Training your betta to do tricks

Teaching your betta to swim through a hoop

  1. Jen86
    You'll see tutorials for this everywhere. It's a pretty basic trick, but I always make it the second thing I teach for a number of reasons.

    First, because it teaches them to trust you. At first, they'll be nervous about the hoop. They'll be hesitant. But they will make the conscious choice to obey you and trust that they'll be okay.

    This is a big deal, and it's incredibly important. Earning that trust makes everything easier. It deepens that bond I spoke of in the last article. It makes them choose to trust your judgement over their instincts.

    This comes with a caveat, though. The trust is not just freely given. Bettas are social creatures to a point, but they're wary even of their own kind. Domesticated bettas were originally bred to be hyper aggressive for fighting. When the barbaric practice of fighting them fell out of popularity, they began being bred for color instead.

    But that hyper aggression was never bred out of them. So while they truly enjoy company and males can and do become depressed when separated from their siblings, or separated after breeding, there is always that wariness.

    They can set that aside, and choose to trust you, but be aware that this is not a gift freely given, and it doesn't take much to shatter that trust. In everything you do, you must be aware of the fact that they have consciously chosen to trust you over their own instincts, that it's not an easy thing for them to do, and that breaking that trust can set you back all the way to the beginning, perhaps permanently. You must always use caution and care when working with them.

    The hoop is the first symbol of that.

    The first day, all I do is put the hoop in the tank. Whenever he looks at it, whenever he gets near it, whenever he gets close to check it out, I flash and reward.

    Then, I expect him to swim through it.

    I did once have a fish who did this on the very first try. It didn't bother her at all, she didn't have a single issue. But most will be very nervous and hesitant to swim through it.

    What I do is hold the hoop between the fish and the side of the tank, and then I wiggle my fingers, commanding them to move toward my fingers, through the hoop.

    My male, Illy, didn't like this at all. He would try to swim under or around the hoop. When he did, I would simply pull my fingers from the tank and start again from the other side.

    As soon as he put just the front half of his body through the hoop, I quickly flashed and rewarded. Right there, while he was still half in the hoop.

    And then I made him swim all the way through it. He was hesitant for a good week or so, but now he swims through it easily, it doesn't bother him, and he realizes that he can trust me.

    Depending on your fish's personality, this may go very quick, or may take very long. My female, Neph, is much more adventurous and fearless, and she got this in two days, where it really did take Illy a solid week to swim through it without hesitation.

    Just go at the fish's pace, don't force him, don't rush him, just be patient and steady. Your calmness and your steadiness will reassure him, and he'll get it.

    There is a reason I always do this trick as soon as they've learned the come command, and a reason why I put so much importance on it.

    That's because the next thing you will learn is how to make them swim into a fish net.

    Because we know that any time you have to net your fish, it's not ideal. There are already other things at play that will stress your fish out. Teaching them not to fear the net and to swim into the net will take out the issue of the net contributing to their stress and fear, and will also help avoid potential injuries from chasing them around with the net and trying to corner them.

    No fish likes the net. It's a complicated thing that will take time, but because you never know when you might need it, it's important to teach early. And also, it's important to teach early because again, it really cements that bond and that trust in you.

    So it's so important to use gentle encouragement and reassurance with the hoop, to build that trust to the point that they will trust you enough to tolerate something that terrifies them. And it's important not to move forward until your fish is completely comfortable with the hoop, and shows no signs of nervousness, apprehension, or hesitation.