Don’t Make This Simple Dog Training Mistake: The Difference Between Luring & Rewarding

Are you luring your dog or rewarding your dog?

Are you luring your dog or rewarding your dog? When using food in training or behavior modification, both luring and rewarding have their place. Used effectively, they can make training a very pleasant experience for both you and your dog. Used incorrectly, or confusing the two in practice can lead to some frustrating behavior such as your dog only listening when food is present.

Just like any training “tool”, you want to create a positive experience for your dog and fire off those happy neurons in the brain while training. What you don’t want to do is to condition your dog to work for the tool, not you. In this case, the tool is the food.

So what’s the difference between luring and rewarding?

Starting with luring. Luring is using something they like that will draw them in (with food – something yummy). You can do this with toys and other motivators as well but for the purpose of keeping this lesson simple, we are specifically talking about food lures. With the food, you direct their movement with the lure to begin creating the behavior you want from your dog. Luring, when used, should always be the very first step and faded out quickly. Once you’ve lured a dog where you want them – you give them the food lure as the reward.

A reward is giving the dog something he or she really likes for exhibiting a behavior that you like and want to see repeated. For example, when your dog sits when given the “sit” cue. The reward comes after the cue is performed to let your dog know they did the right thing.

Mistakes people make using luring and rewarding:
#1 – Not fading the lure out fast enough. Luring is generally only used the very first time you are introducing a specific direction that you would like your dog to follow. Once you’ve given that direction repeatedly with the lure in your first training session, then bridge the gap between the desired behavior and the lure using your fingers to direct. For example, if you’ve lured your dog into a sit by pulling the treat up over their head, then remove the lure, repeat the same motion with your hand, and switch to offering a reward as soon as their bottom hits the floor. The next step would be fading out the hand and marking the bottom hitting the floor with “sit”. Long story short – wean your dog off of the lure as soon as possible to avoid teaching your dog that they follow the direction you are teaching them only when food is present.

#2 – Accidentally luring when you are meaning to reward. If your dog sees the treat or it’s in your hand close to them where they know it’s right there, you are luring. Think of it as a bribe – if you do this, I’ll give you that while waving it in front of them, (even if you aren’t actively showing it to them). Avoid bringing out the reward until the exact moment when they are exhibiting the behavior you want them to repeat. Think of it like the trigger on a gun. You never put your finger on the trigger until you are ready to pull it.

Once the lure is gone, you can use the reward system to capture and shape behaviors.

Have questions about luring or rewarding? Pop them in the comments below!

Nom Nom Jerky Treats: