Can Leopard Geckos Learn Their Name?

leopard gecko coming when his name is called

Leopard Geckos are an extremely popular pet choice for reptile lovers.  They are easy to care for, have a good temperament, and are super cute.  For the most part, Leopard Geckos aren’t adopted for their intelligence and problem-solving skills.  You might be disappointed if you get a leopard gecko and expect it to learn tricks.  You might even be wondering;

Can leopard geckos learn their name?

It’s not a hard no, but it’s also not typical for a leopard gecko to know its name.  If you want your gecko to respond to their name, it will take a lot of intentional training,  Even though your Leo may not know their name, they can probably still recognize you as their owner!

Don’t be discouraged though!  If you want to teach your leopard gecko its name, it could be possible.  Let’s talk a little more about leopard geckos, and how their brains work!

Are Leopard Geckos Smart?

The first factor that comes into play in whether an animal can recognize a name is intelligence.

Intelligence in an animal is defined by Nature.com as an animal’s ability to learn and adapt to new and unexpected situations.  On the opposite side of intelligence is instinct, which are the behaviors that an animal is born understanding, and will do no matter what the situation is.

To better understand intelligence, and assess it in your gecko, let’s create a scenario!  Let’s say your leopard gecko is having trouble climbing up a particular side of one of the rocks in its enclosure.  You have seen them climb up the opposite side plenty of times, but they don’t seem to remember the easy way up.  They keep trying and trying to climb up the same way and keep falling down.  Sadly, this would be a sign that your gecko is not intelligent.

Leopard geckos don’t generally have a great ability to learn new things and to problem solve.  While their instincts help them to survive, their small brain-to-mass ratio just doesn’t signify a smart animal.

So, what does this mean for teaching your leo its name?

It means that it won’t be easy, because these geckos, unlike some other, smarter reptiles, are slow to learn.

Do Leopard Geckos Remember Things At All?

Another factor that is important in training and learning a name is memory.

Leopard geckos do seem to have some potential to remember things.  This is a good sign for name recognition!

In this study, a male gecko was introduced to different female geckos throughout the week.  The male geckos happily courted each female until he was rejected and eventually ignored.  When the same female gecko was presented to him on another day, he didn’t waste any energy showing off.  However, when a brand new female was introduced, the flirting started all over again.

This suggests that at the very least, geckos can absolutely recognize and remember other geckos over a span of days.

It can be difficult to prove an animal’s memory.  We see videos of dogs greeting their owners who have returned from war with incredible enthusiasm.  But what about leopard geckos, can they remember their owners in this way?

Can Leopard Geckos Recognize Their Owners?

We established that geckos seem to be able to remember other geckos.  But, can they recognize humans, or anything else besides another member of their species?

Owners seem to think that they can.

There are multiple reports of leopard geckos getting excited to see their owners.  Students who go away to college and come back home for the winter say their scaly friend knows who they are.

Now, we could debate whether the gecko recognizes the person themselves, their smell, or, the food they might always be bringing with them.  But, the important piece of information for our name conversation is that the gecko can learn patterns and respond to them!

How To Teach Your Leopard Gecko Their Name

Leopard geckos do have the ability to learn some things, it just might take you longer to teach them than another pet.

If you’re still doubtful your pet will ever respond to you, check out this video of a gecko being coaxed out of its enclosure by the voice of its owner:

This gecko is obviously responding to their name and the tone of the owner’s voice!  So, where do you start?  How do you get your gecko to know their name and to be excited when you speak with them?

1. Establish A Reward System

One of the best ways to motivate anyone to do anything is to reward them for it!  Not to say that children are exactly like leopard geckos but in schools, you will see children rewarded for good behavior with candy or gold stars.

Your job is to figure out what your gecko’s favorite treat is.

Once you know what your gecko’s favorite treat is, you can start to take advantage of that!

Instead of just placing food in the enclosure and letting your gecko “free feed,” try establishing a system with them.  Give your gecko one bug at a time.  Every time you offer them a bug, make a recognizable sound. This could be a sharp word like “good” or a tap on the top of a table.

The goal here is to get your gecko to start associating you and that special sound with a treat!  This is actually a technique called positive reinforcement, which you can read more about in our article here.

This can be slow going with a gecko who might not eat more than a few pieces of whole food in a day.  But, the results will be worth it and through this process, you and your gecko will start to form a strong bond together!

2. Pick An Easy Name For Your Gecko.

If you’ve named your gecko something long like “Sir Scalington The First” you might need to shorten that for training purposes!

Animals don’t speak our language, so shorter, more direct names are going to be more easily recognized than long ones.  It can be especially difficult for a gecko who relies more on scent to understand a long human word.

Pick a name that is one of two syllables and then most.  Then, pick a tone to say their name in.  The goal of this step is to make sure you can say their name the same 1000 times.  This makes learning a name easier for a gecko!

If you do already have a long name picked out, you can just shorten it and call them by their nickname while you are training them.  Even if you still introduce your gecko as “Sir Scalingto The First” to friends and family, just use a shortened version for training.

3. Start Teaching Your Gecko Their Name

Now that you have spent some time establishing a reward system, and you’ve chosen a name, it’s time to start training!

When you first start teaching your gecko their name it can be tricky business.  What your end goal is here is to have your gecko look at you as soon as you say their name.

At first, you can start out by approaching your gecko and trying to get their attention with that name.  As soon as your gecko looks your way, give them the reward.  Remember the reward is a recognizable sound and a treat.  This training technique is called “scan and capture” and you are basically waiting until your gecko looks at you and reinforces that moment.

Only say your gecko’s name once or twice and wait.  Hopefully, after the first treat they are a little more attentive.

As we’ve mentioned throughout the article, this will be a long process, but it is totally possible!  As an ex-animal trainer, I have worked with the behavior of everything from sea lions to pigeons, and even had a fish trained at one point.  while the fish didn’t know its name, it could follow basic directional commands and even “jumped a hoop” in its tank.

4. Stay Consistent

The most important step in a training program is to stay consistent!

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you totally can with the right mindset and dedication!

While some animals like puppies might pick up multiple tricks in a day, your leopard geckos’ training will take time.  If you are determined on teaching your gecko their name, keep doing the same routine every time.

Your gecko will start to learn that they should look at you when you say their name and that they can expect a treat soon after that.  Once you feel like your gecko has learned their name, you don’t have to reward them for a good response every time.  But, be warned, if you start to use your gecko’s name casually, they might stop paying as close of attention!

Final Thoughts

Leopard geckos aren’t the smartest reptiles to exist.  However, like many living beings, they do have the ability to adapt and learn to some new situations.  Some geckos are smarter than others so take a while to think about if your gecko is a good candidate for name training.  If they are, follow the steps above, and hopefully, you too will soon have a happy gecko that is responsive to their name!