Koi are very intelligent fish with unique personalities. They develop relationships with their owners, showing excitement when seeing them and learning their routines. Some Koi will even rub up on their owner's hands when in the water and enjoy being hand-fed. Certain koi are naturally more social than others due to their personalities. You may have already noticed a few "greeters" always say hi while the shy guys hang out in the back. Try training these more friendly koi to eat out of your hands.
1. Start with a floating fish food
Floating food encourages the koi to come to the surface of the water. Feed them at the same spot every day from the edge of your pond. Pick a spot deep enough to provide security and temporarily turn off the skimmer box pump (if you have one) so it doesn't skim the food off the surface before the fish get a chance to eat it. Stand still while they eat. Do this until they are used to your presence during feeding time.
TIP: if your fish are more timid, start a few steps back and wait until they slowly come to the surface and eat all of the food. It may take up to 10 minutes. Keep moving forward as they get more comfortable.
2. Crouch down and sit in the same spot where you used to stand.
Reach your hand out and drop a few pellets at a time. If your koi are too timid, slowly retract your hand after dropping the pellets. The goal is to have them eat the pellets while your hand is extended over the water and slowly inching to get closer and closer to the surface each time.
TIP: Consistency is important. Practice this training every time you feed them. Otherwise, they might try to "hold out" and wait for you to feed them normally.
3. Once the Koi are used to your hand presence, submerge your hand underwater with a fist full of food.
Slowly let pellets escape while the braver fish start to nibble. It only takes one brave koi to start the frenzy. It is all about patience and building trust through slow movements and repetition.
TIP: Do not worry too much about your koi going hungry. They can go a few days without eating. If they miss a meal being timid, it will only motivate them more the next day to be braver.
4. Once the Koi become impatient and start nibbling on your finger and hand to find food, you're there!
Keep doing this until they are brave and immediately eat from your hand. Once they are used to eating from your hands underwater, you can begin playing around with holding pellets or other treats above the water for the brave ones. Hold the treat (ex. A piece of watermelon) higher and higher each time until the koi have to break the surface to eat it. Now that they no longer fear your hands, playing around and seeing how brave they are is easier.
TIP: Using treats in addition to floating food may quicken the process as they become excited and more motivated.
- Thawed frozen baby shrimp
- Thawed frozen peas
- Plain cheerios
- Silkworm pupae
TIP: Start slow with the treats. It may take them a while to understand it is food. Give small amounts at a time and mix it in with the pellets to seem more appetizing. Citrus should only be given once a week because of the high vitamin C content. It can turn their lips a pale pink color. Silkworm pupae are high in fat and should be fed sparingly as well.
Be careful of overfeeding while you train your fish. Feeding your koi is one of the joys of having them as pets, but they can eat themselves sick. If you notice they begin to look more like tadpoles, with a large midsection and a tiny tail, it may be time to cut back. It can be very strenuous on their internal organs. It's easy to overfeed, so if you feed your koi lots of treats, give them less of their normal food.