Luring is a useful dog training technique.
A lure is something that the dog is interested in, like a bit of food, which they follow with their nose.
Moving the lure enables us to move the dog into different positions, without touching them at all!
We can then mark and reward those positions or movements, and shape them into new behaviors.
Why do we use dog lure training?
Modern dog training methods are force free. This means that we find ways to encourage a dog to behave the way we want them to without physically manipulating, or punishing, them at all.
This isn’t just kinder, it makes sense from a training perspective too. When you try to push a dog into a position it hasn’t chosen, it naturally pushes back and resists.
Luring allows the dog to make the choice to move into position.
It quickly establishes behaviors that would take a lot longer if we tried to shape them or to use physical manipulation.
Am I bribing my dog?
Training with treats isn’t universally accepted yet. And a big reason for that is that some people believe it’s all about bribing your dog and not training them.
Most of the time this is simply not true, but a lure is a bribe.
However, it’s a very temporary bribe. And it’s not a bad thing!
True luring uses the bribe for just long enough for you to mark a behavior.
A behavior that you might wait a month of Sundays to ‘capture’ without that lure.
It is only used on maybe the first five occasions of repeating a motion, and is rapidly discarded.
You don’t want your dog’s obedience to depend upon the lure, just the initial motion to be explained with it.
So what is a dog lure?
A lure is anything that the dog will follow closely with his nose.
Mostly we use food.
Toys can also be used, but food is the simplest and most practical option.
Depending upon your dog this can be anything from a bit of kibble, to some tasty still warm roast chicken.
If your dog isn’t interested enough to follow it with his nose, then it won’t work as a lure.
Following the lure
The lure is not much use to you, if your dog simply tries to grab or snatch it from your hand.
Your dog will need to understand the difference between your hand when it is holding the lure, and your hand when you are offering food for him to eat.
Some dogs find this very simple and need little or no preparation.
Others find it more difficult and will initially try to wrestle the food from your hand.
You don’t get involved in an unseemly scuffle with your dog, so if your dog is prepared to fight you for the lure, it’s important to teach him how to follow the lure with his nose.
You need to do this before trying to master a new skill with this technique. I explain how to do this in the training section below.
What can we teach a dog with a lure?
You can use a lure to teach your dog to move into a sit, down or stand position.
You can also use a lure to teach a dog to alter his position relative to you.
To walk towards you for example, or around you.
Once you have achieved the behavior or position you desire, you can then reinforce that behaviour using a marker and reward.
Once the dog has learned a cue for the behavior, such as a movement of your hand, the lure is redundant and you should get rid of it
If you are ready to start luring – let’s go!
Getting the dog on board
When you first offer a lure, the dog will think you are offering him something to eat.
He will probably, and quite naturally, try and take the lure from your hand.
So initially we need to ‘get him on board’ with what we are doing. Which is essentially following a ‘target’ (in this case your hand with food in it) with his nose.
In order for the dog to decide whether you want him to follow your lure, or eat it, we need to give him a clear signal.
The best way to do this is with your hand ‘shape’.
Make sure that when you offer your dog food to eat, you give it to him from the flat of your hand.
When you are going to lure the dog, hold the food clearly between your thumb and forefinger.
It may help the dog if you use separate hands for these roles, at least to begin with.
What to use as a lure
Use a moderately interesting small piece of food. Kibble may be sufficient, or a small piece of cheese.
If your lure is amazingly tasty, your dog may try harder to actually grab it, and we don’t want him to do this.
Making a start with luring
Be ready to withdraw the food inside your fist, and move your hand right out of the way if the dog makes an open mouthed lunge towards it.
Practice these movements with your hand, in the mirror and without the dog, to begin with.
Stick to these principles
- Mark and reward the behaviour you want.
- Don’t use the lure as the reward
- Don’t reward the dog from the lure hand.
Mark and reward
Use a event marker to let the dog know that he is doing the right thing i.e. Following the lure with his nose. And of course follow the marker with a tasty reward.
If you find it tricky to handle a clicker, treats, and the lure, use a verbal marker like YES! Or GOOD!
Don’t use the lure as the reward
If you have seen dogs being taught to sit using a lure, you probably saw them fed with the lure once they were in the sit position.
There is nothing wrong with this, but at this stage, it is better not to reward the dog with the lure.
This principle helps to keep the distinction between the lure, and the reward, nice and clear.
Don’t reward the dog from the lure hand
This is the same principle. Keep the distinction between your lure hand and your reward hand nice and clear.
The lure hand (rather pointy) is for luring, the reward hand is a different shape (flat) and is for delivering rewards
Once your dog is proficient at following a lure, this distinction is not so important.
Dog lure training exercise
Be ready with your marker, and have your treats in your treat bag or on a nearby surface where you can reach them easily.
- Sit on the floor in front of your dog.
- Hold the lure between your thumb and forefinger
- Approach the dog’s nose with your lure
If the dog makes an open mouth grab bring the lure back inside your fist and move your hand out of the way
Try again but don’t go quite so close. Be ready to mark your dog for looking at the lure with a closed mouth.
- Mark and reward
- Now approach the dog’s nose with the lure, but this time move the lure a short distance to one side.
- Mark and reward the dog for moving his nose in the direction of the lure.
When you can get the dog to move his head from side to side with his nose following the lure with a closed mouth, and no lunging, it’s time to get the dog moving.
- Approach the dog’s nose with the lure and as soon as he moves his nose towards the lure, move your hand smoothly away so that he has to take a step or two in order to follow
- Mark and reward any steps in the direction of the lure
- Build up the number of steps to three or four
Don’t worry if things don’t go exactly as planned initially. This takes a bit of practice.
The knack lies largely in the speed with which you move your hand. Too slowly and the dog may try and grab the food, too quickly and he will lose interest and give up.
Once you can move the dog a few steps using the lure, you are well on your way. All that remains is to practice a little in different directions and you will be ready to use ‘luring’ in order to teach your dog new skills
Things to practice
Here are some practice ideas. You can lure the dog backwards towards you. You can lure the dog to walk around behind you. You can lure the dog to walk along next to you.
Once you can move the dog around in different directions, it is time to lose the lure.
Losing the lure
We don’t want to get stuck using a lure. You don’t want a dog that will only follow your hand if there is food in it. The lure is a means to an end, not an end in itself
In many cases, the lure is replaced with a simple hand signal, and the earlier we do this the better.
So, once you can get your dog to walk a few steps, and turn from left to right as he follows your lure, try this:
- Lure the dog across your body from left, turn him around with the lure and move him to your right.
- Mark whilst the dog is still moving after the lure
- Remove the lure hand and reward the dog from the other hand
- Make a lure shaped hand but without the lure and repeat step one.
- Mark whilst the dog is still moving after the lure hand
- Show the dog that the lure hand is empty by opening it flat and immediately
- Reward from the other hand.
- Repeat from step 1
You can then repeat this exercise from time to time, decreasing the proportion of times where your hand actually contains the lure, and increasing the proportion of times where your hand is empty.
We’ll be applying this principle of losing the lure to the skills we teach later, so it is worth practicing.
Don’t forget your principles
Luring requires a bit of practice, on your part, and the dogs. But it won’t take long before you are both proficient at this useful skill.
Just a reminder of some key principles:
- Practice to get the speed right
- Mark and reward
- Don’t use the lure or the lure hand for rewarding the dog
- Lose the lure before the dog becomes dependent on it
See you next time with some great uses for your new skill
Fading the lure
It is possible to get stuck using a lure if you continue with it for too long.
So we aim to replace the lure with a hand signal as quickly as possible.
This is a simple matter because you move your hand as you lure, and the movement described by your hand when you are holding the lure, is easily morphed into the hand signal that replaces it.
Use it, then lose it
As soon as the dog has performed the behavior three or four times, the lure is replace with an empty hand.
Quite literally, you use it, then lose it.
The point of the lure is to move the dog into a position or action that he is easily capable of, yet would probably not chose for himself on a regular basis, mark that behavior, and reinforce it.
A lot of people actually train the dog to follow a physical target, like a stick with a coloured circle taped to the end or something similar (a target stick).
This can be a great option, if luring by hand is too awkward.
A target stick is a target on the end of a pole or rod.
The dog is taught to touch the target with his nose, and from there, you can teach the dog to follow the target.
It’s a bit like luring but not quite.
When to lure and when to shape
Of course, some behaviors cannot be lured. Complex behaviors and behaviors that a dog would never chose to carry out naturally are usually better shaped.
If you want to teach a dog to unload the washing machine, you are going to need to shape it.
On the other hand, if you want the dog to stand on a mat, turn in a circle, or move from a stand to a sit and back again, luring may well be your weapon of choice.
Don’t be shy of luring
I am sure that you are not as silly as me.
My deeply ingrained prejudices against the use of food in dog training meant that over the years, I have wasted hours of good training time.
Luring is an exceptionally fast and useful way to establish a range of key behaviors in puppies and older dogs.
Don’t forget the rule. Use it, then lose it!