Luring is a popular and easy way to teach dogs a variety of behaviors. It usually works by a handler using a treat on the dog’s nose to steer or lead a dog to move their body in a specific direction, essentially “luring” them. This training technique is often the easiest and quickest way for dog owners to teach their dogs new skills, and it’s incredibly motivating. However, you don’t want to become reliant on luring to continue doing each skill, which is when it’s time to fade your lures.
The Luring Debate
Sometimes luring gets a bad reputation or is dismissed as just bribing dogs. This is primarily because people worry that dogs (and their owners) will become reliant on the lure and the presence of a treat in the dog’s face every time they do a behavior. Luring is an easy way for dog owners to teach a variety of behaviors from the training basics, such as teaching a dog to sit or down on cue, to more complicated skills like competition-level Obedience heeling and expert-level tricks.
But lures shouldn’t be considered bribes. Despite wanting to fade out lures to polish a trick or command, there is no problem with using treats to teach a skill. They are just one way to introduce your dog to new behaviors and can be an easy way to teach skills while building your dog’s confidence.
When To Consider Fading
Although lures can help your dog learn new skills, you want to eliminate that lure once your dog fully understands the skill. Fading out the use of the lure is important so that the “finished product” of the trick can happen without you needing to have a treat to guide them. How much you fade the lure is a personal preference, but in general, the more you remove it, the better the skill will look.
But you should still reward your dogs for a job well done after completing a trick—just not leading them during the process. To achieve this, vary the rate of reinforcement on the cues that dogs have learned and understand.
Determine the Rate of Reinforcement
Reinforcement is a vital part of learning. When you first start to teach a skill through luring, your dog follows the treat and gets that food reward each time they perform the new behavior. This helps to build positive associations for your dog between what they are doing and the reward they get. Once your dog is consistently performing the behavior, you can then begin to vary your rate of reinforcement by asking your dog to do the behavior a couple of times before you reward them.
Then, the more familiar your dog gets with the behavior, you can further reduce the rate of reinforcement. Mix it up, too. Sometimes your dog gets a reward for performing the behavior once, sometimes they get a reward after several repetitions.
How To Fade The Lure
As soon as your dog is performing the cue consistently with the lure, you want to start fading it out. Otherwise, dogs begin to associate only performing the behavior with the presence of the treat and can become dependent on it. To see if your dog is reliant upon the lure, give the verbal cue for the behavior or the hand signal for the behavior—but don’t use a treat. If your dog does the behavior, they know it well. But if your dog doesn’t, they are likely reliant on that lure. The easiest way to fade a lure on a skill is to gradually decrease how obvious your lure is with the below steps.
Step 1: Give a verbal cue, then wait a few seconds to see if your dog absorbs the information before performing it. If your dog doesn’t, step in to help your dog with a lure.
Step 2: Repeat the cue, but make the lure less pronounced. For example, if you want your dog to sit and taught the behavior by using a treat on their nose to lure their head up and their body to sit down. Now, when you say sit, move your hand up the same way without a treat in your hand. Praise and give them a treat after they’re successful, making them less reliant on the treat.
Step 3: When your dog is consistently performing a behavior without a treat, you can start to make your hand signal less pronounced. So, with the sit example, move your hand up but in a less exaggerated gesture while using your verbal “sit” cue. Again, praise and give your dog a treat when they perform the behavior.
Step 4: Continue this process making your physical signal less pronounced each time until you just have a small physical cue for a behavior. You can also continue fading to eliminate the physical cue entirely and your dog knows to do the skill just on a verbal cue.
Remember To Not Rush It
There can be a rush to want to remove the lure from a trick very quickly, but this can backfire just as fast. It’s important to go slowly with fading a lure to get a better-finished product. If you push too quickly to remove the lure, your dog may become less motivated to do the trick at all. Some skills are harder for individual dogs to learn and it’s OK to take your time fading the lure out at a pace they are comfortable and successful with.
Remember, fading lures doesn’t mean you stop rewarding your dog for a job well done. Even with a faded lure, your dog should still get praise—just maybe not with a treat each time. To keep your rate of reinforcement high, it’s helpful to carry treats with you in your pockets or have well-stashed treats around your house. This allows you to reward your dog regularly, and to keep your dog guessing about when the rewards will appear when they perform the cues they know well.