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How To Tame A Turtle

If you’re wondering how to tame a turtle, we are here to give you answers. Turtles are not among the most sociable of pets.

In fact, they are quite shy and avoid human contact. Unlike dogs and cats who generally warm up to their human housemates easily, even a tame turtle generally will not warm up to humans.

A turtle will avoid humans including pet turtles. In this article, we will go through how to tame a turtle. The easiest way to tame a turtle is through feeding and spending time with the turtle.

The process is usually a long one but with time, the turtle will warm up to you. Regardless, some turtles may never warm up to their human owners.

Table of Contents

Steps to Taming Your Turtle
Things to Consider When Taming Your Turtle
Instill Security Within Your Turtles Enclosure
Limit Interactions

Steps to Tame Your Turtle

Hand-feed your turtle

Turtle being hand-fed greens
Turtle being hand-fed greens.

The most important aspect of taming a turtle comes with how you feed the turtle. When the turtle comes to associate you with food, it becomes more receptive to you. Feeding helps to develop a relationship and a routine with the chelonian.

It is important to feed the turtle at the same time each day. In the beginning, do not expect the turtle to accept food from your hand since it would still be terrified of you at this point.

However, you can place the food in the enclosure and watch the chelonian eat. This will ensure that the chelonian know that your presence is not a threat. With time, the turtle will be comfortable eating around you.

You can then begin to hand-feed the turtle. Hold the food about 5 inches from the turtle and wait for the chelonian to come to the food. This is a slow process and will most likely take months.

You can also use live food such as cricket to engage the turtle if it is shy.

Pet your turtle

Kids stroking turtle
Kids stroking turtle.

Learning how to pet your turtle can be a necessary process in taming your turtle. Petting your turtle is a way to form a bond between you and your turtle and to get it to be comfortable around you.

However, before we get started, it is essential to keep in mind that some turtle species are quite reclusive and would not be welcoming to you petting them.

Even among chelonians that tolerate petting, some individuals may not tolerate any physical contact. Individual turtles will have individual personalities.

While very cute, turtles do not usually enjoy being handled like most other animals kept as pets. As such, petting them is not straightforward. Follow these steps as you try to pet your turtle:

Approach your pet turtle from the front

Child standing in front of a turtle giving it a snack
Child standing in front of a turtle giving it a snack.

When you approach the turtle, it should be from a position that allows the turtle to see you. Approaching from the back or even the side can frighten the turtle which in turn can bite or injure you or itself.

The turtle should be able to see your approach. That way, it is aware of your presence.

The chelonian should be on a flat surface

Turtle being fed a leaf on a flat surface
Turtle being fed a leaf on a flat surface.

Place the turtle on a flat low surface before you pet it. You don’t want the turtle to fall off a table and injure itself.

Also, it is best to place the turtle on the ground or tiles instead of the carpet. Turtles are most comfortable on a flat surface.

Start by petting the head

Child petting turtle
Child petting turtle.

Place your finger on the top of the chelonian’s head. You should avoid the nose and the eyes.

You can then move on the pet the cheeks and chin. Gently rub the turtle along the cheeks and the chin with a finger.

After the turtle is comfortable with your touching the head, you can massage the neck. It may take a while for the turtle to trust you enough to do that.

You should watch for signs that the turtle is uncomfortable with you petting the head. Signs that the turtle is uncomfortable include it throwing its head up with a gaping mouth.

If the turtle does this repeatedly, then you should stop touching the head. The turtle may also tuck its head into its shell. This is a clear sign that the turtle doesn’t enjoy being touched.

Pet the shell

Kids petting a turtle together on its shell
Kids petting a turtle together on its shell.

The shell of the turtle is part of the turtle. It is not just a protective shell. The turtle can feel through their shell. As such when you touch the turtle’s shell it can feel it.

Try stoking the chelonian in a slow circular motion or along the shell. You can also use a soft-bristled brush to gently rub the shell.

Place the turtle on your lap

Someone holding their pet turtle close
Someone holding their pet turtle close.

A great way to bond with the turtle is by placing the turtle on your lap.

Since turtles can urinate, place a towel or cloth on your lap before placing the turtle there. Pay attention to the movements of the turtle so it doesn’t accidentally fall.

Be patient

Lady with pet turtle
Lady with pet turtle.

Turtles that have been handled since birth are more receptive to petting. Older turtles are less receptive. Also, some turtles are more receptive than others.

Regardless, turtles aren’t generally easy to tame. It will take time for the turtle to get used to petting it so you have to be patient. 

You should also limit the amount of time you spend petting and touching it. If the turtle isn’t comfortable around you, prolonged handling can stress it out.

Turtles also become accustomed to humans through feeding. You can reward the turtle with food treats when you pet it. Make sure not to overfeed the turtle.

Things to keep in mind as you attempt to tame the turtle

Turtles aren’t your average pet. They are less friendly and a lot more difficult to tame.

While you can tame a turtle, you cannot domesticate one. You cannot expect to interact with your turtle, the same way you interact with your dog or even your cat.

Here are some things to consider as you try to tame a turtle:

Turtles carry salmonella

Tiny turtle in someone’s hand
Tiny turtle in someone’s hand.

Typically turtles are thought of as harmless animals but that is not always the truth. Turtles carry salmonella.

This bacteria can be found on the turtle’s skin and shell. While not harmful to the turtle, salmonella is harmful to some humans.

Ingesting salmonella can lead to a salmonella infection. While salmonella infection can be innocuous and often present itself as a stomach bug or flu in most infected people, it can lead to serious complications and even death among the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems and stomach or bowel disorders.

A simple way to avoid salmonella infection is to wash your hands with soap thoroughly after petting your turtle. Even turtles within a clean enclosure can carry the salmonella bacteria.

Symptoms of salmonella infections include vomiting, abdominal cramps, nausea, blood in stool, headache, chills, fever, and diarrhea.

Some turtles can cause serious bodily harm

A snappy-looking young turtle
A snappy-looking young turtle.

While most turtle bites don’t cause any harm, some turtles have painful and dangerous bites. An example of turtles with nasty bites is the common snapping turtle and the alligator snapping turtle.

The common snapping turtle can cause lacerations and deep cuts to your fingers or hand if you try to pet it. The alligator turtle, on the other hand, can even amputate your finger.

Its bite will also cause lacerations and serious injuries. Softshells also have painful bites.

Bites that are capable of causing lacerations. Turtles such as map turtles, sliders, and cooters do not have such painful and dangerous bites.

Know your turtle, before you try to pet or tame it.

Handle the turtle carefully

Small light-colored turtle being held
Small light-colored turtle being held.

Rough or incorrect handling can easily harm the turtle. For instance, lifting the turtle by the tail or limb can cause serious injuries to the turtle. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you lift the turtle.

  • Do not touch the turtle’s legs/limbs. Don’t touch it and certainly do not attempt to lift the turtle by its limbs.
  • It is not advisable to pick up the turtle. Only pick it up when necessary. With small turtles place the turtle in your palm when lifting it since turtles are on the ground at all times when in the wild, they will feel less stressed when in your palm.
  • Lift turtles from the back. Lifting the turtle from the front allows it to bite you. As such, it is best to always lift a turtle from the back. You can easily suffer serious injuries if you lift a turtle such as a snapper from the front. Even with smaller turtles such as the spiny softshell turtle, it is still best to lift from the back.
  • Although turtles have tough shells, they can still be injured. Softshell turtles are susceptible to scratches, bruises, and cuts. Even hardshell turtles can sustain injuries to their shells. It is essential to handle the turtle with care.

Taming your turtle can take months or even years

Someone holding turtle up
Someone holding turtle up.

Unlike dogs and cats which are naturally more accepting of humans, turtles generally aren’t. Most of the time, taming the turtle takes years especially if the turtle is not captive-bred and was taken from the wild, but by people who breed turtles.

Captive-bred turtles are easier to tame as they are used to human presence from birth (since they hatched). Regardless, expect it to take a long time before the turtle recognizes you and starts to feel comfortable around you.

Be mindful of the temperature

Turtle avoiding the heat
Turtle avoiding the heat.

As cold-blooded animals, temperature plays a huge part in how receptive the turtle will be toward you when you attempt to pet it. When the temperature is low, the turtle is more likely to avoid you and stay away from any external stimuli.

Turtles are much more receptive when they are warm. This includes when they are basking under the sun or heat lamp. The best time to pet your turtle is when the temperature is warm.

Know when to leave the turtle alone

Turtle munching on a large bowl of veggies
Turtle munching on a large bowl of veggies.

Turtles aren’t social animals. They generally prefer to be left alone. When taming your turtle, you should know when to back off.

Since turtles are not very communicative, it can be difficult to determine when they want to be left alone. Here are some signs that the turtle doesn’t want to be pet:

  • Snapping at you or attempting to bite you – If the turtle snaps at you and tries to bite you, it is a clear sign that it doesn’t want human contact.
  • Retrieving into its shell – if the turtle withdraws into its shell, then it wants to be left alone.
  • Hissing at you.
  • Being motionless with an open mouth.

Make the turtle feel secure within its enclosure

Turtle trying to escape the bars of its enclosure
Turtle trying to escape the bars of its enclosure.

To tame your turtle, ensure that its enclosure feels safe. Do this by providing hiding spots. You shouldn’t intrude on the hiding spots of the turtle. This is a place where the turtle can retreat when it feels scared.

A hiding spot ensures that the turtle isn’t overly stressed as it has a place to retreat to in case it feels threatened. Creating a safe zone is simple.

You can acquire a commercially sold hide such as Reptile Habitat Cave. You also use a clayey pot as a hide. Just upturn the pot and have an entrance to it.

Limit your interactions 

Turtle being held by red painted nails
Turtle being held by red painted nails.

Because turtles aren’t particularly sociable, you have to limit your interactions with them. For starters don’t interact with the turtle when it is resting.

If the turtle is hiding, do not bring it out or worry about it. You should only interact with the chelonian when it comes into the open to feed, bask and socialize.

Harassing the turtle will make it less receptive to your attempts to tame it.

Infographic about taming turtles

Infographic about taming a pet turtle
Infographic about taming a pet turtle

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you tame a turtle?

Yes, you can. Although you cannot domesticate a turtle you can make it more receptive to you and your interactions with it.

Are turtles difficult to tame?

Taming a turtle is usually not easy. Turtles are not social animals such as dogs.

As such, they typically prefer to be alone. However, with regular interaction, the turtle can get used to you. After a period of time, the turtle will approach you when you get closer to its enclosure.

Wild turtles are harder to tame as they are used to human interaction. If the turtle is raised from birth by a human, it will be easier to tame.

Can you keep a wild turtle as a pet?

It isn’t advisable to keep a wild turtle as a pet. For starters, the turtle isn’t used to living in an enclosure.

The location change will severely stress out the turtle. Wild turtles are not used to foods you will feed them.

The turtle will also not be comfortable with human interaction. Wild turtles generally find it difficult to adapt to life as a pet. Keeping wild turtles as a pet can also be illegal in your locale.


Turtles are difficult pets to tame. This is because they aren’t social creatures.

However with consistency and regular interaction you can tame a turtle. It is essential not to overdo it while you try to tame your pet turtle.

Limit your interaction to at most 20 minutes a day. The best way to tame a turtle is by hand-feeding it. You can also pet your turtle to tame it.

Not all turtles are tameable. This is especially true of wild turtles.

Captive-bred turtles are much easier to tame since they are used to human interaction and may interact with humans their entire lives.

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