Why You Should Consider NILIF

Do you have a stubborn, pushy or independent pup? Does your dog make himself comfortable on the couch and give you "a look" when you tell him to get off? If so, you may be a perfect candidate for NILIF. NILIF is the common acronym for ‘Nothing In Life Is Free.’ It's not a training method; it is a way of structuring your life with your dog to make your role as a leader more obvious to your pooch and in turn, make him more comfortable with his place in your "pack."

It's a difficult task to train yourself to make your dog work for every positive reinforcement, but in the long run it is well worth it! Below are some examples in a typical day of giving your dog small "jobs" to do before he is rewarded with a positive experience. Note: these examples work for a dog who already knows obedience commands such as sit, down, wait, etc. This practice of behavioral shaping works best after basic training. Do not use this method if you don't know your dog will know what you are asking of him when you give a command.

For Every Positive Action, There is A Reaction:

Morning: You and Fido wake, you pull on your clothes and get ready for your morning constitutional. He's leaping about at the door. What do you do? Make him sit calmly before you put the leash on, and wait (no dashing out the door) before you go outside.

Feeding Time: You're done preparing his morning meal; make him sit and wait again- give a release command (OK) after you put the bowl down. His compliance is rewarded with a tasty meal! If you have a finicky eater who likes to take his time with meals, leave his food down for 10 minutes. If he doesn't eat any or all of it, pick it up and keep it for his next meal. He will soon learn that it is you who decides mealtimes, not him.

Playtime: When he brings you a toy to play with, use it as a perfect time to practice his commands. Every time he comes to you with the toy, give him a command of your choice. If he complies, continue playtime. If your dog ignores the command you give, do not repeat yourself (he is not hard of hearing), do not reprimand, simply walk away and come back to try again in a few minutes. Eventually he will catch on and realize that he must pay attention to you in order to receive the reward that he wants.

If your dog is jumping, nipping or doing other attention-seeking behaviors, giving him any sort of affirmation (even negative attention is still attention) is only going to further his behaviors. As hard as it may be, ignore the behavior and leave the room. Once the object of his focus is gone, he'll realize he didn't gain anything from the deal and then it's time to try again. Patience is a must in NILIF.

Other Things To Try:

Think of NILIF as a barter system. Instead of leaving an assortment of toys around, keep them in a bin somewhere he can’t access. When your dog does a good job of listening to a command, reward him with a toy. He'll soon realize that you are a fair trader; and, his toys will hold his interest longer since they aren’t around all the time!

When you have time, sit with his bowl of food and make him work for every piece. Alternate commands- first sit, then down, then paw, etc.- to keep him from getting bored with the exercise.

Don't forget to keep with the program when you leave the house! NILIF is a 24/7 behavioral philosophy. Practicing in different settings with distractions will only help enforce the commands you want your dog to follow, and the ongoing behavior you want from him.

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