Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
The Importance of Fading Food Lures in Dog Training
Wondering how to fade the food lure in dog training? If you have followed the steps on how to train your dog to lie down using luring, you may now be wondering what's the next step. One thing is for sure: you don't want to be stuck designing an imaginary "L" for the rest of your dog's life, and most of all, you don't want to have a dog who obeys only if you dangle food in his face! To avoid dealing with a case of bribery where we are telling our dogs "I will give you this treat, if you do perform this behavior" it's important to fade the treat out, so the day you forget to use a treat your smart dog won't be thinking: "I don't see the treat, so I won't do that!"
Well... actually I think there are chances most dogs don't really think in that "show me the money" way, it could be more simply that the dog has learned that training is just a matter of passively following a treat, sort of like a child learns to passively "swim" depending on floaties. Take those floaties away and the child may sink, take away the lure and your dog's training may sink as your dog does not know what to do. Just as flotation devices, food lures may cause dogs to develop a dependence on them as they have become an integral part of the cue. So if your dog believes that a cookie in your hand is the cue to perform a behavior there's good news: you can effectively fade lures by following some steps.
Explaining the process to a client
Luring works very well during the acquisition stage, that is, when your dog is learning. Indeed, it works very quickly and gives the owner satisfaction because of the fast results. This method is therefore highly reinforcing to both dog owners and dogs. However, there is a downfall: you must soon work on fading the lure otherwise your dog will fail to learn that the treat is contingent on performing the behavior.
Fading lures is often not emphasized much in training; indeed, not many books discuss it and I once stumbled on a class that was graduating from basic obedience and dog owners were still using food lures, boo! But as mentioned, there are fortunately some strategies to make you and your dog less reliant on them. Just keep in mind that the longer your dog has relied on lures, the longer it will take to fade them, so it's quite normal to meet some bumps along the way. Here are some tips.
- Plan on Fading Early
The word "to fade" means to "gradually faint and eventually disappear." Problems with food lures mostly start when they are used for too long, causing a dog to rely on them too much. The secret is therefore to use food lures to a bare minimum. This means, make a plan of fading them as soon as possible. Some trainers suggest fading the food lures as early as the third time; however, in some cases, a little more won't typically do too much harm as long as you don't overdo it. Ideally, Ian Dunbar suggests using food lures no more than in half a dozen attempts.
- Remove the Food From Sight
So in the case of training a dog to lie down by following the imaginary "L" courtesy of a tasty treat, it's time to fade out the tasty treat. This can be done gradually by still drawing the imaginary ''L" but removing the treat from sight. So technically, this means that you will be drawing the imaginary "L" with an imaginary cookie. Then, once your dog lies down, you would praise your dog and reward, but this time.....with a treat from your other hand.
What's happening in your dog's mind when you do this? Well, I imagine a little leap of faith taking place, as your dog is being tricked to believe that there's actually a treat in your hand when there isn't. So your dog follows your hand and then surprise! There's no treat there! For a split second perhaps, your dog is a little upset, "hey, where's my treat?" but then a split second later, you give it from your other hand... "ah'...." sigh of relief. ... In short, your dog is starting to learn that just because a treat is not in sight doesn't mean he won't get it! Repeat a few times so this new discovery sticks to your dog's mind.
- Be a Splitter
If you are dealing with a dog who has relied on food for too long, most likely, your dog needs to have the process split in smaller intermediate steps that are easier to assimilate. Be patient. As the dog training dogma goes "be a splitter and not a lumper." In other words, when you encounter a problem in the training of your dog, split the exercise in smaller, more easy-to-attain steps. So what to do with a dog who refuses to perform if he doesn't see a cookie in sight? You gradually make the cookie less visible. So instead of making the cookie protrude an inch from your hand, make it protrude half inch, then gradually less and less until your hand just smells like treats, but there's nothing there.. the actual treat is then delivered from the other hand.
- Don't Give In!
One of the biggest mistakes when fading lures is giving in to a dog who is refusing to perform without food in sight as this can train a smart dog to become stubborn. Let's make an example. Your dog was used to for quite some time to perform a certain behavior when food was in sight. The moment you try to fade out the food, your dog refuses to perform. So you try several more times but nothing. So instead of splitting the exercise to making it easier by showing the cookie less and less, you decide to go back to showing the full whole cookie and giving it then as a reward. What has this taught your dog? That it's worth it to not perform when food is not in sight as this eventually leads to making the cookie reappear. Basically, your dog has trained you and showing the cookie is your extinction burst that will be kept alive by reinforcement (your dog successfully performing), so now you will feel more and more compelled to show your cookie next time... not good.
A word of caution: many owners are in a hurry to no longer rely on treats completely. As much as some dogs are happy to please us, consider that totally removing treats or other rewards, will only result in extinction--that is, the desired behavior disappearing. This is scientifically proven, when a behavior is no longer rewarded it becomes extinct. Indeed, in behavior modification, it's by removing reinforcement that problem behaviors are often extinguished. This doesn't mean that you will be stuck with treats all the time, it just means that you will have to invest in secondary reinforcers and put your dog on a variable schedule to prevent the wanted behavior from becoming extinct. This is something we'll discuss in another hub though!
As seen, you can gradually wean your dog off the food lure so that your dog's behavior is contingent upon performing the behavior and is no longer contingent upon seeing the food. Now, though, you may be wondering how to fade the whole 'L" movement so that your dog doesn't have to depend on that forever. Stay tuned as we will see how in my next hub on the process required for fading prompts.
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© 2015 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 30, 2015:
Beagles love to work for food, so if you do not want to use treats, you can use of portion of their daily ration of kibble instead. You can put them to work for some of their food instead of letting them gulp it down in seconds from a bowl without doing anything!
stella vadakin from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619 on August 22, 2015:
I will be trying this with Amanda and hope it works. I have always used a treat, so this is new for me . The beagles do not really need treats, too fattening, so I am trying to get away from the treat. Thanks. sharing.