November 12th, 2018

The Food Lure: How to Get Your Dog to Follow Instructions Without Using Force – In 3 Simple Phases with Kona


As a 1-year-old flat haired retriever puppy, Kona doesn’t like to follow her owner’s commands of “heel”, she would much rather do her own thing. When asked to go into either of these cues, she resists and acts as if she doesn’t understand what her owner is saying. What Kona does enjoy is food. She has a huge appetite and absolutely goes crazy for treats. How can you use what she enjoys to help her to do something that she resists? Today we will work on using food as a lure to help her into the heel position.


Learning the food lure cue is a vital part of any dog training plan. Using food as a lure is a positive way to teach your dog a cue as it does not require a leash correction or any negative correction. This cue can teach a dog many things simultaneously:

  1. It teaches a dog how to follow a lure, which ultimately allows you to guide the dog in to most behaviors without force
  2. It teaches and/or reinforces a positive reward (example: saying “good girl”), which tells the dog when she is doing something correct
  3. It teaches and/or reinforces a negative response or mistake for when a dog does something you do not like and motivates her to correct her behavior without becoming stressed.

Because of following the food lure command, Kona now actively listens and follows instructions without needing to receive a treat every time. She knows what position she is supposed to go into automatically because of the repetition of training and the praise she received when entering the command. In fact, she now goes there willingly!


For this exercise, these are the training tools that I recommend you have:

  1. A hungry and happy dog
  2. Food treats (find the ones that your dog prefers and divide them into very small pea-sized pieces so that you have many ready and it will not make your dog full quickly)
  3. Space to work where the dog is comfortable and without distractions
  4. Patience


Note: During the exercise, make sure to look for signs of stress or discomfort in your dog.


Phase 1 – getting her to follow a food lure

  • Have your dog standing close while facing you.
  • Put some treats in your hand and make a fist.
  • With your hand closed, place it in front of your dog’s nose and allow her to sniff it. She will quickly realize that there are treats in there and become interested.
  • Once she begins to react to the treats, slowly move your hand towards you and walk backwards while she follows your hand.
  • Every two to three steps, while she is still following your hand give praise (good girl!) and a treat. Only provide her with a reward (praise and treat) when she touches her nose to your moving fist (you will continue to move backwards as you give her the reward, it should be a fluid movement).
  • Continue to do this exercise, making it a little bit easier for her, until she can do this almost perfectly.


Phase 2 – modifying the exercise to reflect the heel position

  • Once your dog is successfully able to follow your moving fist, without being distracted, you can transition into the heel position.
  • Begin the exercise again, with your dog standing close while facing you
  • Put some treats in your hand and make a fist and show her your fist so she smells the treats.
  • As you begin the exercise, slowly turn your body so that you are to the side of her (with your arm going across your body – if you are right handed you will turn to your right, if you are left handed, you will turn to your left) Your dog should be on the opposite side of your dominant hand and your other arm should be able to pet her head or give her physical praise.
  • Continue walking, luring your dog with your fist with her at your side. Give her praise and a treat every time she touches her nose to your fist. Do not reward her unless her nose is touching your hand.
  • Once you go to begin again, have your dog start at your side (if you are right handed, she should be to your left side with your right hand guiding, if you are left handed, she should be to your right side with your left hand guiding). Continue this exercise until you dog perfects following your baited hand.
  • If your dog makes a mistake or struggles at your side, start over by luring her backwards (like in Phase 1).


Phase 3 (not required) – Perfecting the heel and making eye contact

(this phase is more advanced that what Kona needs, but a way to have her heel and focus on her owner)


While working with food lure, you can slowly start to require your dog to remain touching her nose to your fist for longer periods of time. As she learns this, you will be able to do more complicated hand movements that will teach her more complex cues, such as eye contact, down or roll.


For phase 3, we are going to focus on having your dog walk by your side with her focus on you.

  • Start with your dog at your side (if you are right handed, she should be to your left side with your right hand guiding, if you are left handed, she should be to your right side with your left hand guiding).
  • Walk with your dog, like you did in Phase 2, having her touch her nose to your hand. Give her praise and a treat every time she touches your hand.
  • As you may notice, your dog is looking and focusing on your hand. To get her to focus upwards and on you, begin walking and slowly lift your hand. She will not be able to touch her nose to your hand but will follow it with her gaze.
  • Return your hand down to her and reward her and then slowly bring your hand up again. She will follow your hand with her gaze – do not allow her to jump up, by petting her and encouraging her with your free hand.
  • Slowly continue raising your hand an inch or two higher and repeat.
  • Give her praise with your free hand as you raise your fist. As she continues to keep her focus upwards, while you continue walking, both praise her and give her a treat.
  • Continue this movement by giving her treats every 10 or so steps that you take (if she continues to look up at you).
  • Soon she will be able to walk and look up at you, without your hand up there as a guide.


Tips for teaching the food lure


If Your dog’s nose falls away from your hand.

Say “No” or “Eh-Eh” and then turn yourself and the treat away from your dog for a moment. You should notice that ignoring him for a second or two after each mistake makes him focus more strongly on you.

If he needs to start over again, don’t worry. Know that training your dog requires a lot of patience and time and some dogs take more time than others.


  1. Move your hand slowly at your dog’s nose level.
  2. Reward even the slightest movement in the right direction, provided his nose is still attached. Do this five times.
  3. Once the dog is successful doing this, begin moving your baited hand in a way that requires him to take one step toward you to keep her nose attached. Do this five times.
  4. Continue requesting the dog to move a little more with each repetition to keep her nose attached.
  5. Practice until your dog can follow.


Your dog is not interested in your hand or the treat.

Increase food drive – The dog is probably not hungry enough to do this exercise or doesn’t like the treat well enough. You should be sure the dog is hungry before continuing. Plan the next training session for at least eight hours after your dog’s last meal and use tastier treats.

Reduce Distractions – The dog may be too distracted. Try to select a less distracting environment to work on this exercise.


Your dog is following the food, but not touching his nose to your hand.


Timing is critical – It is extremely important that you give praise when your dog has his nose stuck to your slowly moving hand and is not doing any other behaviors.

Prevent over-stimulation – Sometimes if a dog is too hungry or the food treat you are using is very yummy to him, the dog could become over-stimulated and too distracted to learn properly. If your dog has a very high food drive, try to use dog kibble or practice with the dog relatively soon after mealtime.


How long will it take to see results?

Generally, when teaching a new command, it takes repetition and practice. The time it will take depends on both the owner and the dog’s willingness and drive to learn the command. If the dog is trained by practicing daily, at least once a day for 30 minutes, it should take approximately 3 weeks for her to master the command. This is an estimate and will depend on the owner and his/her ability to correct the dog and start over when necessary.



Congratulations! You’ve just learned the food lure cue! Now you have created an essential tool to help teach your dog any behavior or to modify her behavior.









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