Not all lures contain food

by | Dec 2, 2019

“the direct use of the reinforcer
to elicit the behaviour”


This should always be foremost in our mind, in that many alternatives lures are available. The first question is identifying that it is a reinforcer:

In the dog’s opinion (not ours)

In the dog’s recent experience

In these conditions or context

Suitable for this behaviour, it compliments the purpose.

Affection and Social Approval as a Lure

The clear distinction between something that is a reinforcer as to the normal view of “a reward” is that the recipient gets to decide whether it is a reinforcer, or rewarding, or not. If you passed me a tip for assisting you with your luggage, but it was a lot less than I considered I was due, you may have thought it was a reward, I did not.

Equally you can praise the dog with lots of excitement, “good job” “good boy” and all the rest, but if the dog does not consider that a reinforcer, then it isn’t. It may make you feel better, but that does not make it a reward for the dog.

It may appear to arouse the dog, but that does not equate to reinforcement or reward. For that we need evidence.

To be able to use anything, even food, as a lure we must first establish:

We can engage, it serves as a clear cue by the response from the dog

The dog can follow, or show an approaching behaviour to the cue

We can distinguish between the lure and the reinforcer.

Affection and social approval comes in many, many varieties and flavours. Just because the dog enjoys belly rubs when lying at your side on the sofa, does not make it effective reinforcement for heelwork or jumping. Reinforcers are often context specific.

Affection is usually provided from our hands. We need to experiment and seek evidence with different tactile pleasures the dog can enjoy.

Just recently we had a weekend of looking at affection as a reward and one handler declared her dog “didn’t like to be fussed”. This was a large dog with upright ears and the handler obviously enjoyed toying with the ears. The dog did not. But when she engaged with chest rubs we could see the dog sought that interaction again and again.

What is pleasure for you may not be to the dog, so we need to learn to use the hands to explore:

  • Where on the dog’s body they like the tactile contact:
    • under the chin, over the top of the hips, round the belly
  • What degree or amount of contact:
    • the full palm of the hand, just the finger tips, one finger
  • What motion:
    • tumble cycle in a washing machine, one-nail scratch, long slow stroke

I find that dogs often seek those magic hands to reach the areas they cannot, and do the things that they can’t do for themselves.

To ascertain if the service you are offering is desired, you will limit this to 3 seconds and then remove your hands, only slightly. The sensation should stop, but the hands still be clearly available. This is an important distinction, rather like opening the treat pot. It should not be open all the time, as the dog will be seeking to earn a reward by nagging you with behaviours, and the same can happen with your hands. You need to be clear that when the hands are busy, they are busy and not available (the treat pot is in the fridge), but when you have the open gesture, a desired service is available.

Equally the dog should show that they want the service, tactile contact, by an approaching behaviour. We should not presume to surge in with touch that is not sought. (I think the folk that assume everyone has a desire to be hugged often miss this point, the gesture to “do you want a hug” should be clearly given, and then if responded to the hug is consensual. More than once I have had to block an incoming hug.)

Most baby puppies from about 5 weeks old can work out how to make that magic hand re-commence affection.

The affection package is often wrapped in several elements, the tactile pleasure, close proximity of the person and a verbal enjoyment. To be able to use this as a reinforcer, remember to limit the time to a maximum of 5 seconds, and stop whilst more is still desired. By associating verbal enjoyment, we can possibly have the verbal reinforcer when we are not in close proximity or our magic hands are not free. But it should not be assumed to be a reward unless there is evidence.

We often see this when trying to reward a dog when retrieving. As the toy is throw and the dog runs after it, much verbal approval is given. The dog then picks up, and more praise and attractive noises are made to “lure” the dog back towards us. This often has the opposite effect of reinforcing a disconnecting series of behaviours with the toy. Until the dog makes eye contact with the person and is actively running towards them, verbal praise should NOT be forthcoming. Most young dogs will learn to play the “stay away” game and see just how much verbal hard work the person is likely to go through.

Exercises for Luring by Affection

The centre of the luring by affection is often the approach behaviours. Our open hands on the floor can lure the dog to focus downwards, the opposite to encourage a jump up onto us. If the dog is relaxed in proximity to us we can elicit a paw movement, a nudge or a wriggle to re-engage the affection.

Begin with the concept first – that we cannot assume the affection package is desired. Firstly give the dog affection and then see what you can lure. Do not get greedy, small, finely sliced steps.

Be clear of the three stages:

  • Clear invitation to approach the lure-hands
  • The behaviour of following
  • A change into reinforcement

Use a unique marker that has no history of food or the dog will often reject the affection offer if they are conditioned to expect food.

Be observant as to what part of the dog’s body is positioned for the contact point.

Luring by toy flirting

A toy can be used to lure, but you should be clear that the dog is responding to the reward of playing with the toy, with you, and not just responding to the fast, prey movement as a predator.

This can look the same. If a toy is flicked fast many dogs will reflexively approach to bite and this flicking action is then used to elicit a desired response from the dog. But that is not the same as the toy being presented, without movement, and the dog approaching to play.

You can lure with predatory movement, but those behaviours are more than likely to be predatory in response. This will include:

  • high levels of arousal, that may not be easily controlled, or changed,
  • a bite, or open mouth, seeking to grab or chase
  • a susceptibility to react to all movement in the environment

Luring by eliciting predatory response conditions the lured behaviours into the predator state.

If you wish to use play as the reinforcer, then the same lure rules can be used:

  • Clear invitation to approach the toy
  • The behaviour of following
  • A change into reinforcement

Think about two dogs playing together where the toy is highly valued by one dog and used as a flirt to entice the other dog into flirting/chasing, or sharing behaviours. Regard the play as mutually playful, enjoying the shared toy. This should not include aggressive tugging unless you are eliciting bite training.

By demonstrating your enjoyment of the toy, without the dog, can elicit an approach. This approach should then be rewarded with shared playing.

Be super clear the difference between the flirt-lure and the “take it” cue. If this is not clear to the dog you will find the dog lunges at the toy unsolicited.

The flirt-baiting in using the toy is often the one most susceptible to frustration biting and over arousal.




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Key Reading

What Words Conceal

The language across all kinds of media paints a picture of dogs and our relationships with them.

Location is Their Cue

We begin teaching the dog to go to a target, such as a mat or platform and in this process our focus is on the outcome – the dog can place feet on the object or settle down. But at the same time this learning is happening the dog is also noting the location: where this is happening in this room, in the house, relative to the food-machine (you).

Cue Seeking is Connection

Connection is very individual and to be authentic we have to observe, slow down, understand our dogs and meet them where they are.

The Right Bed in the Right Spot

Resting and sleeping are not necessarily the same state. Good sleep where we feel safe and comfortable is important for us all.

Play Health Check

When we look at play or food delivery as an ACTIVITY we share the same mindset as the dog: is there pleasure to be experienced?

Since the Dawn of Dog Training

The old joke reminds us that the only thing dog trainers can agree on is that their training method in the best one. It becomes increasingly difficult to know which method is “right” and whether it will suit the dog, the situation and trainer’s skills.

Back to Basics?

The word “basic” is often derided as synonymous with “shallow,” but in its origins it is the very opposite: foundational, profound, supportive.

The Whole of The Dog

We cannot divide training into compartments of fast recalls, or sit for greeting, or loose leads as everything we ask of the dogs is interrelated.

Not Today and Not for My Sheepdogs

Standard protocols of extinction, impulse control, counterconditioning are quickly grabbed off the shelf as satisfactory solutions. These solutions are unlikely to help your collie, your sheepdog as the focus is heavily on suppression of who they are and why they live.

Do you see what I see

Doing better is the reward from doing the work. This work needs to be the right work at the right time with the right intent done in the right way.

Top Training

Evidence of learning

When we use the words “teach” or “train” child, person or dog, the operative term implies that the process is under the ownership of the teacher or trainer. What your teacher thinks you have learned may not be what you actually learned.

One dog watching

The other dog working
or ….how to train the spectators to quietly rest and watch whilst you work, play, teach a single member of the group

The Power of Passive Learning

Active learning: the learner takes active choice of what to do, how to respond, is attentive and making conscious effort
Passive learning: little conscious effort, reward is delivered for minimum effort.

A Day of Learning

A no-training day does not mean he gets a lazy day lying idly in the sun. Learning is still happening and this is significant and important for his development.

Surprising Puppy

Surprising Puppy. With obnoxious moments. After introducing the obnoxious puppy as a youngster I am knocked over by the Delightful Young Man he is turning into……

Obnoxious Puppy

The delight of your new puppy is probably going to last a few weeks, maybe four if you are lucky. When 12 weeks old hits, and you will feel a slam, the Delight is going to demonstrate ungrateful, obnoxious traits.


Preparing before you train and the final check list

More than words

We expect our dogs to understand the meaning of words and signals, but if you have ever worked with computers you will know that what you say doesn’t always turn into an actionable response.

Remote lures

Lures at a distance, separated from hands, pockets . Using reward stations, patterns, containers

Luring: Hand lures

Learning hand-lure skills, Collect the food, engage, follow, feed.

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