Food lures. Loved by some. Maligned by others.

If you ask us, food lures are among the most valuable, if not *the* most valuable tool you have in your tool kit when beginning to train new behaviors. Food lures allow you to teach your dog behaviors in a way that is easily understandable, as most dogs are going to follow a hand that is holding some yumminess. Plus, we all know that dogs don’t speak English, so they allow us to start the training process in a way that meets them where they are and minimizes confusion, which speeds up the training process. When utilized properly and faded incrementally, food lures allow you to build behaviors in a methodical way that increase the probability of the dog continuing to do the behavior, while allowing you, the trainer, to build in things like distractions, distance and duration (we sure do love the 3 D’s!).

The following video will guide you through the process of fading food lures. Remember: the goal is not fade the food completely, unless you are looking to extinguish a behavior! The goal is to fade the *lure* as the dog progresses through the steps to the terminal behavior (which, in this case, is a sit) and then reinforce intermittently, so the dog always stays in the game. The value of reinforcing intermittently is the same reason we humans play slot machines: you never know when the big win may come, so you keep playing!

Step One: Hand Signal with Full Food Lure

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With the food held between your thumb and forefinger, move the lure up and back, over the dog’s head. The first few times, the dog may simply crane his neck upward, and you will pay him for that. The next step would be knee bends paired with the head craning. You’ll pay for those and not neck craning only. After a few trials, the dog will likely fully sit. You’ll now be paying for the complete sit.  Once you have gotten through these steps, believe it or not, you will already have started the fading process!

Step Two: Hand Signal with Food Lure Buried Deeper in Hand

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For some dogs, moving on to the next step is too much, too fast. Burying the food deeper in your palm gives you something in between. The smell of the food is still very much present, yet you are removing it from view, while making the hand signal itself become slightly more noticeable.

Step Three: Hand Signal with Food buried deeper in hand, and paying from opposite hand
This step is another of the “in-between” variety. It allows the hand signal to be only the prompt, as you will be paying from your other hand. This starts the process of the hand signal becoming more of exactly that – a signal and nothing more.

Step Four: Hand Signal with Food in Other Hand

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When moving on to this step, it is very important to have your food reward ready to go. You need to pay fast, before the dog pops out of position. This is called “position feeding.” If we want to reinforce the right behavior, timing is crucial. We need to do it before the dog has moved.

You can work on this process with or without a clicker, as shown in the video. Clickers “mark” the exact behavior we are looking for and can be very helpful for some dogs. Timing when clicking is important, as clicking a second too late can mark something other than the behavior we are looking for.

Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far, you are ready to start adding a verbal cue to your hand signal prompt. Watch for this next step in installments to come!