Tuesday Training Tip: Nothing In Life Is Free

008Mama Sally:  For those of you who have worked with professional trainers, this is probably a familiar concept.  For almost every dog trainer I know, this is how we choose to live with our dogs on a daily basis. We make our dogs earn everything that they get from us by following some very simple rules that anyone can master in short order.  It teaches dogs to respect their human pack, and to understand how to get a predictable outcome for producing appropriate behavior.

I’m going to share verbatim, a NILIF guideline that I found at Grace Animal Hospital (www.gracevet.com).  They have stated things so well, that I don’t see any reason to re-invent the wheel.  You can Google “Nothing In Life Is Free” and find other versions, but I like this one especially well.


Nothing In Life is Free (NILIF) is a program that we use to help teach dogs how to be better prepared to live in a human society. NILIF will help improve your dog’s behavior and teach him to learn to trust and accept people as his leaders. The advantages of using NILIF are that it is a technique that all people, regardless of age, size, or personality-type can do; it is non-confrontational, therefore it never puts the people or dogs involved at risk: and it helps build a dog’s confidence by providing clear rules and enjoyable outcomes for good behavior. Having your dog consistently follow your commands at home, in low stress situations uses only positive, reward based training to teach these valuable lessons.

Situations Where NILIF is Recommended:

Aggression to family members- NILIF requires that your dog works for everything he wants. This is a safe and non-confrontational way for the people in the household to establish control over the valuable resources in the house (e.g. food, toys, and attention from favorite people). Whoever controls the resources is automatically the leader.

Aggression to other people or dogs-NILIF helps establish that you are the leader by requiring your dog to always be prepared to follow your commands to get something he wants.

Fearful dogs-NILIF makes your dog’s life more predictable and offers him lots of chances to earn good things; this can help lower his anxiety. It also teaches him to trust you as a leader; this can help build his confidence and provide a sense of security.

Pushy, rude but normal dogs-NILIF teaches dogs good manners. Many dogs learn how to get the things they want like petting, food, being played with or getting treats by being affectionate, but pushy. They paw at people, jump on people, push their way into a situation or even bark and whine to get attention. NILIF is like teaching a child to say, “Please” and “Thank You”.

The Rules of NILIF

  • Your dog must “work” for all the “good things”

Work = obey a command the dog knows well. Commands you may want to use include the basics like: sit, down and stay or you may choose to have your dog do some more complicated tricks like: shake hands, rollover, wave or play dead. Anything you can teach your dog is fair game. {NOTE: If your dog does not already know commands well you must teach him a few commands/tricks before you begin NILIF. Use only positive reinforcement training/selecting a trainer.}

Good things = anything your dog wants or likes. This includes, but is not limited to: being fed, getting treats, being petted, being greeted, having his leash put on, having his leash taken off, having doors opened to come inside or go outside, being invited up on furniture, being played with, being brushed, being spoken to, having his belly rubbed, having a ball thrown to fetch, going in or out of the car, and greeting a guest.

  • Pushy, demanding behavior is ignored.

Pushy, demanding behavior = anything your dog does to get your attention and “make” you do something for him. This includes, but is not limited to: whining, pawing, nudging, mouthing, jumping on, staring at, and barking at you.

Ignored = no attention at all. Scolding, saying “NO”, pushing the dog away or giving a command are all forms of attention. Instead, you should turn your back on your dog or even walk away. Wait until he is leaving you alone to give him the opportunity to earn something good.

  • Give the command only once.

Once = if your dog does not do what you want him to do, then you don’t do what he wants you to do. If he doesn’t obey, walk away, turn your back on him or just ignore him. In a minute or so give him another chance to earn something good.

  • Everyone in the household and anyone who interacts with your dog on a regular basis must follow the NILIF rules.

Everyone = spouses, significant others, dog walkers, neighbors who drop by every day, and, especially, children. Dogs often view children as either playmates or lower-ranking members of the “pack”. NILIF teaches dogs to view children as leaders, just like the grown-ups in the family.

  • Be patient, especially in the beginning. It may take your dog a little while before he realizes that he really, truly has to work for the things he wants. After all, up until this point everything in life was free!

An Example of NILIF in Action: It’s your first day of using NILIF and you’re ready to take Fido for a walk. You pick up his leash and he comes running over to you. You tell him, “Fido, sit.” Fido is so excited that instead of sitting he runs around you wiggling and wagging his tail and jumping at the leash in you hand. You don’t repeat the command, scold him or push him away when he jumps up. You just calmly put the leash down and walk away. In a minute, you walk back to the leash and pick it up again. Again, Fido runs over and is too excited so you walk away…10 times before Fido finally sits you clip on the leash, praise him,  and take him for a nice long walk. The next day when it’s Fido’s walk time it takes 6 tries before he sits to have his leash put on. By the end of the first week of NILIF Fido is sitting automatically when you pick up his leash!

I highly recommend that you put NILIF into practice in your own homes with your own dogs.  It’s easy, and best of all….IT WORKS!!



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