September 18, 2012 @ 7:20 PM

Reflections on all creatures at my Koi pond

I have always assumed that the dogs I work with are intelligent, sentient beings, and that they will learn. Now science tells us that if you assume an animal is intelligent, the training of that animal will be better simply because of that assumption.


Since the weather has been warmer, I spend as much time as I can relaxing at the Koi pond that my husband and I put in ourselves 8 years ago when we bought this house. It's great. The sound of the waterfall, the other animals that come to have a drink of water, the hummingbirds in my garden that visit and stay until the fall.

My Koi are smart, aware of their surroundings, know me and trust me. From the beginning I fed them in one place. You can get these floating rings that keep the food from being washed into your skimmer box. But feeding in one place had training possibilities for me, as my goal was to be able to hand feed my fish treats.

So slowly, first they got used to eating in one location. I always tap on the water twice before feeding them, so they are "tap conditioned", as a clicker wouldn't work with them.

So, tap, tap, and  my hand would be in the ring while they ate. They got used to this in about five minutes. Koi just love to eat.

Next, tap, tap, and I am holding their favorite treats, dried krill. They do have personalities. The boldest fish that first accepted my hand in their feeding ring were also the first to eat out of my fingers, not without a lot of suspicious glances at the start. Now most of them will eat from my fingers, and if my guests have patience, they will take food from strangers as well. As I said, they do know me.

In the winter Koi go into a state of semi-hibernation. We keep a submerged heater in the pond, as well as one that floats. If your pond ever completely ices over, good bye fish, as they will die because of no exchange of gases. We also use a submerged aerator instead of the waterfall in the winter. They don't get fed once the water drops below 55 degrees F, and we don't see much of them as they mostly hang out in their Koi cage at the bottom of the pond. The Koi cage is their to protect them from predators.

As soon as spring arrives, and the water is above 55 degrees, we start feeding them again. Even though I have not seen them since the Winter, they still recognize me, and take food from my hand in the same order as before. The boldest first, then the others.

We have two Fancy Goldfish that summer in the pond, but come indoors to a tank in the house for the Winter. They are not as hardy as the Koi & would not make it through the winter temperatures.

Today it is gorgeous. So I decided to release them into the pond for the summer. Only one of them was in the pond last summer, we bought him a companion fish so he wouldn't be lonely in the tank in the house.

As I floated them in a bag of their tank water for 15 minutes so they could slowly get used to the temperature change, all of my Koi ware gathered round checking out the newcomers. They were fascinated by them, poking the bag, swimming away and returning in a group.

Finally, I released them into the pond with the rest of the fish. Usually new fish hide in the pond, and may not eat for a few days or more until they get accustomed to their new environment.

But this year, the one fish that summered last year in the pond seemed to remember being there, and was immediately swimming around and eating. The new fish I got over the winter is hiding in the Koi cage.

So, what does this have to do with dogs. At the start of this article I talked about assumptions of intelligence and sentience. Assume your dog is brilliant and he will be. Be consistent, methodical, and kind when you teach her and you will have all you want in your dog. If my Koi can recognize people, remember them after not seeing them for months, and remember being there before, your dog can certainly learn basic manners. Assume the best, not a bad thing to apply to life in general, as well as to the people in our lives.

Peace, Linda