If your iguana is stressing, squirming or tail whipping, simply firm up on the grip you have on the iguana and hold on. Don't give in by letting the iguana go, don't give in by putting the iguana back into its habitat, and don't let it "win". The principle behind this is that if the iguana realizes that squirming, tail whipping and struggling to get away does not work, it will not do it anymore. If acclimated properly, an iguana should rarely get to the point that this technique is absolutely needed. Once again, this is a very debatable subject and many people will have different opinions about it. Basically, it's suggested that whatever you do to get your iguana to become acclimated, learn to trust you, and be a happy reptile in a world of humans is usually best.
Litter Box training - Now that you've managed to properly acclimate your iguana, you may want to take it a step further and train your iguana to be litter box trained. Iguanas are usually creatures of habit. Many of them will defecate in the same area and with some training, they can be trained to do this all of the time. Some iguana owners have trained their iguanas to use litter boxes, water tubs and even toilets. If litter boxes are used, it's important not to use litter or any other particulate matter, because of the chance that the iguana will ingest it. Many people use tubs of water, which is very effective, but the necessary daily cleaning of the dirty water makes even more work for the owner. Toilet training is very effective, but some type of structure around the toilet is recommended so that it will be able to easily climb up and not fall into or off of the toilet. The most important part of training an iguana to be box or toilet trained is to roughly figure out what time of the day it usually does its business. There is a good chance that bathroom times will fall around the same time every day, as long as it is being fed at a specified time every day. Placing the iguana in the specified area or better yet, allowing it to go to that area at the specified time, is the best way to train it. Then, all the owner has to do is make sure the iguana stays in that area until its job is complete. Usually, this requires a lot of time and patience. You may have to place the iguana back in the same spot over and over and over again. When the iguana finally goes in the designated spot, you can let your iguana freely walk away. After many weeks of practicing this, your iguana will have learned that that is where it should go and that is what it's supposed to do. Hopefully, by spending the time to train an iguana to be box or toilet trained, the amount of time spent cleaning up after it will be shortened dramatically, leaving more time for the owner to spend with the iguana.
Dealing with Aggression - Although most iguanas can be tamed and seem very friendly, many simply do not tame up and many can become mean and aggressive almost instantly. A friendly iguana suddenly turning aggressive or mean is usually a sign of one of two things. First of all, this change in attitude may be the sign of an unhealthy iguana. Pain and suffering may be what is causing the change in attitude, and if there are any other signs of injury or sickness, it should be taken to a veterinarian. The other more common cause for aggression is when a sexually mature iguana is in breeding season. Although some adult female iguanas have been known to show signs of aggression during breeding season, males are more commonly known for it. Male iguanas reach sexual maturity anywhere between two and five years of age. At any time after this, a male iguana can be very capable of suddenly becoming extremely aggressive. Very special care should be taken to always be ready for a sudden change in attitude, due to the fact that a full grown iguana is very capable of seriously injuring a person. The Green Iguana Society would like to seriously warn anyone with an adult iguana to always be aware that an iguana may suddenly without warning, attack, charge or bite and may even seriously injure adults, kids and other pets. We are not making this warning to make people scared of iguanas, we just hope that people will always respect the power an adult iguana has and to always expect the unexpected. For more information about how to deal with aggressive iguanas and why they become aggressive, please refer to our Your Health & Safety and Breeding Season Issues pages.
Iguana Care, Feeding & Socialization by Melissa Kaplan is an excellent guide to iguana care. It has detailed information on the taming and socialization of iguanas. This is somewhat of a different approach than recommended here, but as always, we recommend you read all that you can and make your own decision as to what works best for you and your iguana.
Taming of new Iguana by Tricia Power has plenty of advice on acclimation and handling a new iguana.
Taming an Iguana and aggressiveness during breeding season is another page by Tricia Power that has many more details about taming and training, including photos and advice on many other topics related to taming and dealing with the behavior of iguanas in general.