Food Lures versus Rewards
Posted by DL on March 2, 2012, 5:00 pm
© Copyright 2002 – Beverly Hebert. All rights reserved |
Tailwaggers Learning Center 2006
FOOD LURES VS. REWARDS
There are important differences between using food as a lure
and using food as a reward:
Food Lures. The food lure is used as an aide and motivator to teach the dog
the body mechanics of a behavior like Sit or Down by having him target and
follow the visible food lure in your hand with his nose. (At this point the dog
is smelling, but usually not being allowed to eat the treat). Luring should be
faded out as soon as possible so that this doesn’t become a permanent
crutch for your dog and so that your dog does not come to depend on the
visible presence of food to obey you. You can usually fade out the lure after
about 6 repetitions of a behavior.
Fading the food lure. Fading the food lure means gradually eliminating the
lure as a crutch to get/elicit the behavior. How. After your dog will readily
perform a behavior when you lure him (usually after about half a dozen
repetitions) make the same luring movement/signal, but with an empty hand.
Tell your dog to Sit and/or give your hand signal (without the food lure), and
if he does, immediately click and reward him from your other hand. Keep
the treats out of sight in your other hand, pocket or fanny pack and
eventually, sometimes off your person entirely in a near, by location such as
a table or counter top.
Food Rewards. In contrast to food lures, which come into play before the
dog performs a behavior as an aide to teaching the body mechanics of the
behavior, food used as a reward is given to the dog to eat after a behavior is
performed. In addition, after the visible food lure is faded out, food used
as a reward is usually kept out of sight until after the dog has performed
the cued behavior. Food rewards help maintain your dog’s enthusiasm and
motivation so they should never be completely phased out, although they
should gradually change from being offered every time the dog gives a
correct response to being given on a random schedule.
Why the confusion? Initially, when the dog is learning a new behavior
(sometimes called “the teaching phase” of training) the same piece of food
used as a lure to get the dog to perform the physical movements of a
behavior such as Sit, a few seconds later becomes the actual treat given as a
reward for that behavior. However, at a later stage in training, after the
dog knows how to perform a behavior on cue, you should no longer need to
lure him and should then be using food only as a reward.
Using food as bribe is a no-no. You are using food as a bribe when you
dangle it in front of the dog before getting him to perform a behavior that
he has already become proficient at. To prevent the food from becoming a
bribe, keep the food out of sight until the dog has given a correct response
and offer the treat immediately afterwards as a paycheck for a job well
Food Rewards—Schedules of Reinforcement. While the dog is in the
learning stage of a new behavior, you should reward him on a continuous
basis—in other words, he gets a treat every time he performs the requested
Moving to a random reward schedule. Once the dog performs reliably, you
no longer have to give him a treat for every correct action—you can
gradually put the rewards on a random schedule.
How. When your dog is responding promptly and correctly about at least
85% of the time (5 times out of 6) begin to reward him every 2nd time, then
every 3rd time, every 4th time, then randomly. Let your dog’s behavior
guide you in how fast to proceed in cutting down on the frequency of
rewards, and if his correct responses slow, drop back to a more frequent
Raise your criteria. Since you are now only rewarding some of the time, try
to reward/reinforce the fastest downs, the straightest sits, etc. Give
Jackpots for really good responses!
Mix in Non Food Rewards. Once your dog is very solid with a behavior, you
can begin to sometimes offer a reward other than food. When your dog
responds to your cues, praise and play with him with or without a toy.
Remember that rewarded behavior remains strong, unrewarded behavior will
eventually fade and extinguish. Think of food, play, and other rewards as
your dog’s paychecks!
Trouble Shooting: "My Dog Only Works for Food!"
Then go back to the beginning and make sure that you first fade out the
food lure, then move through your reinforcement schedule more carefully.
Be sure that you introduce real life rewards including praise, play, toys,
Also place your dog on the NO FREE LUNCH regimen! Cue your dog to Sit
before you put his supper bowl down, before you play with him, before you
open the door to let him go in or out.
Use gentle enforcement: If you ask your dog for a behavior and he does
not comply because you aren't wiggling a hot dog under his nose, slip his
leash on, keep it short but loose, so that he can't go off to pursue a
distraction, and ignore him for a minute or two-- to quote Dr. Ian Dunbar,
"Life Stops" temporarily until your dog is ready to comply with your
direction. Give him another chance and if he responds well, praise him
warmly and play with him
Sometimes when owners have this problem, they are not
reinforcing/rewarding their dogs often enough! What happens is that
they rarely give a reward, the behavior response weakens and becomes
less and less reliable, then the owner whips out some food and the dog
snaps to attention--so the owner concludes that the dog only works when
he can see the weenie. The solution is to reward your dog frequently
enough to keep the behavior strong, but to reward the best responses and
to mix up treat rewards with other real life rewards. Also sometimes
reward with treats when the treats are not on your person--dog performs
behavior--praise it, then run with dog to get the treat. The dog gets
immediate praise a behavior marker, the run provides immediate
reinforcement, and the treat becomes the jackpot!