Can a pet fish be trained to do tricks?

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Can a pet fish be trained to do tricks?

Yes, it can -- they're smarter than you'd think. They can be trained to swim through hoops, push a small ball into a net, and many other things. Just to be clear, when we say "fish" we're talking about true gill-breathing fish -- not air-breathing, water-living mammals like dolphins, seals, killer whales, etc.

Even a simple goldfish living in a small fish tank can be trained, although it's my impression that the larger the fish is, in general the easier it is to train it since it'll have a larger brain. The same basic techniques used to train dolphins and dogs and other animals also work with fish. The general idea is to use positive reinforcement -- to reward the animal when it does what you want it to do -- and proceed in small steps.

For example, say you want to train a dog to sit on a bathroom scale so you can weigh it once a week: To do that, you give it a command -- say "scale sit" -- and reward it with a treat if it moves even one step towards the scale. It'll wander around randomly at first, but it'll soon get the idea that taking a step in that direction gets it a treat. Then start rewarding it only when it moves two steps toward the scale. Then just when it touches the scale. After that you might reward it when you say "scale sit" only when it puts a paw on the scale. Then only when it puts two paws on it. And so on. All training is done with positive reinforcement, never punishment.

Pretty soon, the dog will sit on the scale when given the command "scale sit."

The same methods work with fish. I know of a person who's trained his pet fish to swim through hoops, push a tiny soccer ball into a net, etc. on command. His fish even holds the Guinness World Record as the fish that knows the most tricks. If you're curious, his website is Here.

Once you've learned how to train a fish to do tricks on command, then you also know how to train almost any other animal to do tricks. The techniques used are basically the same for all animals -- circus animals, your dog -- and fish.

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