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How to Use Lures and Reward Markers

Every professional animal trainer uses lures, reward markers, and rewards for training animals to do things. You should use them too!

First, a little terminology:

A lure is when you stick a treat or ball in front of your dog's nose and you get him to follow it. Lures work great for creating behaviours like jumping or running along a surface.

A reward marker is when you use a special sound like: click, "good dog", or "yes!" to tell your dog they've done something right and a treat or reward is on the way.

After enough pairings, the dog knows that the word or sound means they've done a rewardable behaviour. Dogs want to earn rewards, so they will try to repeat that behaviour.

The most important thing about using a reward marker is that you can shape more elaborate behaviours. For example, I can lure and reward my dog for putting two feet on an obstacle and gradually get him to put 3 or all 4 feet on it.

Shaping behaviours using reward markers is like playing the child's game of Hot and Cold. You are selecting for behaviours you want (hot) and ignoring behaviours you don't want (cold). Gradually your dog moves toward the desired (hot) behaviours and you get what you are training for.

Rewards

Picking the right reward for your dog is crucial. If your dog really wants the item, they will be willing to put more effort out to get it! Most people find success using treats or access to a tugged or thrown toy as a reward. Praising and patting are often low on a dog's priority list, so use these sparingly.