Most of the time we presume the lure is attached to us, or controlled by us. In our hand, a cup on a stick or thrown to a distant point. But there are occasions when we want the dog to be lured by something other than an association with us.
This would be rewards stations which draw a dog’s focus away from us – useful for travelling or jumping towards a target, sending out to a target, or backing away increased distances. It does not matter whether the food is freely secured (self-service) by the dog or we join the dog once at the reward station to open the container.
In addition to stations we can ask the dog to search for freely secured food. This is useful in nose work, and begins to give relevance to specific locations for the dog to search without the need for our input. An example would teaching a dog to search containers, or upwards in ceilings, as dogs nearly always expect to search below eye level, in and under is more natural. Anyone that has ever taken the dog for a walk, and the dog has only just missed the rabbit that shot down a hole – that hole will be remembered and checked out for the next 5 years.
Laying out the pattern, or reward station(s) can be done initially with the dog watching, which serves to build their curiosity. To begin the reinforcement rate is high with ensured frequent success – lots of easily found food for small amounts of work. The work load can increase, distance from the reward station, quite quickly. We can also revert to easy finds, and mix that up with harder finds. But the dogs will learn where to go, where to get busy and search. This is the classic variable schedule, unattached to any specific criteria or gap in the schedule. Quite probably this is a result of the fact that most dogs love to search, and our food patterns, or stations, just serve to bring a specific location, or search style into a primary focus.
We can also use the free-search-and-teach-ourself strategy in other situations. As I leave the garden to go over to the barn, I would shower a handful of treats just short of the gate. This meant that I didn’t have disappointment as the gate closed on the dogs, no arguments about choosing one dog to come with me, and the dogs learned quickly to hang back as I was heading out. This protocol can be used for any doorway where we require some hesitation.
It would be neat if the food “arrived” on the floor without us needing to demonstrate to the dog. I think a timely invention of a tube running down the inside of our trousers, that means we could seem to “shed” food would be more than useful. If we have a pattern of hand scattering then this would become the cue to hang back, whereas we would rather the location, and us walking away were the cues to search around.
One exercise you may enjoy teaching with food un-associated with you, but certainly associated with another object is the “walk the line”. The line in this case would be a good length of hose pipe, or skipping rope.
This can be laid out on the floor and food placed very close to, or under, the pipe. Turns curves and angles can be employed. Initially the dog would watch us place the treats and then follow the line eating as they go.
You would need to make sure the dog continues along the same pathway, not back tracking or jumping ahead. So the line pattern in the early days would encourage forward searching. If the dog was losing interest, then you can trail the COAS along the pipe to keep the dog’s focus, and make sure that food is frequent for slow progress.
Diligence is the key here, not getting to the end, no jackpot for finishing.
Once we have taught the line, we can then explore using the line as a ground-follow tool, even to going around objects, under, over etc, although the style would be a searching dog of no specific gait.
Reward stations need to be clearly different from the food reserves that are nearby, but we want the dog to focus on us. I would begin close to the station, closing the container, and placing a treat on the top, then send the dog to self-collect. Even if you need to hold onto the dog physically as you set this up, place the treat, turn the dog away, let them look at the station and let go when they are looking.
The food container should be recognised by the dog at the distance you require them to travel, and can later be associated or hidden under another object that you may want the dog to travel to.
This is also an excellent game for teaching redirection where the dog travels from one station to another.
I would use the self-service until the momentum and focus is stable and then “forget” to place the treat on the container, and be prompted by a look from the dog to remedy that. People can be so stupid!
Here is an example of an “off-person” lure. The chin rest will be a future component of husbandry training, where I will need to be abel to move both my hands around the dog without them focussing on my hands. The presence of the container will serve as a reward station and a focal point.
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