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The Sea Food Circus: Training Fish

Bird of a different feather

One of Karen Pryor Academy's curriculum requirements is that students must learn to train a second species—something other than a dog. Academy faculty member Helix Fairweather decided that if her students had to accomplish this task, she should be able to demonstrate the process. Using shaping—and a lot of patience—Helix trained her fish, Cartman, to touch a target and swim through a hoop. And we have the video to prove it! Click to watch.


Training Cartman to Go Through a Hoop Parts 1-3 (10/07/07)

Training a fish

Want to try training a fish yourself? A good introduction is found in my article Training a Fish: Goldfish-Click. And if you're wondering "why bother," here's an interesting take on Fish Enrichment (and we're not talking about cat food!). Lastly, discover how fish are being trained to play soccer and dance the limbo!

A hoop of your own

Hoops of all sizes are easy to make from any kind of tubing. In pet stores, you can get quarter-inch air hose tubing and half-inch siphon tubing. In garden stores or hardware stores, you can get all kinds of hose and other tubing. Just make a little plug that fits inside the hoop. (I have used part of a pencil, a twig from the woods, a piece of a dowel from the hardware store, even garden hose can be plugged with a one-inch dowel.) Cut a hoop-size length from the tubing, and plug each end over the short plug. Bingo, a hoop.

If you want to tack it down, use an aluminum roofing nail: neutral in water (avoid copper). If you want a colored hoop, fill the transparent tubing with colored sand, again from the pet store, or with a strip of cloth, or, put the paint inside and then drain the excess out. To hang the hoop in water, weight the bottom with a bit of sand. The air inside will keep the rest upright, and you can hang it from a string. Dolphin trainers use PVC piping to make big hoops for dolphins to jump through (good for dogs and horses and so on too) and garden hose for dolphin neck rings, also useful for other animals. An animal that will scoop up a neck ring via its nose and let it slide down around its neck can be wearing a lei, a Christmas wreath, a medal, a political sign, etc.

The Sea Food Circus

I have to share with you all a scrap from my next book (unless the editor cuts it out)...maybe someone will make my dream come true: the Sea Food Circus.

After several years at Sea Life Park I thought up a new kind of marine show, a performance that would be staged in a glass-fronted aquarium tank with scenery on the sides and back. By using automated feeders and cues a cast of trained fish and invertebrates could act out a sort of opera plot. An octopus would be the villain, a school of minnows the chorus, a handsome surgeon fish the hero, and a damselfish (natch) the heroine. I'd call it the Sea Food Circus, since every performer would be edible. Alas, this stellar idea was quashed by management. It was too complicated, the equipment would undoubtedly break down, and while thousands of people came through Sea Life Park daily, only a couple of dozen people could see this show at a time, so where's the profit in that! True, at that time, at least, since video projection screens were way in the future; so I dropped the plan. But I still mull over how to shape a whole school of minnows to enter stage left, swim until they come to a red light, stop, wait until the light turns green, and then, still in a school, exit stage right. There has to be a way...



About the author
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Karen Pryor is the founder and CEO of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and Karen Pryor Academy. She is the author of many books, including Don't Shoot the Dog and Reaching the Animal Mind. Learn more about Karen Pryor or read Karen's Letters online.

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