There are so many reasons why it is important for a Chameleon to trust their Keeper. As Humans we want them to love us the way we love them. But realistically this is not how your Chameleon is going to think of you. You are simply their Keeper. You are the provider of their needs. While I am a believer that some Chameleons develop more trust in their owner than others do, they are by no means a dog or a cat. Not something you are going to sit and cuddle up with while you watch TV.
But why do we need to gain their trust? Here are just a few of many reasons why it is important.
- Cleaning their enclosure
- Vet check ups
- Visually look over the chameleon
- Taking them from indoor enclosure to outdoor enclosure
I read I ton when I first got Beman. Constantly reading through threads finding as much info as possible. A crash course in Husbandry.
Beman was an impulse buy from Petco. I was recommended all the wrong stuff including the dreaded Chameleon Kit. Improper lighting and all.
By the 3rd day of having him I finally found this forum. I became the ultimate lurker for months and I started correcting everything as fast as I could. I replaced fake plants with real ones and ordered new lighting from Light Your Reptiles within the first week. I started looking at enclosure options from Dragon Strand. This Forum saved my chameleons life and taught me how to be a good keeper.
My reason for posting this blog is to give back to others the way this forum gave to me. I never found a video showing how to build trust. I read many different posts on it. So this was how I interpreted what I read and how I went about my mission to build trust.
- Get a comfortable chair ready.
- Put it next to the door of your Chameleon's enclosure.
- Make sure your not sitting higher then your Chameleon so they feel safe.
- Use a feeder that they adore that won't jump off your hand.
- Don't make direct eye contact with your Chameleon.
- Don't plan on moving for at least 30 minutes.
I used waxworms. So I only did this exercise with him once each day. So only 1 waxworm each day. Please Note: You do not want to feed these as a staple feeder because they are high in fat. So treats only and this was the only time he got them during this process. Chameleons can't hear so go ahead and have a long conversation with them. This is what I did to pass the time and keep myself calm and steady.
Starting out you are only putting a feeder in the palm of your hand and offering it. I kept my hand on his level so he could see it and so it was not intruding in his enclosure but so that he could get to within 5 inches of it. This may take awhile so be prepared to hold your elbow with your other hand to keep it still.
I was basically a food dish. It took Beman 4 days before he took the first feeder from my hand. He was on a vine about 6 inches away.
Over the course of 2 weeks he got closer and closer to my hand.
I was still a food dish. I didn't move and I didn't make direct eye contact.
By the second week he was getting closer to my hand. The period of time that I sat there got shorter as the days passed.
After two weeks he started trusting to come up onto my hand. He would sit a little longer each time before getting off. I did this by presenting my hand palm up just as he was used to seeing it and with my other hand I had the feeder in my palm farther up my arm. So he would have to at first just put his front feet onto my hand to get to the feeder in the other hand. Remember this is at their pace not yours. So your not rushing them. Your Building Trust.
This video was done about 2 weeks and 4 days into the process. Beman is four and half months old in this video.
It took another 2-3 weeks for me to be able to slowly pull my hand out with him on it. By this time he was no longer fearful because I always reinforced with his special treat.
I would sit in the chair with him on my hand and slowly pull my hand closer to me. Watching his behavior for any indication that he was not ok with it. If he started backing up my hand went back toward the cage. His pace not mine.
It took approximately 6 weeks of working with him everyday at his pace only. By this point he let me remove him to clean his cage, take him to the vet for a check up, and would sit with me for about 15 minutes each day. Always reinforcing with his special treat.
Now Beman is almost 10 months old. He is a friendly boy that loves going outside in the sun each day that the weather allows. He comes out of his enclosure on his play area happily for me to fully clean his cage each weekend.
This is how I get him out of the enclosure now. No treat needed just my hand.
I do not know if it is just a fluke that I happened to get a Veiled Chameleon with a good temperament or if I happened to hit upon a way to build trust that works. But my hopes in sharing this is that others may find a way to build trust with their Chameleon, to be able to do the important things as a Keeper and a lover of these beautiful creatures.
UPDATE: Beman is now 14-15 months old... Even though he was always a sweet boy he is now displaying typical mature Male Veiled aggressive behavior. While he still will let me remove him from the cage. He is very cage aggressive. He has not bitten me in the last 2 months since showing his new attitude but I would not put it past him to try should I not pay close enough attention.
UPDATE 3-9-21: Beman will be 3 years old in June. He has moved passed his cage aggression. This took a few months. He still shows me that he is the boss but has never bitten me. He does not come out without seeing a treat. But I feel like because I worked so much with treats when he was young that he still fully understands it. I am able to take him outside to his large enclosure during warmer weather, clean his cage, take him to the vet, and do weight checks.
I now have 2 more Male Veileds. So 3 hot headed boys with attitude lol. They are all different.
One I got when he was 5 months old this method never worked on him. His name is Bane. He is still very shy and prefers his cage over me. However he fully understands that I am the bringer of the food and will come to his food bowl when I go to put his feeders in. He will hand feed as well. But his personality with me is very standoffish and observing. I let him be a chameleon and love him even though we have a different relationship. With Bane I have to wear gloves because he has bitten me. I do take him out 2 times a month for weight checks. I am able to remove him from the cage with gloves by putting one hand in front for him to climb up on and one behind to get him to climb up. I never force him. I am gentle and slow. Now he no longer bites when I get him out. He is always rewarded with a feeder when he goes back in.
I got my 3rd Male a month after Bane. His name is Bentley. He was 3 months when I got him. This method worked with him. Maybe because he was younger or just a different personality. I do not know. He is much more curious like Beman was as a baby. He has never bitten me and every day is still a work in progress to build trust. However it would seem this method has worked so far with him and he does not mind the interaction with me.
So here I am right about 2 and a half years into the hobby. 3 Male Veileds. What I can say is a lot depends on their personality. Each of my boys are very different in how they react to me and the environment around them. I take my time and still am able to do what I need for each of them. Just in different ways to accommodate them as the individual they are. There is nothing more beautiful to me then a chameleon thriving in an enclosure that is set up just perfectly for them. And having trust built allows you to be a better keeper and reduce stress with interaction. Patience is key and understanding that your Chameleon is not like my boys or anyone else's. So don't compare what yours does to another because it is the thief of joy.