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I've recently got a family of goldfish and I want to encourage them to be interactive. Can they be trained?


Background:

I have 3 comet goldfish.

During the transition to their tank, I must have scared them. It seemed like they had PTSD for a few days, always swimming away from nearby humans and "cowering" in the far corner.

I want them to love me, and I figure food is the best way. My plan is to hold my fingers over the water for a little while before and after feeding so they associate my fingers with food.

In time, they will come to me and follow my fingers around the outside of the tank, even if I'm not holding food.

Is that possible?

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Yes, it's possible to train goldfish to a limited extend.

The Mythbusters did an experiment where they trained groups of goldfish to swim through a very simple labyrinth. The goal was to let the fish swim from one end of the tank to the opposite. They placed up to 3 clear walls successively in the tank with brightly highlighted holes as passages. After several weeks of training, one group of fish was reliably able to pass the labyrinth in less than a minute.

What you want to do is basicly a desensitization and your approach sounds valid. But you should start your training without food involved. If your fish are too scared to approach the food, it will rot and impact the water quality.

If you stick your finger into the water 5 times a day without anything bad happening for the fish, they will eventually realize that your finger is no threat to them. If you then add food to the stimulus of sticking your finger into the water, your fish will associate your finger with food. This is classical positive reinforcement.

You might find an interest in the theories of Skinner and Pavlov.

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