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Monitor aggression and trust building.
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Thread: Monitor aggression and trust building.

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2011

    Monitor aggression and trust building.

    2 days ago I attended the local reptile expo. I purchase a wide variety of things from this event however this time only a single animal was purchased from the expo.

    I have a weak spot for monitors, especially the larger ones- which are almost always extremely defensive, sometimes aggressive. I found a V. ornatus offered at one of the local store's booths. When asked about temperament I was told basically that he does not tolerate handling etc, they offered to remove him from the box by grabbing him from behind and lifting him out this way- I of course declined.

    After thinking about it, I purchased this monitor- which was good due to the fact that within the first half hour of the show- it seemed like every monitor there had sold.. Most of the keepers looked relatively new to monitors and of course decided to start with niles or water monitors- setting up for failure.. I stopped and offered one of the guys with a water monitor he had just bought some advice and wished him luck and headed on my way home.

    I put the V. ornatus in a holding tank while I went to dinner and watched a movie, to calm him down a little bit. All day he was extremely defensive, whipping the cage with a vengeance. You would start to walk down the hall- out of sight of the animal and he would still whip and hiss and charge around like a lunatic crack addict.

    I managed to get him out of the house and into my shed where I left him alone the night. I began work with the animal yesterday and spent roughly 3 hours in total with him. I spent another half hour with him this morning.

    I took this picture maybe 15 minutes ago.

    I've worked with monitors over an extensive period of time, and spent hours and hours sitting watching monitor body language. I've spent a ton of time even sitting watching youtube videos on aggressive monitors and defensive monitors, all of this nature, giving me a firm grasp on body language, posturing, and reactions to certain stimuli.

    I decided to post this thread after I read another one about an ackie monitor. Both rob's that bit him- and gungirl who is looking at getting one. As much as I'm proud of rob for purchasing an ackie over another monitor- a bite could have easily been avoided.

    For those of you looking at monitors- or who have one of your own, look at the picture and tell me what all you can see about the monitors attitude based on the pictures. I'm actually asking for replies here because I want to illustrate a point on just how complex these animals are. I will go over all of my techniques in the next post. So don't post after this one plz!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2011

    Re: Monitor aggression and trust building.

    How did I get this monitor to go from defensive and aggressive to being able to lift him out of his cage? Simple. Let me go over some basic rules of monitor handling and trust building.

    1. Never force handle the monitor- Never reach in and grab him and pick him up and force him to come hang out with you. This is extremely stressful for the animal, and will not only setback the trust building as the animal gets larger, but affect the animals health and well beeing.

    2. Never EVER grab a monitor behind the head and lift allowing the legs to dangle. It may be ok for wild monitors, but most certainly not for a captive animal. Where would a predator grab a monitor, you got it, from behind lifting up.

    3. Never squeeze, pinch, or pull any part of the monitor at any time. There is no reason. If he's getting away from you, place your hand in front of him, but don't grab his tail. He is likely to turn around and give you a nice bite on the hand just like ben seigel got when handling one of his croc monitors.

    4. Never work with the animal for an extensive period of time- break it up over sessions throughout the day. I work with mine for maybe 30 minutes to an hour at a time, then leave them alone. They realize short term interaction is fine, and that you will leave them alone when done, and they aren't hurt or in danger. It also speeds up the process a great deal.

    5. Never feed from your hands, some monitors will confuse hands for food, and its really really based on the individual animal. Of all my monitors I have only one I trust with hand feeding. Even my tame educational show animals go nuts for food, and will take a hand off in feeding.

    Now the steps I went through to get the animal to behave like in the picture. These are techniques I use.

    1. I placed my hand in the cage, and left it there until he stopped whipping my arm. I ignored him and let him be a monitor, he eventually calmed down and ignored my hand in return. I slowly inched my hand closer and closer, when he'd get mad, I'd stop again until he was calm. I repeated this step a couple times and soon he didn't mind my hand or arm as much. I removed it and left him alone.

    What did this teach him? My hand and arm isn't going to hurt him, and sitting in his cage isn't such a big deal.

    2. I placed my hand in, somewhere he would have to walk over- between him and his water basin. He eventually would walk over me to get back into his water, or over me to get out of the water. Each time he rushed less and became less hesitant of me.

    What did this teach him? It reinforced the fact my hand is a moving part of his environment, one that will not hurt him nor affect him.

    3. I placed my hand on his tail (I did not grab, big difference), and held it down so to speak while when he would try to whip me. Monitors are defensive of tails for some reason. I would simply hold his tail, and move a finger or 2 gently rubbing him.

    What did this teach? My hand touching him isn't a threat to him, especially one of the parts of his body he's most defensive of.

    4. I touched other parts of his body, his back, legs, and being comfortable with the animal- his neck. I took it slow, no fast movements, just gently touching him then leaving him alone again.

    What did this teach him? Not a predator, that the big moving person wasn't going to injure him or scare him, he's gaining trust.

    5. I began gently lifting him from the water, or various parts of land after he crawled onto my hand or arm. I would get him up and use hand under hand to allow him to crawl about and explore. That is when the picture above was taken.

    What did this teach him- the big human won't hurt me, but he is also a bridge to an outside world.

    6. Which will happen later today for this animal- tong feed them. The monitor needs to not only know that you are safe, and a bridge, that you bring the food. This is the mos vulnerable time for a monitor outside of breeding. Get the monitor comfortable eating around you!

    All of these methods are relatively non invasive, and take time and practice. For beginners I recommend slowing down every step to several weeks as I did with my other monitors, until you have more experience under your belt. I'd be willing to guess no one can list off all the things being displayed in the above photo.

    I do not recommend any of these tips for HATCHLINGS, leave hatchlings alone until they are larger. Stress on hatchlings will kill them quickly, and it isn't worth the risk. Wait til the monitor is established and healthy first.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Erwynn's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Colorado Springs, CO

    Re: Monitor aggression and trust building.

    Good and informative article.

    The most important thing people can learn about varanids is their defensive nature and giving them the time they need to acclimate.
    *Fear is ignorance*
    *Do the best you can in life. Live with compassion and infinite love for others.*

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