R2 Fish School – A review

I came across this product online whilst looking for ways to interact, bond with and entertain my goldfish. It sounds unbelievable that fish can be trained to do tricks but they really, really can. Like many people, I started keeping goldfish under the mistaken belief that they had only had a two second memory. In actual fact, it is more like three months. Goldfish quickly learn to love the person who feeds them, and can learn desired behaviours.

My fancy goldfish, Dharma, Lotus and I only got as far as the hoops, tunnel and chimney because of time constraints. That said, I have no doubt that they are smart (greedy) enough to learn all of the tricks if we had the time.

The R2 Fish School contains numerous tricks you can teach your goldfish. They can learn to swim through hoops, through tunnels of varying lengths, chimneys (vertical tunnels), to push balls around the top and bottom of the tank into a designated ‘goal’, to swim a slalom, swim under barriers, and even fetch rings. There are many parts which can all be reused for different tricks if you are so inclined. An instructional (if patronising and cringe-worthy) DVD is included alongside a booklet.

It works on the same principle as ‘Pavlov’s Dog’. Pavlov would ring a bell every time he fed his dog. The dog was conditioned to ‘learn’ that the bell meant food. Eventually, every time he rang the bell, the dog would start salivating and expecting food. In many respects, the same can be said of humans too. We all respond well to positive reinforcement. Would we really have done as we were told as children only to be punished? Would we go to work as adults if there was no monetary gain for our labours?

Goldfish are conditioned in the same way with the kit. They see the hoop, for example, and are conditioned with food rewards when they go through it. Eventually, they will ‘learn’ to do this every time they see the hoop. (This is why the parts of the kit MUST be removed from the tank in between training sessions)

Goldfish can use the product but some tricks may also work with bettas. While certainly not a reason to buy a fish, the kit might prove interesting as a science or psychology project for school or college. Perhaps there are even more possibilities for tricks which haven’t been thought of yet! I have mentioned it as an example in my teaching when the Pavlov experiment has been discussed in class.

The most important part is, perhaps, the feeding wand. Many of the parts for the tricks could otherwise be made at home, but the feeding wand is far trickier. The wand itself is a dark green colour but the bit that feeds them is a neon-pink. Goldfish are very good at detecting colours so they knew exactly what they were hoping to see. To use, you push down on the plunger and add a small amount of food to the end. the plunger is released and the food goes back up into the wand. When a fish does the desired activity, swimming through a hoop for example, you push on the plunger to release the food and the fish are rewarded. Some goldfish will learn quicker than others but the desired effect is that they ‘learn’ that one action results in a food reward. The feeding wand has been very useful with my black moor as she isn’t great at seeing. For a while I was able to feed her directly and then lead her to the majority of the food in the tank.

In the USA it is possible to buy the feeding wand separately from the rest of the kit. To be honest, I would start with that and then continue with the rest of the kit if you think you can keep up with it. In the UK, however, it was just as expensive (£40 Pets at Home or Amazon) to buy the full kit as it was to import just the feeding wand from the USA.

For me, the R2 Fish School works best with only one or two fish in the tank. It can get confusing as to whom you are supposed to reward otherwise. It also means that you can intensively train your fish far more easily.

One of my big worries with the kit is overfeeding. It is very easy to get engrossed and forget how much you’re feeding. Moreover, you may want to consider exactly what you’re putting in the end of the wand. One or two defrosted bloodworms should be enough but whole pellets or flakes might be too rich to use consistently.

I also worry about how the kit impacts on my fishes’ natural instincts for food. Teaching dogs is one thing as they are pack animals with a desire to please their alpha (master), but if it is cruel to keep animals in a circus or Seaworld to keep orca whales as they do, is it not cruel to teach goldfish like this? I have yet to come up with a good answer to this but it does concern me.

The two goldfish I tried the product with learned some of the tricks very quickly but the difficulty was in maintaining this level of training. If you are not able to spend the time consistently for a number of months to keep up the training, you’re going to find it difficult. Even one training session a day will be enough but there is still some messing about to be done to put the trick in the water, do the training, and then take the part out again. It is something I would love to go back to in the future, though.

The R2 Fish School is great fun! For those doubters who think that fish are boring, they may think that you’ve gone completely nuts but it does shut them up about how forgetful fish can be. I also like to point out that my fish are more intelligent in comparison to many of these people – my fish can swim through hoops on demand and I can’t even get my stepbrother to make me a cup of tea!

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