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HANDLING (not taming!) and other stuff

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Posted by: -Holly- at Sat Jul 1 23:04:15 2006   [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by -Holly- ]  

Sure Frank, I'll give it a try. We will see if anyone hears the message.
Ughhh, this is extremely long!

Goal - To have a handle able monitor

If you want a cuddle-able, pet-able pet, do yourself a favor and DO NOT get a monitor! Before leaping into handling, it is important to understand your pet, and to be sympathetic to its situation.

Tame is a bad word. Anything with teeth can bite you if it is startled, angry, or frightened. Take a good look at the teeth I have posted and have some respect.

Most of them hide in the gums, but when eating you'll get a better look. Alot of types have got a mouth full of (50 to 70) curved, serrated, razorblades in a VERY wide gape. They know their bite is dangerous. Now you know too. Count yourself lucky if you are never bitten. My mangrove Scooter has come very close to biting me quite a few times. Accidents happen. These incidents were when "I" startled him (forgot the proper respect) or incited his feeding response (forgot the proper When he started to get really big, I realized there may come a day when I might be bitten and I was scared. I'm not so big and he could do a lot of damage. Pulling away can shred your flesh. I decided to start conditioning myself to remain still when he swung in on me. I knew the chances of me getting out of his way were very slim anyway. A monitor's neck is extremely agile, even as adults their speed is incredible. He can see you move out of the corner of his eye and lightening in for a closer look before you can blink. I believe it is because of the relationship we have built that I have avoided being bitten. He strikes at me, and I hold still, not easy!!!. But as fast as they can strike, they can stop, if they choose to. He gets within about half an inch of me and stops on a dime, like he has just realized his mistake. Am I recommending this? No. I work very hard to have this relationship with my lizards. They know when they see me something that THEY think is good is about to happen. They show me with their actions that they don't want to bite me on purpose. How you choose to handle yourself in that situation is up to you. But it never hurts to have a plan.

Fear biting
You are huge to him and he knows he is at a monstrous disadvantage; he is only going to bite you as a last resort. His instincts tell him if he instigates a fight he can't win, he will likely be killed. Generally panicked and restrained monitors sit motionless, sometimes they shut their eyes. If you're holding and rubbing him has him convinced you are preparing to kill and eat him, he might risk biting if he believes he has nothing else to loose. It's not nice to upset him into striking at you.

Food response biting
If you smell like food, you might get bit! Wash your hands thoroughly before any interaction. For that matter, always wash afterwards too. You can get sick if you don't.

Hand feeding is really really NOT a good idea, (remember the teeth?) but some peeps with good long term relationships with their monitors do it. Accidents can still happen. He bites you, it's your fault.

If you are wiggling like prey, you might get bit! Be smart about what you put near your monitors face! That my friends is another permanent instinct. It will always be there. Monitors use their faces and mouths like a hand to check out their environment. What reason would he have NOT to go for your wiggling toe or finger? If it doesn't taste good he can always spit it out. It pays to be aware!

Anger biting
Some monitors are angry for life, some have a heartbreaking history of abuse and a good reason to hate people. In my limited experience I have found monitors in general to be shy, curious, fiercely independent beings, who enjoy time patrolling their turf. Even the most docile monitor can be in a bad mood. If he is in a bad mood, leave him alone. Don't go looking for trouble when it is so easily avoided. The monitor will also appreciate it a lot.

Why monitors DON'T make loyal and loving pets.
Most pets come from parents that nurture and love them, teach and protect them. There is cuddling, and grooming and discipline in these family groups. These types of animals will seek out another species to join up with, if they are separated from their own species. They can happily share this type of closeness and affection with a kind person.

Monitors have no such loyalty to anyone. They have no need to please anyone other than themselves. Your monitor will never ever do something because it cares if you are happy or is trying to please you. Understand that. A monitor hatches from an egg. The parents protect the nest to ensure the young hatch, but that's it. As soon as they are born they are on their own. They know if mom is hungry enough, she might eat them! Everything they need to survive they are born with. If it is smaller than me, it's food. If it is bigger than me, I am food. AND a cuddle is ONLY good if it's with another lizard like me of the opposite sex!

In the monitors mind, the only creatures who would show so much interest in him is a predator looking for a meal. Some monitors will submit to being petted if you force them, but they do not understand it or like it. Don't fool yourself. They are dominated by you, and thus unpredictable. Monitors don't like to be touched if it is your idea, (they are nervous about your focused attention) but if it is their idea they will readily touch you when in explore mode, or once in a great while rub on you to get an itchy spot. My largest monitor regularly wipes his mouth/face on my ankles You can coexist if you prove to him you are not and never will be a threat, you are just another creature sharing the local environment. You can even have a relationship if you treat him the way he wishes to be treated. I well understand I have to be respectful and not offend Scooter, my reward is that he doesn't hesitate to approach me and check me out when he is in the mood, or thinks I may have something he likes. I would not say Scooter is my friend, I think after 12 years together he views me more as a familiar acquaintance. I try to figure out what he wants and give it to him. My reward is he is huge and beautiful, and has taught me an immeasurable amount about his kind and their care. So far, he likes to bask with me, likes the healthy variety of prey I bring, the warm water I put in his pool, a spraying of the enclosure when it gets too dry, (don't laugh-) offering cups of bottled water (he seems to prefer that to drink!), taking him places he likes to go- like outside to explore, or playing games like cricket toss or hunt the chick in the bag. When he was younger, I taught him it was ok to chase me around when I had food in tongs! He would chase me till we were both good and tired. Good exercise. In just a few months, he started getting the mouse away from me before I was ready. He learned my moves and how to counter them. He cut the "live prey" game's time down to a fraction of what it began with. Smart and fast. If you don't have an adequately sized living space for an adult, he is sure to get fat from lack of cardio exercise.

In my experience, monitors do have a fairly accurate long term memory. The standard way to tame monitors is to "hold them till they stop struggling." I ask people if they would do this to a squirrel or raccoon and the answer is usually, "no way!"(with the exception of the occasional idiot) This technique does sometimes seem to work on monitors, but for all the wrong reasons. Your animal will be loosing fear and cease struggling because its spirit is crushed. It's will to live is dying. What is life if you live at the whim of a creepy feared stranger? It will stop caring what you do because it has no choice, not because it trusts or likes you. Monitors have a very free and independent spirit, and if at all possible that should be kept intact.

Ok, on to the goal - Handle-able is the word, not tame.
For me, I only do it one way. It's the hardest, most time consuming way, but in my opinion, it's the best and kindest way. Please understand I am only sharing the experience that had worked for me, I do not claim to be an expert in this regard. I have not had many monitors, 8 to be exact in my combined 13 years of experience. 7 have of these gotten to the point they are fairly comfortable around people. The one and only sav I had would have none of me. It would even attack anyone nearby unprovoked. It was obviously mentally imbalanced, having a tantrum most of the time. Very sad I could never prove to the creature I wasn't his enemy.


Handling 5 step program - appeal to his senses in this order
Smell & Taste

Very first thing
You should wait at least a few weeks after it's arrival, but a month or more is best. Give the monitor a chance to get comfortable in its new home. Remember, its move to your home was extremely stressful, and its health is somewhat compromised even though YOU may see no outward signs. You want him eating well and at his best when you introduce yourself formally. During the acclimation period, start a care schedule. Your monitor will be calmer if he knows when to expect you. Their internal clocks keep very good time. The closer you can get to doing his maintenance at the same time every day the better. Make sure you talk to him in a calm normal voice when you are working in his cage. It is also helpful for him to see you clean and put food and water in. If he is so shy he hides from you, that's ok. Keep talking, he's listening. Don't spend too much time hanging around the cage at this time, he needs rest and privacy. Hopefully in the next 6 weeks he will begin to poke his head out to see what's going on when he hears your voice.

When he is fully recovered and comfortable in his cage, you can begin the next step toward trying to befriend him. If he has no interest in you and continues to stay hidden, you will have to dedicate some time to hanging around his enclosure to see of you can pique his interest. The idea is to let him see you doing things he likes to do. Not time for touching yet! You have to be willing to do ONLY the things he wants to do to gain maximum trust. You can sit next to the enclosure and read a novel, meditate, study, (which looks much like basking) so he can watch and study you. In the beginning, ignore him if he shows interest in you. Don't look! Don't make yourself look like a predator. He will be much more relaxed if you act like you don't care. Please make sure you have good tight hides in cool med and high temp ranges so he can still be comfortable while he adjusts to your presence. This step can take a long time depending on the monitor.

Smell and taste
If he is out and about while you are in the room some of the time, or will flee when you enter but comes out when he feels the threat has past, it's time for smell and taste. Grabbing him or taking him from hide spots will hurt his ability to feel safe and make him dislike you. MOST monitors will let curiosity get the best of them if you allow them a comfort zone that you don't enter. You know you are the owner, but he will never ever understand that he is the pet. Respect and return trust must be given to these animals, or they will never learn to trust you in my opinion. You can tempt him with tasty bits from a pair of tongs (don't use your bare hands! Accidents happen and they bleed a lot) Or a mist of water if he is a water lover.

I wear gloves in the beginning when I am ready to invite contact. (Still no touching yet!) Animals can be unpredictable. I don't know how much protection the gloves are really, but it makes ME feel more confident. Having confidence in front of the monitors is important. He will sense your fear and in turn also be afraid. Balling up your fist, thumb inside, and putting it in the opposite end of the enclosure is an invitation to the lizard to investigate. The object here is to get the monitor to come to you. So don't reach for it. By nature, monitors are curious and love to explore. The back of your closed fist is a hard target to bite, and also looks very harmless to the monitor. Gloved or not, don't rush this. If he freaks when you are as far away as you can be, he may not be ready for this step yet. If he does not approach you or run either, leave your hand for a while. Don't wiggle, don't call him, and don't get any closer. Be still and wait. When you get tired of waiting, try again the next day, and the next. You'll know when he feels you are invading his personal space if he coils his tail and inflates his throat or goes in to hide. It may take you a long time to be able to get any closer. If you can keep your fist in some part of the enclosure without him reacting negatively, do it. As days pass, inch your way closer if your presence does not upset him, but never get close enough to touch him, the last foot of your meeting in the middle should come from HIM. Repetition eventually will work on most, and after seeing you are the bringer of good things, and he feels you haven't violated him, he should start to come around. You are trying in this step to get him to flick his tongue on the back of your hand and nothing more. Again, it would be a benefit to have a schedule or ritual that the monitor can get used to, and come to expect. Hopefully, you won't have to deal with hostility at all, that's my favorite part about this method. I truly believe that most monitors are very even tempered, but all have the capability to be nasty and hostile if they don't understand you aren't going to hurt them. Once you have him tasting your hand, this too can become part of his daily ritual. You can't move on until he is reasonably comfortable with flicking his tongue on the back of your hand. It will not reward him for his trust if you immediately try and pick him up. At this point of the program, I am usually alternating between gloves and bare skin, getting him used the taste/smell of both. I also never use the pair of gloves I designate to an individual lizard for anything other than dealing with that lizard. His smell will also get on the gloves and give him a sense of familiarity. Never forget he is going to identify you by the way you smell/taste. Don't wear any lotion, perfume, or smell like cigarettes or any other strong unnatural odor.

Touch - Yay! Finally!
When a lizard looses its fear of you, it will eventually realize that your arm makes a great ladder to another world just waiting to be explored! Lizard-proof the area as best you can, as they can fit in some amazingly tiny spaces if they get spooked and run. You don't want to have to chase him down and ruin your trust and progress. If you have to retrieve him, gather him up in a thick towel or blanket so he can't feel your hands on his body. The towel will also give him the security of a good grip with all 4 clawed feet which is important. He will not associate the restraint with you as much if he can't feel your hands gripping him. Take him directly to the enclosure or wherever he needs to be, he will appreciate you keeping the restraint as short as possible!

As he gradually begins to accept your presence in his life, he will probably be more than happy to climb all over you, but don't expect him to sit still. It is much better to guide than restrain, wear more clothes if you find you are getting scratched up too much. Always offer your hand to sniff when you first approach, it's important that he flicks his tongue to acknowledge he sees you, is in a good mood, and is not offended by your presence. Don't expect more than he is willing to give you. Warming the gloves in the sun or dryer will encourage HIM to touch YOU. With some of my monitors I use gloves most of the time because they have SHARP claws! The grappling hooks on the ends of their legs are their security from falling; you have to allow them to use those claws for what they are intended. They don't mean to claw you, but realize this is inevitable. These claws don't retract. The monitor will not want to be near you if every time he approaches you, you try and touch him. If you don't want him to shy away, let him come to whenever possible. Allow him to explore, that's one thing monitors love to do. Even after he becomes docile (for a lizard), don't interact with him if he seems upset, especially if he refuses to flick his tongue on your hand.
Some monitors do not like people at all and never will, you must also be prepared for that possibility.
Is that enough?
My absolute favorite pic of Scooter, enjoy!


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>> Next Message:  RE: HANDLING (not taming!) and other stuff - ginebig, Sat Jul 1 23:43:17 2006
>> Next Message:  RE: That was great Holly - FR, Sun Jul 2 01:50:15 2006
>> Next Message:  RE: Thanks Holly, thanks FR - VaranusAqua, Sun Jul 2 16:59:31 2006
>> Next Message:  RE: HANDLING (not taming!) and other stuff - phantompoo, Sun Jul 2 17:55:15 2006
>> Next Message:  RE: Thanks Everybody! - -Holly-, Mon Jul 3 00:12:51 2006