TRAIN YOUR FISH TO DO TRICKS!
by Tim Norton.
Table of Contents
The “xxx” theory of learning behavior
Learning by Association
How to apply this theory to training your fish
Who’s in charge here?
The simple answer is, no one. All creatures exhibit natural behaviors, practically
performing on their own. Fish are very intelligent, big eaters, and are good at repeating
behaviors that are rewarded with food.
I like to work with only one fish in the tank, as other fish will distract the trainee and try to steal
the show. Each fish has it’s own personality. Some fish will let you touch them, and some swim
away at the slightest movement. Some fish wait for food to fall to them, and some seem to like
the taste of fingers as well as fish food. Don’t be too disappointed if your fish is not a natural
performer. Not every fish is meant to be a star.
The first step is to establish the fish’s trust. Trust is established through repeated hand
feeding. Fish will quickly learn to associate your hand with food and thus pleasure. They may
run away at first, especially if brought in from the wild, but eventually, they will learn to stay near
your hand, and sometimes eat right out of your hand! Take time when feeding. Use a food that
your fish finds irresistible! Some fish will eat just about anything, but most have a particular
fondness for live brine shrimp. Even a shrimp will eat brine shrimp! Other foods to consider
are worms and grubs, not to mention a wide variety of fish foods, all available at better pet
stores. The way to a fish’s heart is definitely through his/her stomach! Be sure to feed your
fish as usual, but not right before your training sessions.
When you and your fish have an understanding, the fish understanding that you have goodies,
and you understanding that the fish will work for goodies, it’s time to continue the training!
As mentioned, fish have natural movements that can be used to develop more and more
complex movements. Start by making a list of these behaviors and how these movements apply
to the tricks your fish will learn. For instance, every time your fish turns to the right (or left),
toss in one treat. You will soon notice that the fish will “pick-up” on the idea, and start turning to
one side, especially at feeding time. From here onward, by allowing the fish a little more time,
the fish will usually turn two three or more times, in anticipation of getting another snack, even
before you can get the fish food open! Later on, we will discuss the transfer of reward from
food to a signal.
The rest of the book is dedicated to a few stunts for your entertainment. Basic stunts are easy
for most fish to master. Advanced tricks can be performed by some fish, but the Serious stunts
are just that. Seriously. These are maneuvers that no sane fish and trainer should perform
without proper training and safety guidelines. No fish have been harmed while training for this
For our first trick, we will train our fish to come toward us. Toss in a treat when the fish swims
toward you, but not when he/she is going away. Continue to reward this preferred behavior
until the fish knows to swim to you for a reward.
For our next trick, we will teach our fish to “sit” as it were. Toss in a treat when the fish swims
toward you. Feed the fish several pellets, one at a time, as long as the fish stays in one
position. Continue to reward this behavior until the fish knows to swim to you and wait for a
treat, rather than zipping around the tank. Wait a little longer between pellets and see what
Let’s see if fishy will spin in a circle for you. By now, fishy has learned to come and wait for a
snack. When he gets tired of waiting, he’ll swim away for a moment. When he turns to one
side, toss in a treat. Now wait. Fishy should come back and wait, then soon begin to turn and
leave again. After a few times, fishy will start to turn around right away, rather than waiting.
Keep tossing treats every time he turns. Soon fishy will be spinning around and around, often
when you go past the tank, tempting you to give him more tasty treats!
Same as feeding. You toss it, they eat it. Still working on getting one to bring the food back to
me. No luck yet.
This is similar to the Spin, only this time, we change two things. First, fishy comes and spins but
gets no treat. Now what? Wait for the trainee to get bored with spinning, while getting no
results. When he swims away, toss in a treat. He’ll come back, spin around a few times and
leave again. Repeat this until fishy will race to the end of the tank and back to get a treat.
Soon he will do several laps for a snack!
The Dreaded Ring of fire!
Okay, so it’s just a plastic hoop made from a bubble wand, but the effect is the same. Fishy will
overcome his natural fear of being trapped in the hoop, in order to gain the love and trust of his
trainer. Yeah right! Fishy may not do his fancy tricks for your personal enjoyment, but he may
do it for his appetite. Place a hoop INTO the water with the handle attached to the tank lip. You
can use a bubble wand or or a plastic coated clothes hanger, but no metal should touch the
water, as some metals can poison your tank. As an advanced trainer you probably know by
now where we are going to begin. Give fishy plenty of time to get used to the hoop. At first he
will be shy around the hoop, but soon, it will be just another place to hang out. If fishy goes
through the hoop, on his own, then a reward is called for. If not, coax fishy near the hoop with
goodies, then offer them on the opposite side of the hoop. He may try to swim around it at first,
but with patience, he should get the idea.
For Serious Stunt Fish Only
Notice that these last two entries are called Stunts instead of Tricks. That is because these
maneuvers go against the natural behavior and comfort zone of most fish. Throughout the
entire world, very few fish trainers have even seen these stunts, let alone achieved this level of
success with their students. There is an element of danger to be considered before attempting
such exercises of extreme athletic prowess! These stunts can be dangerous if safety
guidelines are not followed! If you care about your fishy, Do Not try these stunts unless your
fishy has performed ALL of the training sessions shown above!
Loop the Loop 10
The hoop of death!
Going in circles is fine for an advanced performer but, for the stars, the show much go on to
greater heights! The hoop of death, ladies and gentlemen, is the most death defying, thrill
packed, and purely unbelievable stunt ever performed by a fish in my fish tank!
Steps to Remember. 12