About luring

Publicado el 19 de March de 2015

In a previous post Richard Ibarburu commented about the excessive use of luring as an example of positive reinforcement based strategy that could potentially hinder the emergence of didactical choices. Richard’s wise comment made me realize that nowadays dog trainers, including me, always refer to luring to emphasize its drawbacks rather than its virtues.

Not long ago “Security Dogs”, a well-known dog training center, kindly invited me to a workshop they organized with Fernando Silva. At a certain moment Fernando made use of luring to induce a dog to perform a certain conduct. Two of the students looked at each other and one of them said: “luring!” Almost immediately a mock of deception followed in their faces. On top of that, the teacher himself explained almost apologetically to the audience: “This is too much luring for my taste but sometimes you have to do it”. It is my belief that at that particular moment and with the work Fernando was doing no other technique would have been better and more effective than luring. My claim makes sense if we take into account the high level of dog training that Fernando always exhibits.

So the question remains, is it really luring that bad? How did we reach the point where we all make bitter remarks as soon as we refer to this training technique? To answer these questions we have to analyze what is luring about as well as its effects on learning.

Luring is a training technique that consists of guiding dogs to perform a behavior directing their attention with a primary reinforcer, usually food. The continuous presence of the primary reinforcer contrasts with other techniques. Two important aspects derive from this definition:

  • The dog’s attention focuses on the primary reinforcer whereas other present stimuli lose salience.
  • Dogs feel that they are being continuously reinforced. In other words, reinforcement is not circumscribed to the point when they actually obtain the reinforcer.

From these considerations stem some important consequences regarding training. Such consequences should not be taken as good or bad in themselves. The right strategy is to assess in each case whether luring is playing in favor or against our training goals.

One of the main effects of using luring is that the dog will concentrate on the food to the detriment of other environmental stimuli. In other words, the dog may not perceive the clicker or even our commands, what can delay or worsen the learning of associations. On the opposite side of the scale, luring can be useful to help inexperienced dogs disconnect from the environment and learn to concentrate on their work. The latter effect may be of much use in private commercial training sessions in order to be able to work with dogs in the park where they play!

It is true that the timing is worse as the dog feels that he is being rewarded all the time. This may prevent us from giving full value to the dog’s higher quality behaviors. However, this effect can be useful to promote the establishment of a positive emotional association of the dog with the work. In some cases this is far more important. Luring is also useful to manipulate dogs with whom we have no previous bond, as it is the case in commercial training sessions.

In order to gain a broader perspective on this subject I am going to point out the benefits and drawbacks associated with the use of luring. In this way you will be able to understand when it is advantageous to rely on luring depending on three types of considerations: the specimen, the training stage and the type of work you are carrying out.

Benefits:

  • It helps training positive focus in dogs who have difficulties in concentrating for a prolonged period of time.
  • It promotes concentration in difficult environments and situations, a feature that as we have already seen can be useful to work in the park where the dog regularly plays and walks, or also when the training field is crowded with other dogs. Some trainers boast of working without resorting to luring, but then it turns out that their dogs are unable to work if they are not all by themselves and in complete silence. Wouldn’t it be more practical to plan for focus training during a couple of days relying on luring rather than to keep on organizing this sort of “mystical” training sessions?
  • It relegates certain stimuli when we do not want the dog to perceive them. This may help dogs in overcoming small lacks of confidence. In aggression cases, it may also allow to deviate the dog’s attention from other dogs or persons. At the same time we will be achieving a positive emotional state and, as dogs feel that they are being rewarded all the time, we are also reinforcing them for not offering aggressive behavior. This may work as a good kick start to counter-conditioning processes in the frame of behavior therapies.
  • It helps to train motor patterns as opposed to final conducts. In certain behaviors related to sports our aim is not so much the final position the dog reaches but how such position is reached. Thus I am not just interested in teaching the dog to lie down but in the dog performing a given motor pattern that ends in the lie-down position. The difference between final conducts and motor patterns is of the utmost importance for sport training. In this regard, to attain the desirable motor patterns from the beginning and to fix them in the dog’s muscular memory, luring is simply irreplaceable.
  • It would be difficult, if not impossible, to induce certain conducts without luring.
  • It is very useful to mitigate hesitations and lacks of confidence. Some dogs may want to work and to keep progressing but if they are sensitive they can become loaded with tension. In relation to hesitant conducts, greater consistency is achieved by using luring. Subsequently, on this more solid foundation, one may return to working with other training techniques.

Drawbacks:

  • Poor perception of the environment, including conditioned reinforcers like the clicker, the commands, and even the handler! This will pass its toll on the quality of the work which will be slower and less clear in relation to the parameters mentioned.
  • It promotes maximum concentration on selfish behavior engines. Since dogs are following the lure, they will fail to perceive the need to synchronize with their guides or to pay attention to the handler’s indications. Affection is also dramatically relegated. In sum, the coordination and activation of social engines is absent.
  • Poor perception of signals and subtle stimuli. Dogs are so absolutely focused on the primary reinforcer that they will be blind to other indications we want to introduce to fine-tune or to progress in our work.
  • It is “hard” to switch to other ways of working the behavior. Transitions are one of the main problems with luring and many dogs experience severe problems with them. However, once again, we can exploit this weak point to our benefit. This is what we do in our training proposal by introducing the so called “counter luring” step. It consists of providing dogs contradictory information, the lure may tell him to sit while the handler says “lie down”. This way we train our dogs to give priority to the latter so that they become more pro-social and less focused on individual reinforcers.
  • There is no activation of problem solving abilities. Putting “the carrot in front of the donkey” (and I am quoting from a comment to a previous article) does not engage problem solving skills at all.
  • Self-reinforcement is also completely absent from the picture because the dog is reinforced continuously and problem solving is not engaged.
  • Learning resulting from luring is rough and unrefined. Since dogs’ attention is totally focused on the reinforcer, they will only learn the most evident parts of the trained behavior. Subtle steps ahead or modifications to the main conduct will go unnoticed.
  • Dogs do not act proactively, they merely react. Dogs depend totally on us and other external stimuli to perform the trained conduct.
  • In this way, the autonomy of dogs is undermined. Hence they will be unable to work without strong support and will not take the initiative to offer the behaviors.

Overall, we should take into account our training objectives and our training possibilities to assess whether relying on luring may be of help or not. Sometimes luring may act as a false friend. Beyond its apparent simplicity it may hinder the achievement of the results we are aiming for. Keeping its pros and cons in mind will help you to take the right decision to use it or not. This way you will be able to proudly say “yes, I also use luring”.

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