Luring: Hand lures

by | Sep 11, 2019

Food in Hand

Every time a piece of food goes into your hand, the dog will be aware, they will notice. What do we want them to respond to? Are they wondering if it is for them or for you? How can they tell the difference?

If you are eating a bag of chips, crisps, sweets, there are quite clear contingencies that the dog has learned that the feeding hand, collects, and delivers to your mouth. A puppy that was in range of that action could certainly make attempts to intervene, but the adult dog has learned something else. Either they just walk on by (well done, you do not occasional indulge on an intermittent schedule and “share” with your dog), or they will stay and watch the process VERY carefully. Which usually tells us watching and being very nearby ends in a reinforcement event.

I made the mistake of giving Merrick my apple cores. The sound and smell of apples  ensures a good, close, watching position and copious amounts of dribble.

I now eat apples in private.

My point is that the dogs learn the difference between a hand travelling from bag to human mouth is something you watch, and a hand travelling from dog pouch or pocket is something that you are going to eat. They adjust their behaviour accordingly.

Hands that feed

A hand that feeds MUST look different from a hand that is followed. It does not matter how it differs but it must be clear for the dog. Follow-hands always pay off.

Luring comes in three stages

  1. Take up the lure to engage
  2. Use the lure to cue an action/response
  3. Deliver the lure as a reinforcer

We are going to begin our “hand teaching” with the deliver stage first. Since you have been delivering for some time, I want you to become aware of how you hold your hand for delivery, and how you have communicated to the dog that delivery is forthcoming.

When Zip arrived I needed to begin from scratch what my delivery hand looked like. For me it is the classic “pony-sugar-cube” principle, where the open flat hand indicates “you can take this”. Although this video shows other feeding/delivery patterns, at 3.11, you can see my “pony-hand” teaching.

I take the food, pause for a second to make sure it is in the flat of my hand, and then deliver. You can deliver direct under the dog’s mouth for them to take it without moving (I call this breakfast in bed), or you can place it on the floor for the dog to move and collect (table service).

If you are collecting and rolling to centre of hand all in one go, the dog is likely to come towards the hand to collect the treat. If you want some training on this I can lend you Zip and a packet of plasters …… (Watch the beginning of the video, she is VERY fast)

Exercise 1: Hand deliver

I recommend you begin with a “protected” food reserve / source. I place mine up on a surface out of reach. If the food reserve is on your body, a pocket or pouch, the dog can come to the source of the collection point to meet the feed-hand, which is often too invasive.

If this stage is successful, with the dog waiting where they are for the breakfast-in-bed or table service, then you can graduate to wearing the food reserve. If this is a new process I recommend this step-by-step practise.

It is in your interest to ensure that this process stays clean, and reliable. If at any time the dog moves into the hand, towards the pocket of pouch in anticipation of food collection, then this invasion is likely to increase.

This does not mean that the feeding process is always static, you can throw the food for the dog to chase, toss it for catching, place it nearby for them to step towards, or deliver without a movement necessary. But the process must consistently, and clearly, let the dog know that at this time the food is theirs to take, chase or catch.

Exercise 2: Follow

Before you begin to teach the dog a follow hand have a look at ways you can easily discriminate between the delivery-hand and a follow-this hand. If the dog is not sure you can unintentionally elicit hand biting, jumping and snatching. Make sure the difference between the hand-cues (follow or eat) are also distinguishable from the dog’s perspective, which is usually from under the hand.

You will also need to be able to move this hand containing food through 3 dimensions, horizontally and vertically.

You can design a range of hand cues provided the information they cue is clear to the dog.

My choice is the pointy fingers for follow, although I may use the moving pony-hand to elicit movement when the dog is hesitant. This looks more of an invitation to follow than the closed pointy fingers. I have seen the “OK” signal also used effectively, where the food is pinched between the first finger and thumb, as the “follow” hand.

Exercise 3: Waft to engage

Remember that the collection of the treat only begins after you have clearly reminded yourself what is going to happen next. Collection is the opening of the conversation – be clear what you intend to say.

Look at the dog, see what they are doing before collecting the treat. If they are visually watching the process you have engagement, they are listening, then taking the food out of the box / bag is the start of the conversation – the follow stage. The hand should be in “follow-cue”.

If they are not aware of you collecting the food, you will need to waft under the nose to engage and quickly change to the follow-cue. Wafting should never turn into baiting or teasing. If the environment is commanding the dog’s attention elsewhere, then this is not the time for hand-lure. You may be able to resort to walk-and-nibble, but this is not a teaching protocol, it is a management protocol.

One waft should elicit an immediate response, engagement on the hand which proceeds with giving the information ….. follow this or eat this.

Exercise 4: Change to Mark

As the hand changes from follow-cue to eat-this-cue it serves as a visual marker to the dog. This change needs to be clear and certainly in the early teaching stages, emphasised. We want to be able to communicate that an awareness of self (what the dog is doing, what action, or where they are) has finished and we have moved into the delivery process, the consequences of the ABC cycle.

If this is not clear to the dog and move-eat becomes all the same thing, it becomes harder for the dog to learn what they are doing to secure the reward.

Use clear hand-cues to indicate follow, then pause, hold the hand stationary, and change to eat. The pause is helpful for both you and the dog to be clear and clean in your message.

If it helps you can also add a verbal indication at this change. Some folk even say the word “mark” and then go on to deliver.




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