“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, some dogs are so focused on the lure they barely know they are going over a jump (crash!). Many dogs become overly focused on the food and they seem to “stop thinking.” And 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 for participating. Or if they keep sticking the food in his face? They are rewarding him for not sitting? So often people feed their lures regardless of what the dog is doing.  It is hard to control or even understand the behavior science of what you are doing with 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 practiced with or  conditioned the clicker and so they stick with the experience that, for better but usually for worse, a dog will go after food in the environment. Teacher/trainers dread  embarrassing 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 force they still can’t stand waiting for the dog to sit on its 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! They do think! We CAN “talk” to our dogs!

Pet owners who lure too easily wind up with a diminished sense of canine intelligence, and of their own training abilities.  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  down the road.  You can’t lure a dog into sit from a distance.

When food, real or imaginary, is part of your cue, you’ve got a problem.  Dogs can figure out that trick/trap and I’ve worked with dogs who see a treat and run to escape it! “You are not going to truck 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 teaches my dogs to focus on me, rather than on food. It’s the first word  of our shared language, and it means “you just win a prize!” Dogs can easily understand that there are many types of prizes, not just food, that they are willing to work to earn.

The perfect place to start learning this dog-language is with sit/down/stand. When you’ve taught  foundation behaviors using marker signals, dogs are less frustrated, and you are positioned to develop a richer understanding of how animals really think.


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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