All of Maisy’s early training was done with lure-reward. As a novice owner, it was easy and intuitive, and Maisy learned quickly. I absolutely agree with Ian that lure-reward is the best method for teaching novice owners who just want the basics. However, lure-reward training is not without its critics, and I remember seeing people in my puppy class that struggled to get their dogs to work without food. Today, I’m going to share what Ian said about using lure-reward training correctly.
The first step is to phase out the lure as quickly as possible. The lure should be used briefly, as an instruction to do the dog, and you shouldn’t use a food lure more than six to twelve times before you move to luring with air-cookies. After another six to twelve reps, your air-cookies become a hand signal! Once you’ve reached this step, the treat should always come out of the bag/your pocket/wherever after the dog performs the behavior. Otherwise, you run the (very high) risk that the treat becomes a bribe, not a reward.
Next, you need to get the behavior under verbal command. Since lure-reward training so effective at getting behavior, Ian says that you can name it right away. However, he emphasizes standing absolutely still when you say the cue so that you don’t introduce any inadvertent body cues. After you’ve given the command, wait for half a second before you lure/use air cookies/give your hand signal. If you say the word and lure/give a hand signal at the same time, the dog will be focused on the food/your movement, not your voice, and as a result, is unlikely to pick up that what you said was a cue. When your dog responds to the word, and not your physical movements, have a treat party!
Now you need to motivate your dog to want to work for you. Treats are awesome, of course, but you need to phase them out, too. Ian does this in a number of ways. He asks for more than one behavior before giving the treat. He uses differential reinforcement to reward only the best responses (he recommends using a 1 to 3 ratio as ideal). And most importantly… use life rewards!
There are three main kinds of life rewards: playing with other dogs, walking and sniffing, and interactive games like fetch and tug. Ian said that if you have a dog that plays, you have a trained dog because it is so easy to use a toy as both a lure and a reward. (Incidentally, while he does phase out treats, he doesn’t phase out interactive games ever.) Any time your dog wants one of these life reward activities, ask for a behavior first. When he complies, release him to go play or sniff or chase the ball. Then have training interludes frequently (every 15 to 30 seconds of play, or every 25 yards or so when on a walk) to request a behavior before letting the dog return to the activity.
Finally, you need to figure out how to force a dog to do what you want… without coercion. This is where RRNR comes in, and since I’ve already written a whole post about it, I won’t belabor the point.
Following these suggestions will prevent lure-reward training from turning into bribery. My puppy classes with Maisy were very good about getting us to phase out both the lures and the treats, but didn’t emphasize verbal control- we used a lot of hand signals in class, and Maisy and I are still quite dependent on them to this day. We talked a little bit about using life rewards, but I wish we would have practiced the concept to help drill it home.
What about you guys? Did you use lure-reward to teach your dog the basics? How did you do at phasing out treats, getting verbal commands vs. hand signals, and motivating your dog to work? I’m curious to hear about your experiences!