Shaping behaviors in a goldfish using clicker training

Blaze is my star fish who I’ve been clicker training. (Actually, err, he’s a goldfish, but he is a star pupil!) I trained him a bit at first using the R2 fish training kit (see a video of his first few tricks HERE). He proved to be a smart fish and a fast learner for his first tricks.

Recently, I’ve began trying to teach him some new behaviors using shaping. This is good practice for me and will allow me to train him to do a wide range of behaviors. I wrote about the beginnings of my fish clicker training experiences here, including conditioning my marker signal.

We don’t train every day, but we’ve made quite a bit of progress over the past month or so. I’ve been shaping him to swim under the bridge in his tank using a penlight as my marker signal, or “click.”

Here are the successive steps I rewarded in our shaping plan:
1) Swimming all around the tank (to encourage movement, rather than him staying just on the right side).
2) Swimming only in the middle third of the tank.
3) Swimming only in the front half and bottom half of the middle third of the tank.
4) Swimming in front of the bridge.
5) Swimming in front of the middle opening of the bridge.
6) Entering the bridge.

He now readily swims towards the bridge and then under the opening in exchange for a food pellet. Here’s where we are currently:


Click HERE to watch the video on youtube

Interestingly, now that he’s swimming all the way under the bridge, I’m running into difficulties. For the “click,” I think he is orienting to both the flash of the light AND the movement of the wand. (Or, just completely ignoring the light and watching my hand movements). In any case, this discussion will be saved for another post, as I’m still trying to figure out exactly what’s going on. I might need to revisit my first two clicker training goals

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  • Hi Mary,

    I really enjoyed this video! I always enjoy shaping and watching others shape, especially when they're working with non-canine species. I'm just about to head home from Clicker Expo in Portland, where I had a chance to learn a lot more about shaping. One idea from a shaping seminar…when working with fish, might it help to line up the fish treats on the lip of the tank? That way you could flash the light and then just push the treat into the tank? That might help eliminate the possibility that he's orienting to the light AND movement of the wand? I've never shaped a fish but that's a tip I picked up at Clicker Expo.

    By the way, I attended 2 Alexandra Kurland seminars this week! Wow! She's amazing, and I learned a lot more about clicker training horses. I have renewed respect for positive trainers like you who work with these magnificent animals!!

    Thanks! Take care,
    Lisa

    • Hi Lisa,

      I'd love to hear more about your clickerExpo experiences!

      The pushing treats into the tank could eliminate much of my hand movement. One nice thing about the feeding wand, however, is it makes it super easy for him to find where the food is. I really need to rethink my food delivery strategy, so I might have to give this suggestion a try!

      Interestingly, we've discussed this issue a bit on the fish training google group. Several of the advanced trainers have said that their fish watch not just their body movements, but also their eye movements. I think I might be in more than I bargained for with this fish training…

      Mary

  • Hi Lisa,

    I'd love to hear more about your clickerExpo experiences!

    The pushing treats into the tank could eliminate much of my hand movement. One nice thing about the feeding wand, however, is it makes it super easy for him to find where the food is. I really need to rethink my food delivery strategy, so I might have to give this suggestion a try!

    Interestingly, we've discussed this issue a bit on the fish training google group. Several of the advanced trainers have said that their fish watch not just their body movements, but also their eye movements. I think I might be in more than I bargained for with this fish training…

    Mary

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  • Oh nice, thanks for your
    information!

  • Amy

    Hi Mary
    This post was great. I am currently studying Animal Management in college and got assigned to train a 6 year old goldfish. I found this video super enlightening. I was wondering what treats do you use as rewards? I have six weeks to train the goldfish with a 90% accuracy to pass my unit with top marks. Do you think this is doable?
    Thank you so much
    Amy

    • Hi Amy,

      I used beta pellets when I was training my fish. They are quite small, so they work well for training rewards. I would soak them just a little bit, otherwise they float quickly to the top!

      Good luck training your fish! 🙂

      Best,

      Mary

      ————————
      Mary Hunter, M.S.
      Dog Trainer and Behaviorist
      Serving Dallas-Ft. Worth
      http://www.TexasAnimalTraining.com