We’ve all heard that pet fish aren’t smart and only have 3-second memories, but did you know that that’s not true? For one, koi fish really break out of this mold.
Are Koi Fish Smart? Koi fish are indeed very smart and inquisitive, and can even be taught tricks, including eating out of your hand. Koi has been shown to be loyal to their owners, have personalities of their own and have intelligence.
In the article “Fish Can Be Smarter Than Primates”, Johnathan Balcombe even notes a large number of studies that have been done — not to mention behavior seen in nature that show just how intelligent different fish species are!
Because Koi are such intelligent creatures, it’s important to interact with them and not just leave them alone in their pond to act as a design feature to your home. The first and easiest way to bond with your Koi fish is to be the one that feeds them.
Through feeding them and spending time with them you’ll soon come to know their differing personalities and how that influences the way in which they interact with you.
Once your Koi have acclimatized to their new home after you bring them home, you can really start interacting with them and training them to come to you and to eat out of your hand.
(Remember that it can take a few weeks for your Koi to completely get used to their new pond and their new surroundings.)
1. How Do I Teach My Koi To Swim To Me?
The first step to taming your Koi is to teach them behaviors that will lead to more interaction with them. The first of these is to feed them using the same routine every day and from the same spot next to the pond each time.
Instead of standing next to the pond and giving them all the food at once, crouch next to the pond — so you don’t throw such a large shadow and frighten them away — and give them only a little food at a time.
When giving them the food, drop it into the water close to where you are crouching. You may see that the most extroverted and inquisitive of the Koi swim towards the food. The shy ones may linger a while longer.
If you find that they are all still too skittish to come to you after about 10 minutes, rather leave them to eat and then repeat this the next time you feed them.
Some owners say that it took a few months for the Koi to trust them enough to swim up to them when it’s feeding time, so don’t rush it if you see that they don’t respond to you after a few days’ feeding.
Although some owners say that you should stop feeding your Koi for a few days and then feed them again — basically forcing them to respond to you out of sheer hunger — we do not agree.
There is no reason to put your Koi through something like this. Just as with other pets, trust takes time and needs to be earned.
One of the behaviors of Koi that really show that they trust you is eating out of your hand.
When you begin to teach your fish to eat from your hand, you need to have your koi trusting you. If your fish are all still too scared or shy to come to you, keep on teaching them this first.
2. How Do I Teach My Koi Fish To Eat Out Of My Hand?
Once your Koi are used to you and trust you, you can start to teach them how to (literally) eat out of your hand in a few, simple steps.
Keep feeding them from the same spot
When first setting out to teach them to eat from your hand, keep on feeding your koi from the same spot you’ve always have. This will ensure that they still associate the spot with food and feeding (maybe even a treat or two!).
You should also keep the same feeding routine. This will not only put your Koi at ease, but they will also know that it’s time to eat.
Don’t feed them more than usual
Koi love eating and will keep on eating when they are offered food. It’s therefore very important to only feed them the amount of food that they usually eat and not to get carried away and overfeeding them by accident.
Here are a couple of articles that will help you with feeding your koi correctly:
- Can koi fish eat cheerios?
- What do koi fish eat? The ultimate guide
- Why spinach is so good for koi fish
Use slow, fluid movements, not jerky ones
Once you start to feed them, use slow and fluid movements, bringing your hand closer to the water each time that you feed them.
You’ll see that, because you’re not moving quickly and immediately putting your hand in the water, your Koi won’t be stressed or scared. Rather, they will get used to your movements and, once you put your hand in the water, they won’t be spooked.
Offer pellets or treats between your thumb and forefinger
Instead of simply putting food in your palm and offering it, first, use a pellet or small treat and hold it out for the koi between your thumb and forefinger. You’ll see that there’s usually one Koi braver than the others that will come up to you and take the treat.
Keep on doing this, making sure that you don’t just feed one of your Koi the whole time. You may see that some of the Koi still don’t want to come to you and this is okay. Give each fish the time they need to get used to you and the idea of eating out of your hand.
Be sure to only feed them Koi-friendly treats, however. These include oranges, grapefruit (but don’t feed citrus more than once a week), watermelon, shrimp, crayfish, worms.
You shouldn’t feed them peas, cereal (yes, the breakfast kind), bread — especially white bread or anything that you’ve caught yourself.
Offer pellets or a treat in your hand
Once your Koi is used to the idea of taking the pellet from between your fingers, you can start holding pellets out on your open hand.
At first, just half-submerge your hand beneath the water, letting the pellets float on and around it. Soon the brave Koi will come closer to feed.
Once they are used to eating out of your open hand, you can start putting pellets or treats in your cupped hand. Again, submerge your hand about halfway into the water and be patient. It may take a few minutes, but soon the braver fish will start to literally eat out of your hand.
Now all you need to do is to keep feeding them in this way up. Soon enough your shy Koi will also start to feed like this quite happily.
Eating out of your hand is definitely not the only thing these smart fish can do! Another trick you might like to teach your Koi once they have learned to eat out of your hand, is how to jump.
3. How To Teach Your Koi To Jump
Once you’re feeding your Koi from your hand every day, you can start to teach them how to swim to the surface.
- Submerge your fingertips into the water while holding a pellet or little snack.
- Once you have one’s attention who tries to take the food, don’t release the food immediately, but slowly move your hand towards the surface. This will get them slowly used to coming closer and closer to the surface and getting a treat in return for their behavior.
- Hold the piece of food a little above the water — Once your Koi is used to coming to the surface start to hold the food just above the surface of the water. To get to the food, your Koi will have to “jump”.
- If you see that the Koi won’t jump, try holding the food a bit closer and then pull your fingers slightly away to coax them into going higher.
Your Koi may not all perform this trick, as the more timid and shy ones will either not do it at all, or take some more time to learn the trick.
With some practice, you will find that they can jump a bit higher as well!
All of these tricks need time and patience, so don’t give up too soon!
Note: if your koi fish jump out of the water without you doing anything, there might be something wrong with the water. Read more on that in our article here!
Now all that is left is showing off just how smart your Koi are by showing friends and family these tricks!