Woman holding food in front of a dog

Luring, Part 1: Benefits and Pitfalls of Luring

This post was contributed by my associate, Paul.  Interested in training with Paul? Contact us!

What is luring?

One easy way to teach basic commands such as sit and down is to use treats to guide your dog into position. Using treats in this way is often called “luring.” Here is an example: To teach your dog to sit using luring, you hold a treat just above their nose and slowly move it towards the back of their head until they gently rock back into a sit. Once they sit, you give them the treat.

You can also use luring to teach down: Hold a treat in front of your dog’s nose and then slowly move the treat straight down to the ground between their front paws. Most dogs will follow the treat down (while trying to finagle it out of your hand), giving you the perfect opportunity to reward them.

The hidden pitfalls of luring

So far so good. Teaching simple behaviors with luring is usually easy. Most dogs can learn sit and down in a few minutes. Pet guardians often have difficulty fading the use of treats, though.  It’s important to have a strategy to transition from the initial training stage – where treats are front and center – to training that works in the real world, where you might not always want to show the dog a treat to get the behavior.

Part of the difficulty in transitioning from teaching a new behavior to creating reliable behaviors is that treats serve different functions as training progresses. In the initial steps of training, if you are using luring, treats are props that guide your dog into position. Your dog just follows the proverbial shiny object. As training progresses, though, treats should transition to a reward for a job well done. In other words, instead of appearing before the behavior and guiding the dog into the right position, they appear after the behavior, and reward the dog for having done the right thing.

What’s in it for the dog?

Once lures stop being front and center, your dog may wonder whether the behavior is worth doing. This is where dogs and trainers often get stuck, and where trainers need to understand how to transition treats from being a lure to a reward. A treat cheerfully waved in front of your dog acts as a lure for only a short time. Use it too often, and it soon becomes a bribe.  Then training turns into an explicit transaction: your dog will only do what you ask if you show them the money up front.

A good trainer can help you avoid this trap and keep your training moving forward. Next time, I’ll give you tips and tricks for managing the transition from luring to reinforcing.


As mentioned earlier, this post was written by my associate, Paul. Contact us to set up a training session with him!


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