Treats: how, when, and what to deliver – Cambridge Puppy Training

lure reward and schedules of reinforcment

Food, or treats, are a fantastic tool in puppy training. Luring and rewarding are common place and likely one of the most effective ways of teaching your puppy new behaviours. But we don’t ALWAYS want to have a treat stuck on our dogs nose do we?? We don’t want to forever have to lure our dogs to get them to sit when we ask do we? No, we don’t. The key to progressing from lure and reward training is phasing out the lure/reward as soon as you can.

So, what is lure and reward training? It’s a method of training whereby you hold a small treat between your fingers, you hold this to your pups nose, and as he moves toward it you start to move your hand to wherever you need to, to get the correct behaviour. We teach many of our puppy behaviours using this method, for example the basic positions (sit/down/stand). It’s a great way of training, it’s fun for your puppy, it’s fun for you, and it’s fairly easy and highly effective.

BUT….whilst this is a great way of teaching your puppy initially, you want to be moving on to purely using your hand in the same movement, without a treat between your fingers, fairly quickly. If a treat is used as a lure for too long, it will turn into merely a bribe, and we don’t want that!

We don’t eliminate the treat altogether, we just remove it from the luring position as quickly as we can. How often we then reward our puppy for performing the behaviours we want is another huge subject in itself! Rates of reinforcement (so the amount, and how often, reinforcers are given for desired responses) varies hugely.

There’s quite a few schedules of reinforcement but here’s a few to give you an idea:

  1. Continual reinforcement – every desired response is reinforced ie. every single ‘sit’
  2. Variable ratio reinforcement – the dog is rewarded after an unpredictable amount of desired responses ie. every 3rd sit, every 6th sit, every 2nd sit etc etc. A bit like us using slot machines. We never quite know when we’ll get rewarded, from that example you can see why this works so well in dog training!
  3. Differential reinforcement – reinforcing some behaviours and not others. Often used when teaching incompatible behaviours. Rewarding the desired response but not the undesired behaviour.

It’s fairly standard to have a variable schedule of reinforcement when working with your dog. Essentially, we’re rewarding ‘randomly’, so we keep a dogs interest, we don’t ‘over reward’ rendering our reward meaningless, we reward just enough to keep focus and continue to reinforce a behaviour periodically. We randomize the delivery, so it’s not predictable, and we generally randomize the quality of the treat according to the quality of the response.

Now, PLEASE don’t get too bogged down with the meanings and definitions of these things, it may be interesting and useful to know, but for the average dog owner it isn’t something you NEED to be aware of I don’t believe. What you DO need to bear in mind, is removing the lure, and changing it to a reward for desired behaviours. Remember, this doesn’t mean you don’t use your hands any more, you certainly DO still use your hands, just without a treat in them. Keep up with hand signals, we still want our puppy to follow our hand movements and indeed we encourage that kind of focus!

The message to take home is, use treats to lure to teach new behaviours, but phase that lure out as soon as you can. Make sure you DO still reward, variably, and make sure you don’t worry too much because at the end of the day, it should all be FUN!

If you would like any more information about anything I’ve discussed just get in touch.



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