In the realm of reptile enthusiasts, there is a subset of hobbyists who specifically want a pet reptile that shares the traits we all find so endearing about dogs.
Namely, what reptiles can be trained to come when called?
What reptiles will play with their owners?
Which reptile species have friendly and outgoing personalities similar to domestic dogs?
Tegus are the most dog-like reptiles. When socialized from a young age, Argentine black and white tegus can be friendly, outgoing pets. They can be trained to come when called, can be housebroken, and will play with toys. Several skink species and bearded dragons are also lizards that share many characteristics with domestic dogs.
Let’s take a look at 9 reptiles in the pet trade that share some of our favorite traits with dogs.
What Lizards Are Like Dogs?
It’s time to explore our list of friendly dog-like lizards!
1. Bearded Dragon
Bearded dragons are small desert lizards that grow to approximately two feet in length. They are diurnal and consume a mixed diet of vegetables, fruits, and insects, making their overall cost of care manageable compared to larger carnivorous species.
Their easygoing nature makes bearded dragons a great pet for first-time reptile owners. They tend to sit still when being handled and are not jumpy like arboreal lizard species. With supervision, bearded dragons are tolerant of being handled by children, too.
Contrary to their appearance, their spikes are not sharp. Bearded dragons are generally friendly some are can be quite affectionate, and nonaggressive, and will come to their owners for treats or attention.
When they are familiar with a person, they will accept and enjoy being petted. Not only that, but bearded dragons who are comfortable enough with their owners will fall asleep on their lap or on a shoulder.
2. Argentine Black & White Tegu
When it comes to dog-like reptilian companions, the Argentine Black and White Tegu is a tough contestant to beat. It meets more of the criteria than any other reptile on this list, but also comes with the drawbacks of being a very large lizard with an appetite to match.
When properly handled and socialized from a young age, young black and white tegus can grow into friendly, social adults that are large enough for their owners to pet without fear of over-handling.
Tegu owners have reported that their tegus can be housebroken and eagerly play with toy balls. Some have succeeded in training their tegus to come when called. Overall, the intelligence of black and white tegus is a large part of why they are so often compared to canines.
Argentine black and white tegus can get along well with dogs but should be kept away from smaller pets like gerbils, birds, etc. that they would consider prey. They are much more prone to bite than some of the other species on this list, if only because of their eagerness for food and overall excitability.
Tegus are a hardy species that are not as prone to nutritional deficit problems as some more sensitive lizard species suffer from. On the other hand, their appetite means that tegu owners can expect to spend much more on keeping these lizards fed than a smaller, completely herbivorous lizard.
3. Blue-tongued Skink
Blue-tongued skinks are one of the more recognizable names on this list. Their cylindrical body, comparatively short arms, and legs, broad head, and signature bright blue tongue set them apart as an interesting, if not downright comical, pet. Their curious nature and outgoing personalities endear reptile owners to these large skinks.
When socialized well from a young age, these skinks are not likely to nip and are accepting of being handled. Being as curious as they are, they may get wriggly if held in one place.
But part of their charm is watching these sausage-shaped lizards interact with food and their environment. All in all, one of the top contenders for the most dog-like reptile!
4. Monkey-Tailed Skink
Also known as the Solomon Islands skink or the prehensile-tailed skink, this arboreal lizard is the world’s largest skink. As its name suggests, the monkey-tailed skink has a prehensile tail that assists it in its tree-dwelling lifestyle.
If socialized, monkey-tailed skinks can grow to tolerate being handled well. However, similar to other arboreal species, they do not like feeling restrained and prefer to be allowed to climb. They have an exploratory nature, although they are more slow-moving than some smaller tree-dwelling skinks.
These skinks are hardier than smaller skinks and are hailed by many reptile owners as fantastic pets. Let’s not count smaller skinks out of the running, though. In fact, there are several smaller skinks that are also dog-like in their own way, like number five on our list.
5. Schneider’s Skink
Also known as the Berber skink or golden skink, these vibrant golden lizards enjoy climbing, including climbing on their owners! By virtue of their arboreal lifestyle, these skinks are prolific jumpers.
Their docile natures make them a great reptile for those seeking an easygoing lizard. Similar to many others on this list, these skinks appear to appreciate human interaction.
Although they do not come when called like some larger lizards, they and emerald tree skinks (next on our list) will still seek out interaction with their owners.
At this point, you may be seeing a trend here with many of the lizards that share traits with dogs falling under the ‘skink’ category. This is largely because so many skink species are social and curious animals, which sets them apart from the solitary or asocial lifestyles of many other reptiles.
So, continuing with our skink trend, number six on our list is another wonderful skink species.
6. Emerald Tree Skink
These thick-bodied, arboreal skinks are nowhere near as skittish as other lizards their size. Their personable demeanor and curious nature captivates reptile owners looking for a lizard that will not take up as much space as a tegu or larger skink.
As their name suggests, both the males and females of this species are typically a vibrant emerald green, with patches of black scales becoming more apparent towards their tails.
Reaching an average of 8-10 inches in length, owners have to be cautious not to grab or handle them too roughly. These skinks are capable of dropping their tail when stressed.
They can live over 10 years in captivity, although these skinks are often sold as wild-caught, which can make their lifespan much shorter.
Although captive bred emerald tree skinks are not as easy to come by as something like a captive bred blue-tongued skink, it is worth verifying that any reptiles you get are hatched in captivity and not taken from their natural habitat.
Their most ‘dog like’ feature is that emerald tree skinks will seek out contact with their humans. They are social animals and do best when housed in groups. Housing two or three females together can be a rewarding experience for a reptile keeper dedicated to giving them the enclosure space necessary for this active reptile. Make sure to provide them with plenty of vertical enclosure space to give them room to climb!
7. Rhino Iguanas & Rock Iguanas
Collectively called ‘Cycluras’ (after their specific genus of lizards in the Iguanidae family), these hefty, herbivorous iguanas are a delight to keep. While their size makes housing them a challenge compared to smaller lizards, they are hardy enough to be housed in an outdoor enclosure if the conditions are kept within range for them.
Rhino and rock iguanas have bulky bodies, making them fun to pet without the fear of accidentally being too rough. They not only tolerate but seem to enjoy being petted.
These species can and will come when called, especially if incentivized with a snack. As you can see in the video, the big lizard runs excitedly to its owner after being called over.
By their nature, these iguanas are not aggressive if properly socialized. Although it must be said that these lizards are considered endangered, so they’re not nearly as common to find at pet stores or expos compared to their green iguana counterparts, they are, however, by far the more personable option.
What Other Reptiles Are Like Dogs?
Lizards are the clear parallel when it comes to reptiles that share characteristics with dogs. However, here are some honorable mentions of both a snake and a tortoise who also share some commonality with man’s best friend.
8. Burmese Pythons
There is a reason that pythons and boas get playful nicknames like “scaly puppy” from snake owners. Their beady eyes and rounded facial features make them look almost puppy-ish compared to other snakes.
For an experienced reptile owner who has the time, space, and budget to dedicate to a large snake, Burmese pythons are the ideal choice.
They’re not inclined towards skittishness or defensive behaviors. Compared to other large boas and pythons, these snakes are not keen on biting as long as they are kept fed and unstressed.
The complication in owning these snakes is that Burmese pythons are huge. Owning a 15 foot long snake includes feeding and housing an animal considerably larger than most people are prepared to take on.
Choosing a Burmese python also comes with the inherent risk of owning an animal capable of causing you serious harm if it is not handled with proper caution. As a general rule, always use a two-person system (at minimum) whenever handling a large constrictor.
9. Red-footed Tortoises
For those looking for a tortoise with some dog-like qualities, red-footed tortoises are a spectacular choice. They average at a little over a foot (16 inches) long as adults, making them much more manageable than Sulcata tortoises.
As a herbivorous species, the cost of feeding these tortoises is low. They are fun to hand feed and will approach their owners to accept an offered treat. Some tortoise owners also claim that they do come when called (albeit, at a tortoise’s pace).
As an additional benefit, these handsome little tortoises are safe for your children or dogs to interact with under adult supervision (just make sure your children and other pets are gentle with your reptilian family member).
Just like other terrestrial tortoises, these scaled tanks are built for land, not water, so don’t try to take them swimming!
Why Reptiles Are Not Like Dogs
Although the reptile species discussed in this article share some personality traits with dogs, there are some important considerations to take into account before owning any of the above species. These considerations can be summed up in one fact: Reptiles are not dogs.
While we all know this to be true, it’s easy to forget just how different reptiles and domestic dogs are. Reptiles have diverse enclosure requirements, specific temperature and humidity needs, and unique diets that cannot be satisfied with a bag of dog food from the nearest grocery store.
Some tortoise lifespans can dwarf those of domestic dogs. Some snakes and large lizards are dangerous to have unsupervised around other pets or children. Depending on which state or country you live in, certain reptiles may not be legal to possess.
Despite how similar you might think your reptile is to a dog, reptiles have completely different body language, for example, while lizards may wag their tail to communicate their feelings it’s most likely not happiness.
Remember that with both reptiles and dogs, there is no such thing as doing too much research before getting a pet!
Although all of the reptiles listed above include some commonalities with domestic dogs, their lack of ‘tameness’ and reptilian aloofness sets them apart in a charming way.
It’s also important to remember that just because a reptile has some dog-like characteristics does not mean it is a beginner-level reptile.
On the flip side of this, just because reptiles like leopard geckos and ball pythons aren’t listed in this article doesn’t change the fact that both are excellent species for first-time reptile owners.
If canine qualities like an outgoing personality, playfulness, and trainability are high on your priority list for your next reptile, remember to always compare this list to lists that focus on the overall difficulty of caring for a species. That way, you and your new scaly best friend are both set up for success!