If you want to teach your dog a language, with many cues and behaviors, it is a bad idea to teach foundation behaviors with a lure. You are much better off using a clicker (or other marker signal) to teach sit.
Why? Because when you teach sit with a marker signal you’re not just teaching “sit.” Puppies already know how to sit. What you are teaching is a language. You teaching them how to use your language to collect information! Sit is such an easy behavior to mark, reinforce, release and put on cue, why don’t trainers start off using a marker signal for putting foundation behaviors on cue?
If we use a marker signal to teach foundation, later on, it is much easier to teach behaviors that can’t be lured (such as backing up, right/left, paw movements, retrieve and delivery, stops and distant behaviors). If you are teaching the dog to follow food in your hand, it will confuse the dog when you want the dog to ignore food in your hand.
I do use a lure sometimes, especially with adult troubled dogs (but not to teach sit) and it’s actually not that easy to use a lure correctly. I’ve seen problems that arise when a lure is used incorrectly. For example, what happens if a dog doesn’t sit when a pet owner sticks food in his face? They take away the food? That’s not fun. That’s (technically speaking) a form of punishment. Or if they keep sticking the food in his face? They are rewarding him for not sitting? It is hard to really control or even understand the behavior science of reinforcement and punishment when you are using a lure.
I understand why people use a lure to teach sit. Typically, they are afraid the clicker won’t work. They haven’t conditioned the clicker and so they have more confidence that a dog will follow the lure. They dread dead air time, where a puppy is standing there doing nothing but thinking. Some trainers and students are coming from a history of pushing dogs into a sit, and while they have gotten beyond that they still can’t stand waiting for the dog to sit on it’s own.
But waiting pays off . Once the dog “gets it” the whole room gets excited. Using a click, everyone can see that dogs are not stupid! Everyone can see that the dog “figured it out.” When you clicker train a sit, you can see that dogs are really very intelligent!
Clients who lure their pup too easily wind up with a diminished sense of canine intelligence. They may go home thinking that the only thing that matters to their dog is hotdogs.
You have accomplished very little when you use a lure to teach sit. Any time “saved” with luring a sit is going to be spent in tearing your hair out with behaviors down the road. We humans are so confusing! And you haven’t truly taught “sit” yet, because you can’t lure a dog into sit at a distance.
A lure is not a language, because food in your hand means many different things. Food as a stimulus for behaviors is problematic. Some dogs a treat and they run! They recognize a lure as a potential trap! “You are not going to catch me with that hotdog!” Some dogs see a lure as a tease. Either give him or don’t give him the treat, don’t present it and tease him with it! Dogs can become uninspired and unmotivated when people make mistakes with lures.
A clicker (I tongue click) brings clarity to the conversations people have with pets. It’s the beginning of a whole new language, and “sit” is the right place to start learning that language. When you’ve taught foundation behaviors using a marker signal, people have a tool that they can use to teach their dog any behavior in the future, and they go home with a much richer understanding of how dogs think.