How to… what?!
You read that right: how to train your betta fish! Betta fish are actually outstanding students and can be taught several tricks, like swimming through a hoop and following your finger on command.
The secret to training your betta fish is to reward already natural behaviors!
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about training your betta fish, what tricks they can learn, and how to reward them the best that you can.
Why should you train your betta fish?
Training and rewarding your betta for its actions can be very rewarding for both yourself and your fish.
Betta fish have powerful instincts that can be positively reinforced to have more control over when, where, and how they’re performed.
While you might think of your betta as just a fish, this species of fish is actually incredibly smart and personable. They are capable of making bonds with humans and easily recognize familiar faces.
In addition to betta fish tricks bringing joy to their owners, these performances also promote healthy activity and provide enrichment for the fish.
Betta fish are prone to constipation and obesity when not kept active, and many betta owners find themselves with an uninterested fish that likes to lay around.
Bringing some activity to the tank will help your betta fish get the exercise it needs to stay happy and healthy. This is true so long as you don’t over-reward during training time, which we’ll talk about later.
When should you start training?
Now that you’ve decided you want to train your fish, how do you know when they’re ready?
There’s no true way to tell when your fish is ready to be trained, and some bettas might not ever be interested in learning. However, if you have a particularly inquisitive or active fish, the time may present itself to you.
Creating a bond
The first step to training your betta fish is to create a bond. You should feel comfortable with your fish, and your fish should feel comfortable with you.
Because of this, it’s recommended to start training a few months after you’ve gotten your fish when it’s had time to adjust to tank conditions and the layout.
Creating a safe environment
Next, you will want a comfortable environment for both yourself and your fish to work in.
Your betta should feel comfortable freely moving around its fish tank. This means that there shouldn’t be large obstacles in the way, and the water flow shouldn’t be overly strong.
It will also greatly help to keep your fish in its own betta fish tank as a community tank setting could distract your fish and make training that much more difficult.
There shouldn’t be any loud noises or sudden bursts of light that could potentially stress out your fish or confuse it during these training times.
As for yourself, you should be able to interact with your fish comfortably. You should not have to lean onto the tank or stand on an object to reach the water surface.
This also means that you should thoroughly rinse your hands before putting them in the water to prevent contamination.
You want to make this as stress-free and enjoyable as possible!
Knowing your fish is ready to train
Now that you have a bond with your fish and both of you feel completely comfortable and ready to learn, it is time to start training.
Most betta fish tricks that we’ll be discussing are a part of natural betta fish behavior. All that you need to do is have consistency with teaching and rewarding.
If you find that your fish is doing something regularly, like moving with your finger or jumping out of the water for food, this is an opportunity to train your fish through positive reinforcement. Bettas like quality food, so feed them brine shrimp, mosquito larvae, or tubifex worms as a reward.
If you have a rather lazy fish that won’t leave its favorite hiding spot, then you might need to be more proactive.
What tricks can you teach your betta fish?
As mentioned before, most of the tricks you can teach your betta fish are ones that they already naturally know how to do.
These tricks include:
- Following your finger
- Jumping out of the water for food
- Swimming through hoops
- Swimming through an obstacle course
Of course, there are plenty of other tricks, and hobbyists have had success getting their bettas to swim in circles, shake their heads, and even push objects around!
However, these are the most commonly taught ones and the building blocks for more advanced tricks.
Training your betta fish
Training your betta fish is much like training anything else. If you notice your fish doing something you want it to, reward it with fish food.
Many hobbyists like to train a cue or command that tells their fish it’s time to perform. This is usually done with a finger/hand, light, or another object.
How to train your betta to follow your finger
This is a simple trick that most fish actually start doing on their own over time, especially during feeding times.
However, if you want them to do it on command, then it will take some practice.
1. Use your finger or a stick to drop food close to your betta. Your fish should be able to see this happen so it can start to develop a relationship between your finger/stick and being fed.
2. Increase the distance between your finger/stick and the food and watch your fish swim to get it. If you find that your betta doesn’t immediately see the food, you may have increased the distance too fast.
3. Continue to increase the distance with every feeding; make sure not to overfeed.
4. Eventually, your fish will follow your finger/stick throughout the tank in anticipation of finding betta food. As fish can see through the front of the aquarium glass, this should also translate to the side of the tank.
Teaching your betta how to follow your finger or a stick is a fundamental skill. As we’ll see, many of the other tricks depend on this same tactic.
How to train your betta to jump out of the water
Training your betta to jump out of the water is very similar to teaching it how to follow your finger.
This behavior is actually a part of a betta’s natural instincts as they often ambush insects above the surface in the wild.
1. Start by using your finger or a stick to place food on the surface of the water.
2. Gradually move your finger/stick up and away from the water over different feedings.
3. As your fish begins to recognize this as feeding time, it will be more willing to jump greater distances. However, if your fish isn’t responding, it could be that the distance is too much.
When attempting to teach your betta to jump, make sure that you have plenty of room for your fish to land and re-enter the water safely. You don’t want your fish to jump right out of the tank!
Because your fish will get better at jumping over time, it’s also recommended to have a secure lid at all times in case your fish wants to practice its new trick outside of performance times.
How to train your betta fish to flare
Flaring is also another natural behavior that bettas exhibit. However, this is usually used as a defense mechanism and can be stressful for the fish if done too often.
To keep your fish from stressing out, this should be taught over longer periods of time; once learned, it should only be asked for a couple of times a week as well.
Interestingly, some hobbyists believe that flaring is a healthy exercise for bettas and helps with constipation, respiration, and overall activity levels. Again, this is only healthy in moderation and should never be abused.
There are a few ways to make your betta fish flare. It is up to you to find which way is most effective.
1. First, get your betta to flare by using a mirror. A mirror can be placed to the side of the tank for five-minute sessions. This encourages aggression in your fish as it thinks there is another male present.
2. Once your fish has started to recognize similar colors as a threat, this can be replicated with a colorful pen or object that you can move around. This object should be the same color as your fish, though other bright reds and blues may work as well.
Some betta owners even use their fingers for this, though this can get confusing if trying to use finger commands for other tricks.
How to train your betta fish to swim through hoops
For this fish trick, it’s best to have your betta trained to follow your finger or a stick first, as this is what will be guiding your fish through the hoop.
Bend a pipe cleaner into a hoop. Make sure that the hoop diameter is larger than your betta. This will help prevent your betta fish from getting stuck.
1. Familiarize your fish with your finger/stick and train them to see it as a source of food. Gradually increase the distance between your fish and the food to encourage your fish to follow it around the tank.
At the same time, introduce the hoop into the tank so that your betta becomes comfortable with it.
2. Use your finger/stick to guide your betta fish through the hoop. If your betta looks disinterested, repeat step 1 or wait until your betta is hungrier.
3. Once your betta understands that the hoop is not a threat, your fish should start to do this trick all on its own. Make sure that you always reward your fish for something you want it to do!
Though this hoop should be safe enough for your fish, it might be a good idea to remove it from the tank when not in use so that there is no room for injury.
How to train your betta fish to swim through obstacles
Training your betta fish to swim through obstacles is very similar to teaching it to swim through hoops.
1. First, get your betta fish familiar with your finger/stick. Have it understand that it means food.
2. Then guide your fish through the maze you have created; this might have to be done in portions depending on the size of the course.
3. Once your fish has completed the course, provide a reward.
It is slightly more unlikely to see your fish complete the full obstacle course on its own as compared to other tricks, but you might still see it try now and then!
This obstacle course can vary in difficulty and can even include hoops and other props! Just make sure that all surfaces are safe for your betta’s delicate tail.
How to not train your betta fish
The last thing you want to do is injure your fish during training or start teaching harmful habits instead of fun tricks.
You will want to avoid a few things during training sessions so that both you and your betta enjoy the process and form a closer bond.
Too much hands-on
The first issue you want to be aware of is spending too much time in your tank!
Whenever you place your arms and hands into your betta’s tank, you run the risk of contamination. This can be through soaps, oils (natural and synthetic), and other chemicals.
To reduce the risk of contamination, it’s recommended to thoroughly wash your hands with water before, leaving the soap out!
There is no way to prevent natural oils from your arms and hands from entering your tank, but it helps to keep training session times to under 15 minutes and to perform regular water changes.
A feeding stick will also help prevent contamination.
Touching your betta fish
Not only does having your hands in the tank introduce oils and chemicals, but it also increases the risk of injuring yourself and your betta.
There should be no reason to touch your betta fish during training unless you’re specifically teaching your fish to come into your hand. Even then, this cool trick should be saved only for special events.
The problem is that touching your betta rubs off its natural slime coat. This slime coat is important for immunity. If it is removed, then the fish becomes more susceptible to foreign illnesses and diseases.
However, some betta fish are naturally inquisitive and might try to attack your hand, mistakingly rubbing themselves against you!
There’s usually no reason to worry if this happens, and it’s just your fish’s personality. If training frequently, it would probably be a good idea to purchase a feeding stick to prevent injury.
Also, remember that a bunch of bacteria can also affect you if you leave your hand in the tank for too long, especially if you have open wounds.
Overfeeding is a widespread problem among betta fish, even before they’re performing difficult tricks for additional food. Add in reward training, and it’s very easy to give too much food.
The advantage to training your betta fish to perform any trick is encouraging activity. Some bettas can be very lazy and might need some incentive to start moving.
However, betta fish learn that they get a treat every time they do something correctly, leading to a proud betta owner with a constipated or obese betta fish.
At the same time, if your fish is struggling to perform a trick correctly, you may compensate by giving more incentive through food.
While this might encourage your fish to try harder in the short term, it is very easy to overfeed in this way.
Forcing your betta fish to perform
Lastly, you never want to force your betta fish to perform. Like all other animals, sometimes your betta is just having a bad day and doesn’t feel like performing.
If this happens, don’t force your fish to perform. You may end up overfeeding or stressing out your fish, which will only prolong the problem.
Instead, give your fish a day or two to rejuvenate. Your betta should be ready to perform in no time!
Betta fish have bold personalities that can be further displayed through various tricks, like following your finger, jumping out of the water, flaring, swimming through hoops, and swimming through obstacles.
You may need a bit of patience and some tasty treats, but most betta fish are eager to learn tricks over time! The possibilities for what you can teach your fish to do are nearly endless!
If you have any questions about training your betta fish, a specific fish training kit, or have had experience teaching your betta fish a challenging set of tricks, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!