Luring, Bribing and Rewarding

27 Nov 2006Steve Schwarz

Trainers and students often bandy about the terms: luring, bribing, and rewarding. Suzanne Clothier has a good article on her website describing each of these terms and how to effectively reward your dog using timing, intensity, variety and frequency. All trainers use some or all of these techniques when training a dog. It is knowing when and how to use them that makes a trainer successful.

There are trainers, especially Clicker Trainers, who avoid all luring or bribing. They rely on the dog offering an approximation of the behavior at which time they click and reward the dog. They then reward or withhold rewards as the dog’s behavior approaches or retreats from the desired end behavior. Training a complex behavior is done through a “divide and conquer” approach where the trainer breaks up the final behavior into very small steps and rewards the dog as the dog approaches and masters each step. Eventually the small steps are joined together into the final behavior chain. This training approach is known as “Shaping”. I’ve heard that dogs comfortable with being trained through Shaping learn new skills faster and retain those skills longer than dogs lured or bribed through the behaviors.

Regardless of your views on luring and bribing, a common thread of all techniques is rewarding the dog for desired behavior. Please allow me to get on my soap box for a moment. I find many trainers are too “stingy” when it comes to rewarding their dogs. Remember a reward doesn’t have to be a treat or a toy, it just has to be something the dog finds rewarding (not something you think should be rewarding). It can be the freedom to perform the obstacle they like most or perform their favorite trick. One flyball dog I’ve seen has a favorite reward of licking peanut butter from the bottom of a metal bucket at the end of the run; whatever it takes and don’t be afraid to be creative and experiment.

The most frustrating thing I see during training is the handler who doesn’t reward their dog who is struggling with an obstacle or a part of a sequence. After several repeats the dog gets the behavior right and then the handler just moves on to the next obstacle, without rewarding the dog! Reward that dog! I’ve taken to “pre-cueing” some handlers: when they ask their dog to repeat something a second time, I’ll ask them to be ready to reward the dog before they move on. But I’ve yet to find a foolproof way to reward the handler for rewarding the dog (luring, bribing, and rewarding works for training people too!). One idea I came up with was to have students pay double their class fee and then literally pay the student back with their second half of the fee in cash each time they reward their dog on course. Any leftover cash could be donated to charity. I wonder if that would be enough incentive?

Wouldn’t you be happier at your job if you were rewarded periodically? Especially when you do something new or do a particularly good job? Our dogs are no different.

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