Early Socialization - Luring, Marking & Food
Make sure to review our Relationship Skills information before working on skill development with the puppies.
What is luring and marking?
A lure is any item (generally a small bit of food) that the pup is interested in. Luring is using that food, placed near your pup’s nose and moved slowly, to elicit a particular movement or behaviour from him. The lure is held in such a way as to mimic the hand signal appropriate to the action we are seeking to achieve, and is moved slowly around so that your pup follows it with his nose, which leads his body to be exactly where you want it.
A marker is the use of a signal or sound that occurs at the moment your pup does what you want him to. We use a crisp, emphatic “Yes!” as the marker. The marker communicates to your pup that he will be rewarded for the behaviour that he is doing when he hears the marker.
But why use it?
Luring is a quick way to show your pup what you want him to do. The lure is used to teach a new behaviour, and then faded from use so the pup learns to perform the behaviour without it. Your hand signal becomes an extension of the lure after the lure itself has been faded from use. Once you are no longer luring, you will hold the Reward in your opposite hand to be given after the “Yes!” marker.
Marking allows you to promptly and precisely communicate with the pup that he is doing what you have asked of him, and allows him to quickly understand exactly what you want. A reward follows the marker, so your pup will quickly learn to associate the marker (and doing what you asked) with good things coming. The marker is also faded once your pup is proficient at a particular skill.
How to Use a Lure
Because you want your hand signal with the lure to be the same as (or close to) your hand signal without the lure, choose the most comfortable of these positions:
- Hold your hand open and flat; use your thumb folded over your palm (as if to show four fingers) to hold the lure in the centre of your hand (Picture A).
- Hold your hand open and flat; tuck the treat between two fingers (Picture B). This is most easily done with the treat close to your palm at the bottom of and between your middle and ring fingers.
- Hold the treat in the tips of all your fingers and thumb with your hand slightly cupped (Picture C).
- Luring helps to guide the pup into a desired position or action.
- The motion of the luring hand develops into the hand signal.
- Luring equals learning. You may need to go back to luring when the pup is in a new situation, but fade it quickly within that session when the pup responds with the desired behaviour. Note that you may lure in a new or high Distraction location, particularly for a pup under 4 months of age. However, your goal is to reward behaviours that the pup performs correctly, rather than luring.
- Lures are used in the early stages of learning, and will be faded quickly.
- Once the pup is responding without hesitation into the desired position, you are ready to fade the lure and ask for the behaviour with just the hand signal.
- A lure is not a reward. Rewards come AFTER a lured behaviour is done correctly.
- Hold the food securely in your hand so that the pup cannot eat or lick it.
- Show your pup the lure by bringing your hand close to his nose.
- Keep your hand close to his nose. Think of it as Velcro or a magnet and move your hand in the direction you want your pup to move.
- Move your hand slowly so that the pup can follow it.
- Mark the moment when he reaches the position that you want with “Yes!” and give the lure as a reward. For a Sit, this is when his rump hits the ground, and for a Drop, it is when his elbows touch the ground.
- Once the pup finishes the food reward, release him from the position with a quiet “Free”. Duration will be added once your pup knows the skill.
- As you progress to no lure, have a treat ready, but out of sight in your opposite hand, to be used as a reward for when your pup succeeds in doing what you have asked of him.
- You are luring with a slow, steady movement near the pup’s nose.
- The pup easily follows the lure hand in any direction.
- The pup responds without any hesitation each time you lure him into the position.
If your pup does not follow the lure:
- The food treat may not be enticing, or the pup may not be hungry. Try a higher value food treat next session.
- Your hand may be moving too slowly or too quickly. Adjust the speed of your luring hand. Try moving your hand in a steady smooth motion.
- Your hand is too far away from your pup’s nose. Move your hand a little closer.
- Your hand is too high or too low relative to the pup’s nose.
- Redirect the pup’s attention to you.
- Move to an area less distracting to the pup.
If your pup is biting or pawing at your lure hand:
- Stop using the food lure and use only the hand signal.
- Reward his success from your opposite hand.
Giving Food Rewards
One of the things you will use to reward desired behaviour from your pup are small pieces of food. Food rewards are considered a primary reinforcer, something which is naturally of great value to your pup. Pups will work hard to obtain a primary reinforcer. The Use of You (verbal or physical praise) is considered a secondary reinforcer. By using a primary reinforcer consistently and in combination with a secondary reinforcer, the secondary reinforcer reaches a similar level of value to your pup.
Food rewards help your pup accept praise from you as a reward, but does not replace the Use of You as a reward. Your effective use of a food reward and Use of You will tell your pup that he successfully did what you asked. When learning a new skill, food rewards are given 100% of the time until the skill is well rehearsed and established. Food rewards continue throughout training, and are linked to performance, accuracy, speed, and Duration. Intermittent rewards continue to support behaviours, and your pup’s anticipation of receiving food rewards.
You will learn to deliver rewards to your pup meaningfully so that the pup makes a positive association with the desired behaviour, and so that he eagerly repeats that behaviour. Some pups can become very excited by food and nip your finger or hand when taking a treat. It is important that your pup learns from an early age that he needs to take treats politely and calmly without pawing, mouthing, scratching, or barking.
- Deliver food treats, one by one, adding touch, praise, and effective Use of You with each food reward given.
- Your treat delivery should be prolonged, with praise and Use of You (voice and body language) used to maintain the connection with your pup.
- As skills become more established and you add Duration, food rewards should be given at various intervals to encourage and help your pup maintain a behaviour for the Duration.
- The number of treats given should be equal to your expectation of a behaviour – a fantastic response deserves a Puppy Party!
How to Give Food Rewards:
- Use kibble or food treats that have been broken up into small-sized pieces.
- Place the treat in the base of your first two fingers and hold your thumb over it.
- When delivering the reward, bring your hand (palm up) to the pup, underneath the pup’s chin, and push back very slightly. He should not reach forward to take the treat.
- Release the treat with your thumb as you give the pup the treat from your flat, open hand.
- Remember to alternate and deliver treats from both hands so that your pup does not become conditioned to taking treats only from one hand or the other.
- Give treats one at a time. Touch your pup on the shoulder blades and verbally praise him. Adding touch will help your pup to focus not on your face, but on the communication, as he will need to do with his future handler.
If successful, you deliver a treat reward to your pup, and he takes it without biting your hand or fingers. He does not paw or jump to get the treat.
If your pup takes the treat with teeth on your skin, or he jumps or paws for the treat:
- If your pup normally takes treats well, but is taking them roughly in a new or stimulating environment, review the Think and Learn Zone and help your pup remain in the Green Zone.
- Withhold the food, making a fist around it. Move your hand away slowly, or leave it in position, depending on your pup’s response to movement.
- When you pup calms himself and can move his head away from the treat, open your hand; give the treat from your flat palm, and praise. Reward your pup when he is not grabbing or orientating strongly towards your hand.
- Your pup will learn that when he is calm and passive, he gets the reward.
If you drop the treat:
- If necessary, cover the treat with your foot or hand so your pup cannot get to it.
- Ask your pup for a behaviour (e.g. Name Response, Sit, or Drop), pick up the dropped treat, and put it back in your treat pouch. Then reward and praise your pup.
- If your pup Checks In with you when a treat is dropped, reward him with calm praise and then a food reward.
If your pup does not listen unless you have food rewards:
- Stop luring once your pup starts to anticipate performing the skill. Ask for the skill with your verbal cue and hand signal, wait for your pup’s response, then praise his success.
- Food rewards are used 100% of the time when learning a new behaviour, and then gradually reduced to intermittent rewards to keep your pup anticipating receiving the food reward.
- Do not prompt or bribe with food to get a behaviour. Prompting includes putting your hand in the treat pouch, having food rewards in your hand, or holding your hand as if you have food in your hand.