By Gaby Dufresne-Cyr, CBT-FLE
Many dog trainers use lures to train dogs. Lures are most often food, but they can be toys or even safety. There are multiple reasons to use lures, but the most common motive is to teach new behaviours. I don’t use lures to teach new behaviours, and you will read why in the following paragraphs.
The Oxford Dictionary defines lures as something that tempts or is used to tempt a person or animal to do something. The lure can be any primary need, such as food, water, safety, sex (yes, sex), social contact, thermoregulation (environmental temperatures), etc. In essence, a lure is anything the dog wants. Oftentimes, food is used as a lure.
Lure Pros & Cons
The following reasons are not an exhaustive list, but they do convey the main reasons for or against lure training. Furthermore, this is my list and doesn’t represent the entire Dogue Shop students or staff’s reasons to lure or not to lure. For my part, I can honestly say I’m a lure-free trainer.
- Speed: lures allow dog trainers to capture behaviours faster.
- Efficacy: lures produce a desired or intended result.
- Learning: models the dog into a behaviour.
- Efficacy: unreliable if the trainer does not fade out the lure immediately.
- Learning: doesn’t allow for problem-solving skills to develop.
- Confusion: lures are cues and rewards at the same time.
- Generalisation: We can’t lure exotic animals into behaviours.
Why I Don’t Use Lures to Train Dogs
Lures can, and often do, become crutches. When lures are not faded out in the initial capturing sequence, they become difficult to eliminate later on in the training process. I know many renowned dog trainers promote the use of lures because it’s easy, and there lies problem number one. I believe luring is lazy training because lures don’t teach dogs how to think and solve problems. Problem number two is co-dependency, which develops when trainers use lures.
It’s too easy to go back to luring when dogs don’t respond to the cue, and with time, the lures lose their efficacy, and behaviour deteriorates. The third problem is found within the definition. The word tempt means to present a desirable stimulus (primary need) to someone (or an animal) but not give it to them in the hopes they exhibit the desired behaviour. The animal might not exhibit the desirable behaviour; thus, the trainer will repeat the lure sequence.
Problem number four is, to me, the most compelling reason why I don’t use lures. Exotic animals can kill us if we bribe them, and in my practice, if I cannot use a technique with all animal species, then I’m not using it with our dogs. Lure trainers argue dogs are not exotic so we can lure them, it’s easier. It might seem easier (that is totally debatable) or faster, but I prefer to take my time and teach animals how to problem-solve and think for themselves, and that includes dogs.
Dog Social-Cognitive Learning Theory
If you think social-cognitive learning is just about imitation, then you do not understand social learning. Learning to learn is the foundation of social-cognitive learning theory, and let me tell you, when you learn how to use the theory, your animal will present you with behaviours you never thought possible.
Social learning is easier and faster than luring, but to see the process, dog trainers must allow new ideas to take root. The same applies to exotic animals. Wolves that learn how to learn will offer new behaviours faster, their behaviours will be more reliable, and the outcome will be a deepened bond. Finally, social learning requires A1 capturing and shaping skills, which, when compared to luring, might take a tad longer, but in the end, the animal will outperform a lure-trained dog.