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Guest contributor: Cathy Habas
Of all the possible pets on the market, a goldfish is perhaps the most hands-off. Enjoying a goldfish stems primarily from being able to watch it swim leisurely in its tank. There isn’t much more you can do with a Fish. Or is there?
In fact, goldfish are capable of being trained to perform amazing feats. All you need are a few tools and some know-how; creativity takes over from there.
Tools You Need to Train Your Goldfish
Goldfish are trained using positive reinforcement, and Food is the motivating reward. Therefore, you’ll need food that can be easily dispensed in small quantities (so that you can give frequent rewards without satiating your fish) and a special wand for delivering food right in front of the fish, which helps him understand that the food is associated with an action that he just performed.
You can also buy or make props for training your goldfish, such as hoops for him to swim through, a soccer ball (or basketball) and net, a tunnel, etc. You can also make your own props for truly unique tricks.
Once your fish is well-trained, you can even set up a whole obstacle course for your fish to go through.
Essential Training Principles
First, you need to help your fish get used to taking food from the delivery wand. He needs to be comfortable with the wand so that he doesn’t swim away when he sees it coming toward him. Feed him exclusively with the wand until he is very happy to be near it. Never chase the fish with the wand.
You can use the food delivery wand as a lure to help your fish learn where to go and what to do. He will naturally be drawn to the wand since it’s where his food comes from. Use this to your advantage to help your fish swim through, say, a hoop.
Then, you can start to associate the food with a “marker,” or a signal that the food is about to arrive. This will help you use a training technique called “capturing” to tell your fish that the action he just did is the reason he is getting food. Otherwise, your fish might not understand the connection between the action and the food.
If this sounds strange, take heart. It’s how animals as exotic as elephants and alligators in zoos are trained to calmly receive medical attention, or how dolphins and seals are trained to do tricks. This fundamental training technique will work with your fish. The first trick is typically the one that is the most difficult to teach; don’t give up.
To help your fish make the association with the marker and the food, just repeat them one after another. A common marker with fish is the sound of a finger tapping twice on the glass. So, you would tap twice, give food. Wait until the fish has finished eating, and then tap twice and give food. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Now you can get very creative and start to teach your fish more complex tricks. For example, if you want to teach your fish to pick something up with his mouth, wait until he moves toward the object, and then tap twice and give the food reward. Soon, your fish will understand that moving toward the object will make the food come faster. When he goes toward the object with great frequency, you can wait to give your marker signal until the fish actually touches the object. Slowly build up toward the action you want. Breaking it down into small steps will ensure success.
Ideas for Different Goldfish Tricks
You’re only limited by your imagination when it comes to trick training. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Moving toward a target
- Swimming over or under objects
- Swimming through hoops and progressively longer tunnels
- Pushing an object
- Carrying an object
- Depositing an object into a basket
- Pulling a rope / ringing a bell
There’s no reason why you can’t also try to teach tricks to other types of fish, like betta fish or koi fish. You may be surprised to discover just how smart fish really are!
About the Author
Cathy Habas is a professional freelance writer, editor and Spanish-English translator. She enjoys writing about a variety of topics, but animals are her passion. You can contact Cathy via her website, www.cathyhabas.com