“Luring” versus “Clicker training”

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?Smokey&Bee

If we use a marker signal to teach foundations, 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!

And really, 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 can’t lure a dog into sit from a distance.

Rather than thinking to yourself that you are teaching your dog to “sit,” remember you are teaching your dogs a language! A lure is not a language, because food in your hand  means many different things. And food as a stimulus for behaviors is problematic. I’ve worked with dogs who see a treat and run to escape it! They recognize a lure might be a trap! “You are not going to catch me with that hotdog!”

And some dogs see a lure as a tease. “Either give it to me or don’t give it to me, but  it’s stressing me out when you keep waving it in my face but then it seems like you don’t want me to take it!!” Dogs can become uninspired and unmotivated when people make mistakes with lures.

A clicker (I use a tongue click) brings clarity to the conversations we have with our pets.  It’s the first word  of a language dogs can easily understand, and the perfect place to start learning that language is with foundation behaviors. When you’ve taught  foundation behaviors using marker signals, you have a foundation of signals — a simple, clear, kind, and friendly language — that you can use to teach your dog ANY behavior, and you are positioned to develop a richer understanding of how animals really think.

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About Jenny Ruth Yasi

author, sailor, animal trainer,rally, agility and freestyle competitor, owner/proprietor Whole Dog Camp, now located in Freeport, Maine. For 31 years we lived on Peaks Island Maine. Now we are sailing with our 2 dogs in the Bahamas, and will return to Maine in 2017
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