Do leopard geckos recognize their owners? This is a question that a lot of us have wondered about. It’s a question that a lot of us have looked for answers to.
The simple answer is, we don’t know for sure if Leopard Geckos recognize their owners but we do know that they will form a bond with you over time.
Let’s look at some of the ways leopard geckos might recognize their owners and delve a bit deeper into how you can create a stronger bond with your pet.
It’s a common misconception that geckos are completely oblivious of their owners. The thinking goes that their reptilian brain can’t process complex emotions like love or affection and as a result, there is no need to recognize or become attached to other creatures. People often think that the only ‘thoughts’ that go through their mind are “is this food or a potential mate?” and “if so, eat/try to mate with it”.
This is simply not true though. Leopard geckos are very social animals and do get attached to their owners. If treated right and housed in a safe and enriching environment, your gecko will certainly begin to express itself and show behaviors that we would consider similar to emotions like happiness and excitement.
On the flip side, if your gecko is stressed, scared, or unhappy, it will show a different set of behaviors letting you know something is wrong.
How Do Leopard Geckos Recognize Their Owners?
While they do have good eyesight, Leopard Geckos will recognize their owners mainly by their scent. This important evolutionary skill has evolved over eons for this exact reason.
True, it’s not just there so a gecko can recognize its human owner but it certainly comes in handy when trying to separate friend from foe (or food!). In the wild, a gecko would use their keen sense of smell to hunt down food or get an early warning of a potential predator coming their way.
It also gives them plenty of other useful information about the local area. When you don’t have Google to hand then a good sense of smell can be a great way to learn what’s around you!
Given the importance of scent to geckos, you should make sure to wash your hands before feeding or handling them and avoid heavily perfumed soaps as this can mask your usual smell and cause your gecko to panic or even become aggressive towards you because you seem like an unknown intruder.
Are leopard geckos affectionate?
Ok, so your leopard gecko gets to know you by recognizing your scent, but does that mean they actually like you? I mean, there’s plenty of people I recognize when I go to the store but I’m sure as heck not going to run up and give them a hug when I see them!
This is where those complex emotions come in again. Leopard Geckos don’t ‘like’ or feel affection towards people and things in the same way a human does, but they will associate positive experiences with their owner.
You’ll be able to see this in their behavior once they have built that bond with you. They might get visibly more excited when you come into the room or stand up against the glass of their tank when you come close.
So it wouldn’t be entirely true to say Leopard Geckos do or don’t show affection, it just kinda depends on what you mean. If your gecko has been brought up around humans (in a kind, loving environment, not crammed into a tank with 30 other geckos in a pet store window) then there’s every chance they will be warm and friendly towards you.
It can be more difficult to socialize reptiles than some other pets so maybe don’t expect them to snuggle up on the bed with you like a cat or dog. But when they’re treated well Leopard Geckos are friendly, affectionate creatures that can actually be quite playful.
Gaining Your Leopard Geckos Trust
If you want your pet to feel safe and comfortable in their (and your) home then you’ll need to spend some time gaining their trust. Luckily, it’s not difficult but it can take a while. This can be especially true if you find yourself caring for a gecko that’s been mistreated in the past – maybe by a previous owner or maybe the pet store you got it from didn’t have the best conditions for them.
The main thing to remember is to take it slow. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t see results overnight. Building trust is a process that takes time and, as mentioned above, reptiles aren’t as naturally trusting and warm to people as other pets so it can feel like an uphill battle at times.
Usually, you can expect to gain your gecko’s trust in around 4-6 weeks. But remember, this is just a guide and it’s certainly possible to make a mistake and undo (most of) your hard work up to that point. If that does happen, don’t worry and carry on as before – it’s just a temporary setback!
Here are some tips on gaining your Leopard Geckos trust:
Don’t Touch Your Gecko
That’s right, if you want your gecko to trust you and allow you to touch and hold it, you need to start off by not touching it!
for the first 2-3 weeks of owning your gecko just let them get used to their new surroundings. Coming to a new home, having a new habitat and owner, it’s all quite overwhelming so the last thing your gecko will want to see is a giant stranger reaching in to try and snatch them up.
Make Sure Their Needs Are Met
Obviously, as a considerate pet owner you will be doing this already but the more comfortable and well cared for your gecko is, the sooner they will relax into their new home and the sooner they will come to trust their new owner.
Set up their tank as normal but also keep an eye on their behavior, especially in the first few weeks, for any signs of stress in case you need to make any adjustments. A stressed gecko will not be a friendly and trusting gecko.
Name Your Gecko
This one might sound a bit silly and no, your gecko won’t actually learn its own name or anything but they can start to recognize a familiar sound pattern over time. Giving your gecko a name and greeting it in the same way every day will start to form part of a routine that your gecko will settle into and start feeling more comfortable.
Surprises are stressful but routines can be very calming. Your gecko will soon start to expect (and react to) this familiar sound and it’s a great way to build a bond between the two of you.
Handle Your Gecko
I know, I know, we said don’t handle your gecko but that was before you’d built up their trust. Around 4-5 weeks after bringing your geck home it’s time to offer them a bit of human contact.
We say offer because that’s all it should be – you don’t want your gecko to feel like they are being abducted from their tank, you want them to feel like they can (if they so choose) crawl onto their human’s outstretched hand for a bit of exploration or playtime.
We’ve said it before but it applies double here – take it slow. If there’s ever going to be something to scare your gecko and make them think you are a predator it’s a giant hand attacking them in their home!
Try introducing up to 5 minutes of handling at times when you would already normally be in their tank, like when you are cleaning it out and don’t make any sudden moves that might scare the little guy. Place your hand (carefully) in their tank from time to time without handling them as well, just to let them get more used to it being there.
So do Leopard Geckos recognize their owners? No, not by default.
With a bit of time and effort though, they can certainly be trained to get to know you and build up a bond between you both.
And while they might not recognize you or feel affection towards you in the same way we might with another human, that’s to be expected with their tiny brains and limited emotional processing power.
Does that mean they are cold, unaffectionate pets though? Also no. Leopard Geckos, with a bit of time and care, can be very affectionate in their own way. And when you see your little lizard standing up to greet you when they see you walk into the room, you’ll know they not only recognize you but are actually happy and excited to see you.