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How Can I Play with My Fish: Simple Tricks and Training Steps

Interacting with your aquatic pets can certainly be entertaining for all parties and outright impressive for your friends. But playing with fish is not for every fishkeeper, nor for every fish.

Some species are more intelligent than others and respond better to training. Cichlids and betta fish (they are somewhat related) come to mind, but they are not the only ones that can be trained.

You can play with your fish by teaching them to follow your finger, jump through a loop, or even play water polo. The training process is similar to teaching a dog to execute commands. You need four things to teach your fish certain behaviors: time, patience, persistence, and treats.

Keep in mind that the tricks vary in complexity and have to be adequate for the fish you have. Some species will never jump out of the water, for example.

Below I have outlined the training steps for two easy tricks and then one slightly more complicated. Start with the simplest and see how the fish responds. If your fish reacts well to training and you are having fun, I’ll prepare another post with more complex tricks.

Here’s how to approach training.

How to Train Your Fish

Teaching fish to react to the movement of your finger is relatively simple, while jumping through a loop requires considerably more time and effort. Regardless of the trick, you must approach training with care and in short sessions.

But before interacting directly with them, ensure your fish have a stimulating environment to thrive in.

Most species like to explore, so try your best to make the tank interesting. Caves, tunnels, and plenty of vegetation will keep them entertained and secure. 

As long as they have an adequate environment and company, fish will be fine without external stimulation.

But if you have a playful fish or want to try your hand at animal training, here are the ground rules of training:

  1. Do it at the same time of day.
  2. Do it consistently.
  3. Follow the same routine for each trick. Don’t change movements or the order of stimulation and reward. 
  4. Provide treats for reward and reinforcement when the fish executes the thing you want. 
  5. Keep training sessions brief, 10 minutes or so for medium or large fish and half that for small species.

It’s important to clean your hands well before putting them into the water. Make sure no traces of soap or cosmetics remain on your skin.

Three Easy Tricks to Teach Your Fish

There are several simple ways to interact with your aquatic pets.

Certainly, the easiest thing to teach them is to take food off your hard. Most species that swim high in the water column will respond to this as fish, unless seriously overfed, will happily eat at all times.

Of course, some shy individuals won’t approach you or respond to any training.

Eat From Hand

  1. Choose solid food that you can hold comfortably. Larger pellets are a good option, while flakes are a terrible choice, as they melt in the water and stick to the skin.
  2. Do it close to feeding time, when fish are hungry and expect food.
  3. If they cluster together close to the feeding spot when you approach the tank, great! That means the fish already recognize you as the distributor of goods. If not, you can teach them to associate your hand with food by leaving your fingers in the water after you drop their dinner. Fish will quickly realize that is where the food is coming from and that your hand is harmless. At this point, coming to eat from your fingers would be just a step away.

Follow Movement

This trick has two variations, as you can train fish to follow your finger or a stick. The latter is a better option because putting your hand in the water column is best done sparingly.

There are sticks that can hold a piece of food, which is the basis for successfully completing this trick.

You can also use a metal straw, given that you have fish food of the right size to stick into it without jamming it. Put your finger on the other end of the straw to hold the food and remove it when it is time to release the treat.

Here are the exact training steps:

  1. Put the training stick in the water and release the food right away. After several repetitions, the fish will associate the stick with food. You’ll recognize the association when it approaches the stick the moment it sees it in the water, regardless of whether it actually has food.
  2. Here comes the part that requires some patience. Wait for the fish to touch the stick before you release the food. Strengthen the newly forming habit enough by making sure the fish touches the stick every single time.
  3. The final step is to make the fish touch the stick repeatedly before food is released. Let it touch it once, and move the stick a short distance. Once the fish touches it again, reward it. Repeat the process and gradually increase the distance between touches. You can also increase the number of touches necessary before fishy gets rewarded.

Pass through an Obstacle Course

This trick builds upon the previous one. Once the fish follows the stick well, you can build a small obstacle course.

Things like caves and hoops are excellent options, but you can get more creative. Observe your tank and see whether you can make the fish swim under driftwood or through the stalks of Amazon sword plants, for instance.

Here are the detailed steps to make fish pass through obstacles:

  1. Teach the fish to follow the movement of a stick or your finger, as outlined above.
  2. If you want to make it pass through a tunnel that is permanently in the water, place the stick on one end to put the fish in starting position. Then quickly move it to the other end.
  3. Alternatively, you can submerse a tunnel every training session. A curious fish will go to it by itself. Place the stick on the other end of the tunnel to make it swim through it.
  4. Move the stick along the obstacle course. Teach the fish to move through a single section at a time.
  5. When the fish passes the section you want, treat it.
  6. Once a section is mastered, move the stick to the end of the next section. Feed the fish once it conquers the new segment of the course.


These are the basic principles for training your fish to do simple tricks. If they respond well to such interaction, you could try harder tricks too.

The important parts remain the same: don’t overdo it, and be consistent. Pick the right fish for the task, as even among the same species, there are different temperaments.

Don’t forget to share videos to show us how you play with your fish and the amazing tricks they are doing.

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