With repetition and positive reinforcement, tortoises can learn tricks, like navigating a maze or knocking at the door. Training a tortoise can be a long and involved process, but they’re reward-motivated.
Most tortoises can learn basic tricks, and you can add more stages over time. Of course, some tortoises are good at developing new skills, while others are unable to do so or disinterested in training.
Tortoises need consistent training over many weeks to learn tricks. However, according to Animal Cognition, giant tortoises can be taught new tricks and recall how to do them a decade later.
What Tricks Can You Teach A Tortoise?
How much tortoises are willing to learn varies based on their intelligence, attention span, and personalities. So, don’t be disheartened if a tortoise doesn’t pick up a trick because there are others.
Here are some easy tricks for tortoises to learn:
1/ Coming When Called
Tortoises have poor hearing because they can only process certain sound frequencies.
However, they can see and sense vibrations, which is why the tortoise recognizes your voice, as long as you use a similar pitch and frequency each time. They recognize the frequency, not their name.
To speed up the training process, offer the tortoise a treat when you call them. For attention-motivated tortoises, replace food and treats with petting.
Eventually, the tortoise will associate your sound frequency with being addressed directly.
Most tortoises like climbing, and they’re very good at it.
While tortoises can’t scale large heights, they enjoy walking over objects in their enclosures. However, some tortoises need encouragement to climb, and training will be required to climb on command.
To teach a tortoise to climb, hold a piece of food directly above the object you want them to scale and encourage it to get the treat. Tortoises have good vision and will quickly detect it.
While treats are more effective, you can teach the tortoise to climb whenever you tap the object or use a command word.
Tortoises can solve puzzles and figure out simple cognitive tasks.
That’s why teaching a tortoise how to navigate through a maze is one of the most entertaining tricks you can teach a pet tortoise.
You can build a simple maze using wood or get one from a pet store. Ensure that it only has 1-2 turns and sufficient room for the tortoise to walk through.
Once the tortoise gets the hang of this simple maze, you can upgrade it with additional turns. Start the training with something easy to learn, or the tortoise will likely become confused and lose interest.
Let the tortoise loose in the maze and reward it each time it completes the puzzle.
4/ Knocking on a Door
You may be surprised that tortoises can learn to knock on doors. Of course, this trick works better with larger tortoises, but you can still try it if you have a smaller tortoise.
Kneel next to the tortoise by the door and knock it 2-3 times, ensuring the tortoise is watching. Once you’ve got the tortoise’s attention, open the door and allow the tortoise to walk through.
Repeat this process many times, and eventually, the tortoise will learn that knocking on the door will get you to open it.
5/ Retrieving Objects
Start by presenting the tortoise with an object, like a ball, and then steadily move it away from them. Encourage the tortoise to follow the object using food treats.
As the tortoise follows the object, increase the distance between the ball and the treat. Once the tortoise learns to follow the object, use hand signals to direct the tortoise to the object.
With repetition, the tortoise will eventually be able to retrieve the ball based on your command.
How Do Tortoises Learn To Do Tricks?
Unlike other animals, tortoises aren’t motivated to perform tricks to make their owners happy. Instead, they learn through other means and methods they consider worthy of their time and effort.
You can use the following incentives to get tortoises to learn different tricks:
Positive reinforcement training using food is among the most effective ways to train tortoises.
According to Cambridge University Press, tortoises have long been considered sluggish and unintelligent, but they’re food motivated. Having their favorite foods available makes it easier to train tortoises.
As soon as the tortoise does something you want it to do, reward it with a treat. The tortoise won’t know you’re pleased with it, but it’ll soon realize that it earns a reward for its actions.
While most tortoises respond to food, some are more motivated by attention from their owners.
This doesn’t happen often, but some tortoises respond better to one-on-one attention. For example, some pets enjoy having their neck rubbed.
Problems with Training a Tortoise
While training a tortoise is fun and rewarding, there are things to be mindful of before starting the training process:
Don’t underestimate how much time you’ll need to train a tortoise as they move slowly, and most don’t pick up new tricks immediately.
Consistency is key if you want the tortoise to develop fun tricks, so move at its pace. Dedicate a small amount of time each day to the training process, as this will be more effective than one long session.
Tortoises can only spend so much time training before they become tired and need sleep.
They’re slow-moving creatures because their large and heavy shells weigh them down.
Constant, repetitive training can make the tortoise feel stressed.
As their hearing differs from ours, it isn’t easy to communicate with them. Tortoises are much slower than us, so everything takes longer, making training difficult.
The tortoise may not display noticeable signs of stress, but it’ll only tolerate a small amount of training.
If the tortoise is food-motivated, there’s a risk that overfeeding could cause weight gain and digestive problems. While tortoises will eat the treats, overfeeding them isn’t recommended.
Tortoises don’t stop eating when they’re full, so it’s hard to tell if you’ve overfed them. So, determine how much the tortoise is allowed each training session and stop.
Consistency is key to tortoise learning, so spread the training over several weeks. Tortoises are slow learners, so short sessions are more likely to yield results.