Fading a lure

by Emily Larlham

Fading a lure, or teaching your dog to offer a behavior without having a treat waved in front of his face can seem like a daunting task if you have never done it before.  However, once you have gotten over the first hurdle of your dog’s dependency on the treat lure for a couple of behaviors, it becomes easier and easier as you train new behaviors.

When you first start training your new puppy or dog, make sure that you teach him behaviors for which you can easily remove the lure alongside behaviors for which doing so is more difficult.  “Sit” is a great cue with which to practice weaning off the lure very quickly, as most dogs can naturally sit without much effort.  Another great behavior for practicing “fading the lure” with your dog is spinning in a circle.  If you only work on behaviors that are difficult to remove a lure quickly as the first behaviors you teach your dog, such as stand on two legs, “Sit Pretty” or “Crawl,” you may need to use a lure until your dog builds up the appropriate muscles to be able to do the behaviors no his own and your dog may start to get dependent on the lure.  A simple principle: a dog who depends on the treat being in your hand will not do the behavior i­f the treat is not in your hand. To solve this, you need to teach your dog that the treat is contingent on doing a behavior and not upon the treat being present in the hand.  This is one of the most important lessons your dog can learn if you are going to use luring to teach behaviors.

One method for fading a lure is to remove the lure in small steps, while keeping in mind not to make things harder and harder for the dog as he succeeds.  To do this, lure the behavior 3-5 times with a treat (a nice smelly one) in your hand.  Then pretend to get a treat but keep your hand empty.  Lure the behavior with your “pretend treat” and click or say “yes” as the dog does the behavior.  Next, open your hand to reveal that no treat was inside and then as quickly as possible get a treat for your dog and feed it to your dog.  The fact that he was following an empty hand may come as a shock to your dog, so the next time you lure the behavior you should go back a step and lower criteria by using the food lure again.  You don’t want to raise criteria too quickly or your dog could become frustrated.  Continue to lure your dog with a treat, and then without a treat, and also with the smell of the treat in your hand so that your dog doesn’t get confused and stop following your luring hand gesture.  Once you’ve trained about 10 behaviors using this method, your dog should start to become an expert in weaning off the lure.

A benefit of using luring to train behaviors is that you can turn the luring gesture into the hand signal that you will ultimately use to cue the behavior.  For example, to teach the cue for spin, you can start out by moving your hand in a big circle with no treat, then in a circle slightly higher from the ground, then a smaller circle while bending over less.  Finally, you can fade the gesture into a tiny finger-flick or shoulder-movement in the direction you want the dog to turn.  You can then add a verbal cue for the behavior, if you wish.  When you are changing the luring gesture into the hand signal, make sure you don’t just keep increasing difficulty, especially if your dog is new to this process.  Instead, lower criteria and raise criteria on the average, over time.  For example, you could do a big hand gesture, then 3 smaller ones, then a big one again, then a small one, then a smaller one, then a bigger one.  This helps the dog feel that things aren’t just getting harder and harder.  In other words, if the exercise is always getting harder and more confusing the dog can loose interest.

Here is a video tutorial on fading a lure:


Once your dog is savvy to offering behaviors without being lured you can teach your dog a game that I call “What did you do last?” to get rid of a lure much more rapidly than simply fading it in small steps.  Lure the behavior you desire 10 times, with a treat or with just a hand lure, and then stand very still and wait to see if the dog will offer the behavior.  If the dog initiates even the slightest movement in the direction of the behavior you were working on CLICK!!!  Then go back a step and show the dog what you had wanted again with the lure.  Once your dog can offer the behavior 3 times in a row, then you can add a cue to the behavior just before your dog offers it.

For the trick-obsessed trainer:  Once your dog has learned to fade a lure for 50 or so behaviors, your dog will be a super pro at this game.  You should be able to fade a lure on a new behavior just by luring the behavior ten times, then deleting the lure and hand signal and watching your dog figure out what he did last.

Also, once your dog has learned the ‘behavior’ of luring, he will realize that reinforcement is contingent on doing the behavior and not whether the treat is present in the hand.  So whether or not the treat is in the hand becomes irrelevant to your dog.

I like to put a treat in my hand instead of just using a target or my hand as a target for the dog to follow because I believe you can get much more precision with muscle movements as the dog lines up with the scent.  I believe following a target by scent rather than following a target visually or by touch builds the behavior being captured to be more of a secondary reinforcer (a behavior the dog has been conditioned to enjoy doing) down the line (this is my theory; there is no scientific evidence as of yet to back it up).  Also I believe luring, targeting by scent, is a great way to incorporate one of the dog’s most important organs, his nose, into training sessions.

When you’re luring, make sure that you click the appropriate muscle movements!  Don’t click when the dog is standing still.  If you are teaching your puppy to sit, click as his legs fold.  If you are working on “Spin,” click as your puppy takes steps in the turn, not when your puppy has stopped spinning and is standing stationary in front of you.


25 Dog and Puppy Training Tips:

For each month of the year, I will release 2 training tips that will be accessible for free at dogmantics.com.  If you simply cannot wait for the information to be published online, you can buy the collection of all 25 training tips in an ebook format here: 25 Dog and Puppy Training Tips  Thank you for supporting my work!

This is a list of all the tips included in the ebook, and that will be eventually available online:

  1. Teaching a dog previously kept outside to be calm inside the house
  2. The problem with ignoring unwanted behaviors
  3. Fading a lure
  4. Adding a verbal cue or changing a cue
  5. Dogs and babies
  6. Socializing tips- Our world can be a scary place!
  7. What to do if your puppy bites you OUTSIDE of a training session
  8. Changing your thinking from “I don’t like” to “I need to work on”
  9. What to use as reinforcement
  10. Treat deliveries
  11. Teaching your puppy appropriate greetings on leash
  12. Teaching “All done” for training sessions and dinnertime manners
  13. Variety is the spice of life… and training!
  14. Teaching your puppy to walk off leash
  15. Don’t let your dog free feed
  16. Don’t only work on one behavior at a time
  17. Separation training tips
  18. Monkey see, monkey do- Take advantage of social facilitation
  19. Always remember to release your dog!
  20. The importance of handling
  21. Chewing
  22. Teaching “Drop” and “Get it”
  23. What to do if your puppy sits and refuses to budge on a walk
  24. Generalizing
  25. Training your dog to do absolutely… NOTHING!

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Happy Training!