How To Tame A Aggressive Leopard Gecko: From Bites To Kisses

aggressive leopard gecko

We’ve all had that one (or maybe even a couple) leopard gecko that’s overly aggressive or skittish. They bite and scream whenever you go to handle them or place your hand in their tank.

Leopard geckos are usually a very docile reptile and great for beginners. Younger leos however are notorious for being moody. Not to fret however, this guide will show you how I have dealt with the meanest lizards making them puppy dog tame.

To tame a leopard gecko, you will need to build their trust and prove to them that you are not a threat. To do so, you can use feeding methods, social interaction such as limited handling, scenting, and patience. If you follow these steps, you will be successful in building a bond with your leo.

Like all animals, your reptile will display certain signs that they are either unhappy or stressed thus wanting to be left alone. We may unknowingly be impeding on their privacy or ignoring these signs thus leading to bites and defensive behavior.

The good news is all animals can be tamed if you go about it correctly and patiently.

#1) Hiding away 

leopard gecko hiding

You want to pay attention to this as normally leos will hide for most of the day and come out at night. This is normal behavior however if you notice them hiding when YOU come around or when YOU walk by.

This can be a sign that they perceive you as a threat. This is common in newly acquired geckos and hatchlings. They will usually be acting normally but once they see you they will dart into their hiding spots.

Shadows also scare geckos and thus can cause them to run away during the day. Being nocturnal they feel most secure at night and thus should be more courageous. If they hide away even at night especially when you’re around or they can visibly see you then it’s a sure sign they are afraid of you.

I’ll talk more about how to correct this issue later.

#2) Tail swaying or shaking 

This type of behavior is often confusing as it can signify a multitude of things. If the tail is moving slowly in a “S” type pattern chances are it’s a defensive mechanism.

I noticed that this happens most often when leopard geckos can see their own reflection via glass tanks or when there are other animals (ex. cats) present. Since they can drop and regenerate their tails, I believe they do this to distract their predators although I’m not 100% sure.

You may also notice tail shaking or rattling. This signifies mating behavior and will be prominent in adults. This is not a sign of aggression.

#3) Hissing or screaming 

leopard gecko scream

Fairly common especially in hatchlings and juvis. This happens usually as you go to touch or handle them. They will let out a hiss while posturing up or even a scream. This is very taxing on their bodies and can lead to further stress.

If you notice this, please leave your gecko alone. They may continue to scream even after you put them down or stop touching them which is normal. Others will hiss and gape with their mouths open until you leave their presence.

Sometimes this is reactionary as you may have startled them.

#4) Charging

Some geckos will sprint at you with their mouths open. They will run straight at you and even into the glass or plastic tub. This is more of a territorial trait and happens frequently with most reptiles.

Charging usually occurs when I put my hand into their enclosure. It’s their way of showing me that they don’t like anything foreign in their home. Again, this is completely normal.

#5) Defensive stance or posturing

defensive leopard gecko

Basically a leo will flatten or press it’s stomach towards the floor and follow you with laser focus. Their tails will be somewhat raised or even vertical and they may or may not lunge.

This is territorial behavior and usually happens on cleaning day or when you go to remove certain items from their tank.

#6) Caudal Autotomy aka Tail dropping

leopard gecko dropped tail

Happens under severe cases of stress or trauma. Some leopard geckos will perceive you as such a threat that they must self-amputate their tail to get away. Luckily tails grow back through regeneration and doesn’t really harm the lizards much.

If you notice this, leave your pet alone for the next couple of days as this gives them time to recoup.

#7) Shedding

shedding leopard gecko

Can cause stress as they must work hard to rub and scrape off excess skin. New skin will also be sensitive which can easily irritate them. They will usually go off feed during this time which causes hunger. Hungry geckos can mistakenly bite your fingers thinking it’s prey.

Step 1: Building trust with your leopard gecko

Most hobbyists will have problems with aggression in newly purchased animals or babies. Hatchlings and juvies can be unpredictable and temperamental at times.

Tame in my definition consists of a pet that is enjoyable and can tolerate your presence without going crazy or reacting negatively.

To get to this point, it is imperative that you build trust.

  • If you have recently brought home a new gecko, remember to allow it to get acclimated to its surroundings. Try to keep handling to a minimum during this stage as they will likely be in shock. I recommend allowing them to explore their new home for a minimum of 1 week before attempting to handle them.
  • Be sure to have at least 2 hides in their enclosure. This allows them to feel secure on both ends of the temperature gradient. I made the mistake of providing only one hide spot (hot side) and this made my leo feel extremely vulnerable when it would go towards the cool end of the enclosure.
  • Do not move or reach into their enclosure for the first week. If you do need to replace water or food then do so swiftly and quietly. Try not to remove any hides around as this prolongs the acclimation process.
  • When changing food bowls, be sure to do it slowly and allow them to see you adding the feeder insects. The more they see doing this, the more they will associate you as being good or non-threatening.
  • Lastly, try to leave an article of your clothing in their tank. This helps them sense and smell you without you having to be there physically. I wear a wool or cotton glove that’s tan (skin) colored for about a few minutes and then place that into their tub. This serves two purposes as it resembles my hand in shape and color as well as being small enough to not interfere with their habitat. This method works really well for me and my leos are no longer finicky when I place my hand in their space.
  • Execute all of the above for a minimum of 7 to 10 days.

Step 2: Feeding methods

After the first week to 10 days we can move onto the next process. Remember you want to let your animal see that you are not a threat. They associate food as good and if they see you placing feeder insects in their cages enough times they will naturally begin to tolerate you.

One thing I don’t recommend with aggressive geckos is hand feeding. There’s tons of articles online stating that hand feeding or tong feeding is a good way to build trust but I must disagree.

Tongs are usually made of metal and when an overly excited gecko lunges with its soft mouth, it could lead to injury and mouth rot.

Certain morphs like enigmas are notorious for missing their prey and can damage their teeth from accidentally biting the metal tongs.

  • A better solution would be to place feeder insects like roaches or mealworms into a feeder bowl and leave your hand in plain sight. Try to keep still and rest your hand during this time and minimize any sudden movements until after your leo is finished eating. I’ve had leos perch on my hand while eating and is definitely a good sign that you’re making progress.
  • Never try and shove a feeder bug into their face. Force feeding will also stress them out and they might even go off feed which is another problem in itself.
  • Try and use fast moving feeders like Red runner roaches as this will stimulate their feeding response and take their focus off of you or any other perceived threats
  • I usually start with placing the bowl fairly close to their hiding spot and each day I will move the bowl a couple inches back. This will force them a little out of their comfort zone but not so much that it’s detrimental.
  • Remember to resist any contact or touching during this stage. This is very important as we are trying to recondition their thinking. I once made the mistake of getting too excited and touching my leo only to have him spit out his food running straight back into his hideaway. It was heartbreaking to say the least and I had to essentially restart the cycle.
  • Keep these sessions short at no more than 5 minutes a time once or twice a day. Then after one week try to lengthen that time to 7 to 10 minutes once a day for another week. Once you reach 14 days, you should see some improvement in behavior. If not, continue trying for another week otherwise you’re ready to move on to the next step

Final Step: Handling

So you’ve patiently waited for your pet to come around and finally they are showing signs of trusting you. Every personality is different however your leo should be acting for the most part friendlier at this stage.

Maybe some have stopped hissing or biting completely while others are still charging at you but not nearly as much. Some might even let you handle them at this stage.

  • I recommend trying to handle in low light or nightly conditions. As stated earlier, they are nocturnal and are much more comfortable during this time.
  • If they are hiding or sheltered during the day, I would wait until they are awake and roaming about.
  • The last thing you want to do is disturb a sleeping gecko. This will surely shock them and put them into a defensive mood.
  • Start by placing feeders in the bowl and allowing them to eat. Once finished, place your palm flat on the ground coercing them to crawl onto your hand.
  • If they avoid or try to dodge your hand, you can try gently tapping the tip of their tail which will cause them to dart forward onto your hand.
  • Once on your hand, allow them to explore and walk around. If you notice them walking a little to high up towards you elbow, you can place your other hand in front of them to block their path.
  • If they get on your hand but immediately jump off, you can raise them up slightly from the ground and it should stop them from climbing off.
  • I never try to “pet” my geckos as this symbolizes a predator attacking from above. I always scoop from bottom up as it seems to keep them calm. I will stroke the bottom of their jaw from time to time and which tends to put them to sleep.
  • If you follow these steps, you’ll have a leopard gecko that will be happy to see you every time you’re near the enclosure. Mines literally run to the front of the tank when I’m walking by. This is because they associate me as good (food) and no longer a threat.

There you have it guys, I hope this article was helpful in answering some of the questions you had about taming an aggressive leopard gecko. There’s truly nothing more satisfying than transforming a angry hopeless animal into an enjoyable fun loving pet. Cheers!

22 Responses to “How To Tame A Aggressive Leopard Gecko: From Bites To Kisses

  • Thank you for these helpful hints! My female leopard gecko is about 6 months old. She doesn’t bite aggressively; it seems more like she mistakes my hand for food. I thought about offering food on my hand or letting her see the roaches or crickets in my hand, but i was afraid that would encourage her to associate my hand with food and make the problem worse. She does not bite hard, but I thought as she got larger that might change.

    • thegutload
      1 year ago

      Hi Jana,
      Yes most of the time bites will occur due to mistaken identity lol. As they get older they will tend to bite a bit harder and also be reluctant to let go. This is why I don’t recommend hand feeding.

      • Hi there!

        I have a gecko thats almost a year old, and she is so cranky! My old male gecko was so friendly, but my female is sooo cranky. Im assuming its because shes still young. But shes super curious about whats going on outside her tank, and when I go up to her she is also super curious. But whenver i go into her tank to put in crickets or water she gets defensive. She has tried to bit me multiple times, and has even screamed at me. Im so frustrated because i just want to hand train her, and i know gecko bites dont really hurt but Im still paranoid. Do you have any advice? Her temperature is usually around 30 degrees during the day, and 25 at night. Shes fed regularly, always has water. She sheds regularity as well as normal bowel movements. So im not sure what im doing wrong here!

  • I just got a new gecko and I’ve never had one as young as him before. I’ve had him for 6 days but he rarely comes out of his hide even at night. I’m worried I’m doing something wrong, how do I help him?

    • thegutload
      6 months ago

      That’s totally normal behavior especially for a new gecko. They tend to be skittish and sometimes aggressive when being relocated to a new home. I would say give him another two weeks alone. Try not to handle or disturb him during this time. He will definitely warm up to you after that.

  • Is this all the same with African fat tail gecko‘s?

    • thegutload
      6 months ago

      Yes, Although in my experience Fat tail geckos tend to be much more shy so it may take a little more patience.

  • ScienceTeacher
    5 months ago

    I am a teacher and after some extensive research, our 5th grade class adopted a Leopard Gecko. I actually received this Gecko for free from a Pet Smart when I “adopted” her out since they said she was incredibly aggressive and absolutely couldn’t be with other Geckos (and she was just a young juvi). my inner city kids actually call her “Gansta Gecko” and honestly, they LOVE that she was “kicked” out of PetSmart.

    Now she really only let’s me hold her and she is wary of the kids (she lets them feed her though and loves to just watch all the kids). She does bite me a lot, but only once did she ever try to bite me hard and not let go. She was swinging herself around too. Not sure what made her so mad that day but honestly I could understand her frustration. (I have anger issues so this Gecko gets me on an emotional level lol)

    HOWEVER. How bad will these bites get as she becomes an adult? Could she break skin or something like that? I ask just in case for my students. I want to know the threat level of a bite then. Sources keep giving me mixed results.

    • thegutload
      4 months ago

      Awesome! Thank you for adopting a leo and taking on a tough task. She should tame down as an adult. Most geckos will grow out of that stage with age. I’ve never had a gecko break skin but that’s just my experience.

      The threat level is really low. As long as she’s fed and has adequate space, she should be happy.

  • So, what if my gecko is full grown and he is new to my home? I’m going to start to keep my lights dimmed and noise level low so he can become more comfortable in the surroundings that he is in.

    • thegutload
      4 months ago

      Hi Kayla,

      Since he’s in a new environment, I would give it roughly 2-3 weeks to let him settle in. Keep handling to a minimum and continue offering food in a bowl. Your gecko will eat when it’s hungry. You can keep the lights dimmed but I would still stick to a 12 hour on and off light cycle or natural lighting.

  • I have had my pet gecko for 5 years now, his name is Gecky. He didn’t always bite… For maybe three years he was always gentle and calm than when two babies came into our lives its been hard getting him the attention he used to get. My older sister is always in her room now, my little baby sisters of course cant be left alone, so that keeps my parents busy. That leaves me the only one giving him love. And since I’m not always free he still lacks attention. Now though I have all the time in the world for my Gecky! But he seems to be done with me… When you come by his glass tank, he instantly squirms over and stares. If you put your hand on the glass his tail waves like when he goes for crickets. And when you move your hand he always gently hits the glass with his mouth. I realized he could hurt himself so I stopped. I put water is his mini bowl and he always loves his food and water. Or am I just giving to little? Is that why when you put your hand in the tank he tries to bite it? Gecky has two low bowls, one for water and the other is for worms. He Has a log, really small logs put together on a round thing, a rough carpet, a red light, and his favorite rock named rocky. It’s hard to fit two hiding spots in the tank so since we were never told too we never put one besides the shade under the log. But since you said they need two do you think I messed up! It has been five tears and he has never gotten a hiding spot! Do I feed him too little? Twice a week he gets food and every night we refill the water because we haven’t found a better bowl. How many hours a day should I try to interact with him? Usually, I do 1 hour because I fear I make him upset. Should we have sand instead? Or is the carpet fine? What would I take or add to his home? Should we get a wider home for him since it would be too cramped if we added more things? And just how do I make my poor Gecky happier and like me more?! :((

    • thegutload
      4 months ago

      Hi Luna,

      actually this is very normal behavior for a gecko. Waving his tail and charging the glass isn’t always a sign of aggression. To me this seems like he has a great feeding response. Are there any other distractions in the room? You mentioned the babies but maybe sometimes a cat or dog can also cause them to become aggressive all of a sudden. The neglect can have some affect on the temperament of the gecko as well. You might want to try and up the amount of food as well. Leopard geckos are known for their voracious appetite. Yes, hand biting could mean he’s hungry and always on edge. I don’t think he needs two hiding spots, just up the food intake and he should be fine. I follow the “eat until he shows no more interest” rule. This usually includes a bowl of mealworms or roaches consumed within about 10-15 minutes. I wouldn’t change anything in his enclosure. He’s seems to have settled in nicely.

  • hi, so i got my leo, rj, in late july. it wasn’t hard to tame him, and for a while i was able to handle him a lot. but when school started back up i haven’t really been handling him that much and he’s been slowly getting more and more aggressive… now whenever i put my hand in the cage for any reason at all he bites and doesn’t let go, and shakes his whole body like he’s trying to rip my skin off… he made me bleed once. i’m very upset because i feel like this will be irreversible. is there anything i can do :/

    • thegutload
      4 months ago

      Hi Hannah,

      how are you feeding your gecko? Are you leaving a bowl with mealworms or roaches available at all times? This seems like a hungry/reaction strike. They only shake and won’t let go if they think your hand is food. He might be underfed so try to up the feeding regiment. Thanks!

  • so i just got my leopard gecko yesterday and he was letting me hold him and everything, but once i went to sleep he went underneath the little matt we bought for the tank and he won’t come out so i tried to pick him up and he screamed i don’t know what to do.

  • I have a 4 month old almost 5 wants nothing to do with me .the name is Noodle . I got Noodle 4 days day we could not find Noodle and we searched all over then found it I had to pick it up . Noodle was just fine .Then yesterday I was trying to pet Noodle on the head when Noodle hissed at me.i got scared .I am now scared of Noodle . WHAT DO I DO.

  • my Leo named gismo that I got today I tried to handle to early and he kept hissing at me and he was hiding from me and now I’m going to try to let it be in its cage for a mother week and try some other tips that you posted and hopefully that help.

  • Paris L.
    2 months ago

    Hi, I got my leopard gecko almost 2 weeks ago and never really handled it. I want to try and pick them up but I get scared easily, because I think they will bite me. But when I put my hand in there, they lick me a few times and walk away. I don’t know if they trust me yet to pick them up or not. What can I do to make myself comfortable with picking them up and handling?

  • HI! I just received my leopard gecko 4 days ago. His tail, unfortunately, came off during the shipping process and I trust that the shipping department treated him well. He seems very skittish and I had to change his substrate but he doesn’t seem to like me much. So I picked up the log he was sitting on and put him in his caring cage which worked out fine. I tried to pick him up to put him in his cage since I didn’t want to smash his foot when putting the log down. He let me get super close but when I touched him he hissed and scared me. I am still a bit paranoid but don’t want to give up. He is also sitting in a corner a lot behind his little tree stump which I don’t know is normal but other than that he seems fine. I was just wondering if I am doing something wrong.

  • My new Leo named Ringo lost his tail during shipping and has a scab now. He is healthy and doing well but I fear that he hates me. I have tried to carefully touch him but he hissed at me and I am still a bit paranoid. He is fed every day and has water. He still comes out and walks from one side to another. When he does fully come out he sits in a corner and alone sides of that corner. I feel That I am missing something important and feel I will never gain his trust. I have also put my hand in the tank multiple times for him to look at it and sniff. I also left a piece of my clothing in the cage overnight. What can I do to make the trust process faster?

  • Try not to pet noodle on top of the head, instead try gently stroking the underlying, my gecko Sumac loves it when I do that.

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