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A Lure is a Lure is a Lure

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A Lure is something that you show your dog in order to get something else to happen.

If I show my dog a toy to encourage play or energy, and then ask for work,  I have used the toy to “lure” engagement and energy from my dog.

If I show my dog a cookie (or give him a few) before the start of work, I have used the cookie to “lure” engagement and attention from my dog.

If I play with my dog to get him to engage and give me energy, I am still using play as a lure, but this one I can take into the ring, so it doesn’t worry me too much.

If I stand quietly and wait for my dog to look at me, and then respond with a cookie, a toy or some play, then I have rewarded my dog.   There is no lure for that repetition.  However, all future repetitions have an element of a lure to them, since my dog is now aware of what motivator is available.

Last week I started a new on-line class called “Bridging the Gap; From Training to Competition”.  The class is about getting into the ring where there are no toy or food reinforcers.

And this above issue, understanding a lure (and the good and bad aspects of them) has become pivotal, so I decided to mention it here as well since I suspect my students are not the only ones wrestling with this challenge.

Many of us use food, toys and personal play to train, so we spend a good deal of energy developing those motivators.  But once they are developed (and our dogs want them), then it’s time to stop using them as lures and start using them as rewards.

No more “warming a dog up” with a toy.

No more carrying cookies on your body or giving the dog a few to get started.

No more begging a distracted dog to work by showing them what you have.

Your dog must engage with you to cause work to begin.  It can be as simple as eye contact or as complex as an entire obedience routine, but regardless, the dog must begin the process.

You tell your dog that you are available for engagement (I do that by standing still and telling my dog to “take a break” on a leash) and then the dog responds.

When you go to a dog competition, there will be no more food or toys on your body.  If you are relying on “fooling” your dog into thinking that you can reinforce your dog in the ring, you’ll find that your competition career is limited to the period of time that you can continue to fake your dog out.  Why not stop lying and just be honest?  Work hard to develop the motivator that you can take in the ring (play and praise) and train your dog to understand that the classic motivators will come later; after a job completed?

It’s not hard to let your dog start the engagement, but you have to let go of control.  Let your dog realize that working is fun; truly a privilege.  Of course, if your dog would rather do anything than engage with you in work, you have another problem altogether which is beyond the scope of this post.

Give it a try.  Engagement is the first step to getting into competition.  Just a simple behavior at first, followed up by a reward.  Then a few simple behaviors, chained together.

If you need the structure of a class, you can still sign up for a few more days at this link:   If you prefer to work on your own, always ask yourself how  your current approach to training will hold up in the ring.  If you have doubts, re-evaluate and make changes as needed.

About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

2 responses »

  1. Marcia in NorCal

    “You have to let go of control”
    You make it sound so simple! And, well, I guess it is fairly simple … but EASY? Not so much. Obedience has traditionally been ALL ABOUT control, it seems, so what you suggest is very counter-intuitive. That said … I agree 100%. I do not want an automaton at my side, which is why I’ve never had any interest in Obedience: that seemed to be the standard and in fact the requirement. That seems to be changing, as the attitude toward dogs changes in conjunction with what we are learning about how they learn and think. I think luring has its place, and I’m not embarrassed to use it once in awhile and fail to understand why anyone would be. I also am pleased to be learning that there are different kinds of lures, and to have guidance available on how to minimize our dependence on them.
    Still chewing on the whole “you have to let go of control” thing. Now there’s a topic for a whole chapter in a book somewhere!

  2. I hope I haven’t missed the point… but your post reminded me of something I learned from my local instructor.

    Yesterday my dog was having a very difficult time focusing because she is on “that day” of her season. My response was to let go of the tasks and reward her for ANY attention. When I was getting a tiny bit – then we built up from there. Essentially shaping her from baby levels of attention to closer to what she’s normally capable of. Of course, I had food on me, so it’s presence acted as a lure.

    What your post reminded me of was, my instructor’s suggestion that instead of making it so easy that Gimme couldn’t fail to succeed, that I try a slightly different tactic. It is similar to something I’d tried before, but not with great success. Urs’ suggestion was that when she was inattentive, I shorten up on the leash (not tight, just short) so that she had no real option, but to stand beside me and look at stuff or… When she chose to give me some real attention, then she got rewarded and the opportunity to work and earn more. I still had food on me, so it was still a lure, but this seems different.

    Am I right to see a similarity here – or am I imagining it?


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