I enjoy performing with my dogs. We’ve traveled all over the United States—from Vermont to California and everywhere in between. We put on shows at fairs, festivals, halftime shows, schools, and the occasional theme park. What can I say? Seeing my dogs have fun performing and the resulting smiles in the audience is one of my favorite things. An integral part of my show is a trick routine with my littlest border collie, Wren. As the music starts, she runs in circles around me, weaves between my legs, spins, and jumps into my arms. All of these tricks were taught with the same key dog training concept—luring. Luring is one of several key concepts in dog training. It plays off your dog’s natural instincts to go after something he wants—like food or a toy.
It sounds like a fancy schmancy term that only a professional dog trainer (or maybe a fisherman?) would know. The reality is far simpler. If you’ve been following our video series so far, you’ve already been using luring quite a lot—whether you knew it or not!
Luring starts with finding a lure your dog will work for. Like a fishing lure, a lure is something used to attract your dog’s attention. So, depending on your dog, that could be a variety of different things—from food to toys as long as it is meaningful to your dog. The goal is to find something you can hold in your hand, that your dog will closely follow with his nose.
When we’re using a lure, the first thing to do is to show your dog you have it. Bring a treat up to his nose and let him sniff it (don’t let him have it yet!). Chances are, your dog is now very excited and will follow your hand when you move it from side to side. This is exactly what we are looking for.
Using luring in dog training is simply using your dog’s desire to follow the lure to teach him a new skill. Let’s use the example of “spin,” like in our videos this month. When teaching a dog to “spin,” you start by letting your pup sniff the treat in your hand. When your dog has locked on to the smell of this yummy treat, slowly guide your dog in a circle. When your dog has completed this motion, mark the behavior with a “yes!” and give him the treat. This is luring in its simplest form.
As your dog learns what you are asking of him, it’s time to up the ante. Since we were initially bent over to guide our dogs in a circle, try bending over less, and use the same circular motion to get him to spin. Each time you repeat this, make the motion more and more subtle, until you are standing up straight and your dog is spinning with only the flick of your wrist.
I prefer to use hand signals vs. verbal commands with my dogs, so I usually stop here. It’s hard to tell my dogs to spin when I’m talking to an audience, but with hand signals I’m able to do both at the same time! That said, many people prefer to add a verbal cue (i.e. saying “spin”). If you’d like to do this, the process is quite simple. Say the word you’d like to use for this trick and use the hand signal so your dog spins. After practicing this for a couple days, say the cue and wait for your dog to spin. Once he does, say, “yes!” and give him a treat for a job well done. It’s not uncommon for your dog to become confused--don’t repeat the cue. Wait a few seconds and see if he catches on. If he doesn’t, that just means he needs to practice the last step a little more.
Luring is one of the easiest ways to teach your dog a new trick. That said, it doesn’t work to teach every trick. Luring works best when you need to get your dog’s body into a natural position for a trick. Sit, lie down, spin, and stand are all excellent examples of this. For more complex tricks like hold an object, or fetch, other techniques work better. We’ll go over those next time.