Betta Fish Recognize Their Owners & 6 Ways to Interact With Them

Bettas can identify their owner's faces, but trick training and games can help strengthen your relationship even more.

Updated August 2, 2023
Betta looking out of aquarium.

Betta fish are popular because they're generally hardy, easy to care for, and they come in a kaleidoscope of striking colors and fin shapes. They're also intelligent fish that will actually interact with their owners. If you want a pet fish that will recognize you, the betta might be the perfect choice.

How Fish Recognize People

Researchers have found that fish are capable of recognizing their owner's face, even if the owner is standing by the tank with other people. Fish can develop an association between something they like, such as being fed, and the person who feeds them.

The more you interact with your betta fish, the more likely they will be to recognize you. It's normal for bettas to swim to the front of the tank when an owner comes up to it. This can be in anticipation of being fed, though they will also seek out their owner because they're interested in what happens next.

Fast Fact

Not only can your betta fish recognize your face, but they can even recognize their own reflection in a mirror.

Betta Fish Bond With Their Owners

Betta fish may not "love" their owners in the way that a dog or cat would show affection, but they will show a clear interest and affiliation with their owners.

Bettas are known to have good memories and can remember people despite not seeing them for several weeks or more. They can also remember the layout of their tank and will remember where plants and decorations were before you moved them. It's this ability to remember that helps them to bond with their owners over time.

Thus, the more you do with your fish, the more likely you are to strengthen the bond that your betta feels with you. This interaction is also healthy for your fish, as lack of stimulation can lead to depression and stress.

6 Ways to Play With Your Betta

Betta fish swimming

There are a number of fun ways you can play with your betta fish and provide them with mental stimulation and a healthy environment. Try these games and training ideas out and help build your bond with your betta.

1. Follow the Finger

This game simply involves placing your fingertip against the glass of your aquarium. The idea is to have the betta fish follow your fingertip.

  • Wait for your betta fish to swim over to where your fingertip is, and then slowly move your fingertip along the glass.
  • If they are following, you can move your finger around in different directions, circles, and zigzags in order to challenge your betta fish to keep up with you.
  • Place your fingers gently against the glass and do not tap on it, as this can be disturbing to the fish.

2. Play Ball

Dogs aren't the only pets that can play ball! You can teach your betta to play with you, too.

  • Try placing a small floating ball in the aquarium, such as a ping-pong ball or a small plastic cat-toy-type ball.
  • Push it around the surface of the aquarium and wait for your betta fish to swim up and interact with it.
  • Some bettas will swim around it, while others may actually try to brush against it or push it themselves.
  • If your betta interacts with the ball, you can play with them by gently pushing the ball with your fingers and encouraging them to move around after it.

3. Mirror Toys

There are toys sold in pet shops that consist of a floating ball with a mirror that hangs underneath. The idea is that the betta will swim up to the mirror and see a reflection of themselves and "flare" up their fins.

While these toys do provide stimulation, they can also cause a lot of stress for your fish as they will perceive their reflection as another betta in their tank, and they'll try to fight their reflection. Use these toys sparingly or avoid them altogether and instead choose toys that won't be stressful for your fish. Limit mirror play sessions to between 10 and 15 minutes once a day to keep your betta's stress level low.

4. Decorate the Tank Outside

Betta fish are interested in vibrant colors, so placing some decorations on the outside of the tank can be a fun and stimulating activity for your fish.

  • You can take a pack of brightly colored construction paper or Post-it notes, cut them into shapes, and tape them on to the outside of the tank glass.
  • Rotate them as your fish shows interest in them.
  • You can experiment with attaching shiny objects, such as metallic or sparkly decorative papers, or even hang small colored glass ornaments against the tank, as the shine and movement will definitely spark your fish's interest.

5. Target Your Finger

Siamese Betta Fish

Another fun game to play with your betta is teaching them to touch your finger when you place it in the water. All it takes is a little patience and some betta food.

  • You can do this by placing your finger gently on the surface of the water and sprinkling some food around it.
  • You will need to use the floating type of food for this, as you want the food to stay at the surface, and you may want to shut off the filter temporarily so the flow doesn't spread the food around the tank.
  • Eventually, your fish should touch your finger while they're going for the food.
Quick Tip

If you keep repeating this activity, your betta may begin touching your finger first before getting their meal.

6. Trick Train Your Fish

You can actually train a fish using the same principles that animal trainers use with clicker training. You can buy fish training kits or train them on your own. Some tricks that betta fish owners have taught their fish include:

  • Swimming through hoops
  • Jumping out of the water
  • Pushing a ball through a "goal"

All it takes is some basic conditioning. You'll need your betta's favorite food and some patience. To train your betta to swim through a hoop, attach the hoop to the side of your tank, sticking out into the water. Move your finger through the hoop and encourage your betta to swim through. Every time your betta does, give them a treat. Use treat training to get your betta to perform all sorts of tricks!

Quick Tip

You'll be amazed at how quickly your fish can learn tricks, and this is an excellent way to not only bond with them but prevent boredom and keep your fish happy and healthy.

Developing a Bond With Your Betta Fish

The idea that fish are not intelligent and don't have emotions just isn't true. Anyone who has owned a betta knows they have more going on than we give them credit for. These fish are smart enough to recognize their owners and respond to your presence. While they may not show affection like our furry types of pets or respond to their name, they can show interest and affiliation toward their owners and will reciprocate if you spend the time to develop a positive relationship with them.

Betta Fish Recognize Their Owners & 6 Ways to Interact With Them