Lure Training 101

The training method Dunbar prefers to help dogs to understand English as a second language is called lure training, and he is pretty much responsible for developing this approach. "You need something to encourage the dog to begin to do what you want, to break through so the dog understands, and for that we use a treat," Dunbar says. "Listen, the idea is to make training fun."

"The thing about lure training is it’s an easy way for children to communicate with dogs and still gain rank," says Dunbar. "Absolutely, I believe children should be involved in the training."

Using a lure, anyone – from the age of about 5 to 95 – can teach a dog to sit in a minute, Dunbar says. Take the little piece of hot dog or cold cut and place it above the dog’s head. If it’s too high above the dog’s head, the dog will jump for it; we’re talking about only a few inches. Here’s how the dog’s anatomy works: If the head goes up to sniff nearer to the lure, the rear end will go down. Repeat just a few times and say "sit" as the dog’s rear end touches the floor.

Since the dog is getting treats during the training session, it’s fun. Dunbar says that from the very start, you can begin to phase out the treats – sometimes he gets a yummy, sometimes he doesn’t.

Maybe it’s just a matter of semantics, but Dunbar insists the lure or treat isn’t a bribe or a pay-off. Instead, it’s just a way to help the dog to understand what it is that you want. In fact, he says, training is far more successful if you use the lure as means to communicate; the real rewards are enthusiastic praise, and also allowing your dog to have a darn good time being a dog.

Here’s what he means: Let’s say your dog is sniffing around the grass and then you call your dog to you. When your dog comes, tell her how wonderful she is, then immediately let her go back to sniffing the grass. Or if you want your dog to lie down, as soon as she does say "good job!," then give her a pet, a treat, and then let her go right back up to whatever it was that she was doing.

"Your dog will learn good things follow commands," says Dunbar. "If you understand this, you’re well on your way to training any dog. So many people call their dog to them to do something the dog doesn’t want to do, like to go back in the house. Once in awhile you need to do that, but not every time. And commands like ‘down’ are never fun for the dog because we use ‘down’ as a means of control, so the dogs don’t like it. But if they learn ‘down’ means a quick massage and a cookie break, it’s no big deal."