Lures and Reinforcers
In Animal Behavior, the use of Operant Conditioning with Stimulus, Response, Reinforcement was explained as the most effective way to train an animal to do the desired response or behavior.
We could say “sit” (stimulus) over and over and at some point, the dog would sit (desired response) and we could reinforce the response. Most of the time, we want to have our training go a bit faster than that, so we proceed by using a lure to entice the dog to do the desired response. When we associate our stimulus (the word “sit) with the lure, the dog comes to associate the word “sit” with the desired response or behavior much more quickly. When the dog sits (Response), give him the lure as a reinforcer. So, we are also giving the lure to reinforce the desired response.
A lure is usually a high-value treat and is used to entice the behavior to occur. In terms of a “sit,” we hold the lure just above the dog’s head, and slowly move it toward the dog’s tail. The dog looks up at the lure, and when the head goes up, the bottom goes down into a sit, which is our desired response. As the dog begins to sit, say the stimulus word, “sit” so that the dog begins to associate the word “sit” with the desired behavior of the sit position. (The sit is covered in a bit more detail in the tip on Sit/Down.)
Definition of terms used in Food Reinforced Training
Lure: Bait (food) used to entice the dog to do a desired behavior.
Reward: Bait (food) used to reinforce desired behavior after it occurs. (The food is not shown to the dog until after the desired behavior occurs and is given within 3 seconds.)
Reward Marker: A word, such as “Good” or “Yes” that has been associated with a food reward. (Example: You say “Sit” and the dog sits, you say “Good” and immediately give the dog the food reward. Over time, the reward marker can be used without the food.) This is classical conditioning. The suggestion is that the reward marker is used without the food for no more than 7 times until the food is again given after the reward marker.
It is suggested that the lure is used for a limited time. Some dogs pick up the connection between the stimulus word and behavior response in just a handful of pairings. Other dogs need more time. Once the dog has associated the stimulus word with the response behavior, stop the lure and switch to a reward after the behavior occues. After some weeks have passed, go to the reward marker, so treats are only used about once every 5-7 times.
Some dogs do not respond to food training for a variety of reasons. Sometimes dogs are over-stimulated with food rewards and can’t concentrate on anything but the food. In this case, discontinue the lure after just a few times and go to a reward rather than a lure. This also occurs when the dog is has food available at all times and just isn’t motivated by food. You might want to change to feeding once or twice a day, picking up the bowl after 10 or 15 minutes. Sometimes, it’s the food being offered as the reinforcer. If your dog doesn’t respond to the treats you are using, try a “higher value” treat, such as sliced, and microwaved hot dogs, string cheese, cooked/cubed chicken or dehydrated liver. If that doesn’t work, you may have to find, by trial and error, what is motivating for your dog. Sometimes it’s a ball, a stuffed animal or a squeaky toy. When using food in training, remember that the amount given in the regular diet may have to be reduced to account for the additional calories being given in training.
Written by Darlene Colmar, Asheville, NC