NILIF (Nothing In Life Is Free) Training
By Honor Tarpenning, NextDayPets.com Staff
Nothing in Life Is Free is a training method based on the principle that all attention and rewards received by your dog should only be offered on the owner’s terms. NILIF means that the dog must work to receive affection, play, sustenance, and treats. This safe and non-confrontational manner of training teaches your dog that the owner is the alpha dog in the home and all good things in life come through the alpha. With the use of the NILIF technique, dogs become secure and comfortable in their place in the pack, and are thus more calm, balanced, submissive companions.
Does your dog jump up on the furniture at will? Does he paw, nose, and nudge you looking for pets and snuggles? Does he jump on you seeking attention? Does he beg when people are eating or even try to steal food? Does your dog refuse to come when he’s called, and generally ignore your commands? If any of these examples sound familiar, your dog is a perfect candidate for NILIF.
The greatest thing about NILIF is that there’s no specific process to follow or steps to memorize; you just have to change your perspective regarding the way you reward your dog, and act accordingly. You are the pack leader; the alpha dog. You control everything your dog does and receives. One of the simplest examples of this principle regards the dog who demands attention.
Imagine you’re sitting on the couch, relaxing. Your gaze is fixed on the tv and your hand rests lazily at your side. All of a sudden there is a dog next to you on the couch and a cold, wet nose nudging your hand. You automatically lift your hand and begin tenderly stroking the dog’s head. Your dog has just told you that it is time to give affection, and you have accepted this command. The power structure here is completely off kilter.
With the NILIF method, you ignore your dog’s imploring for affection. This doesn’t mean you can’t be affectionate with your dog, it just means you have to do so on your terms. First of all, your dog has taken it upon himself to jump on the couch without being invited. Dogs relate height with status, so he has literally given himself permission to join you at a higher status point. If you want to allow your dog on the furniture, you must make it clear to him that he is only allowed up when invited. Secondly, he has demanded pets and you immediately relented. You can pet him, but he must first work for that attention. So, next time he jumps up on the couch and noses your hand, pretend he’s not even there. Do not push him away or tell him “no”; this still constitutes attention. The metaphor I use is that one should, when one’s dog is making demands, “be a tree.” Trees don’t acknowledge, they don’t speak or move; trees are completely stoic. So, when your dog demands your attention, it’s time to be a tree until he understands that demanding attention yields no response.
It will take some time for your dog to understand what’s going on. He has probably grown accustomed to asking for attention and immediately receiving it for his entire life. He will most likely implore you with more nudges, maybe even to the point of pawing at your arm or climbing on you. Just be a tree. If your dog begins to act particularly obnoxious and you give in, you have lost the battle. If he jumps in your lap and starts licking your face, so you fold and pet him to calm him down, he has just learned that all he has to do is try harder and you will give up. Instead, when he starts to act up, get up and walk away as if he isn’t even there. You can then wait a few minutes, call him to you, make him sit, and shower him with all the love and affection you want. This is ok because it is on your terms, you have commanded him to come to you, he has worked by answering to that command and then sitting when told, and you rewarded that behavior with much desired snuggles.
As time goes by, as long as you are consistent and never give in to your dog’s demands, he will get the point that no matter how hard he tries, he won’t get anywhere unless it is on your terms. Before this occurs, however, you will probably have to face an extinction burst. “Extinction burst” is the term innovated to describe the point at which your dog goes completely over-the-top to seek your attention (or whatever he desires and is not receiving). He might scratch at your arms, he might whine and cry, he might bark at you incessantly, or even howl because he is used to getting the attention he wants when he asks for it. As long as you do not relent, this wild behavior will mark the point at which your dog figures out that he is getting nowhere with his demands. This is an extremely important moment, because if you can’t be strong and be a tree; if you pet him just to get the craziness to stop, he will have learned that this is the level of intensity now required to get what he wants.
Another example to help you acclimate to the NILIF way of thinking occurs at doggy dinner time. You should feed your dog at the same time twice a day. A consistent schedule will help your dog be more balanced in general, and will also regulate when he needs to be walked. At each meal time, pick up your dog’s bowl and fill it with food. Then ask your dog to sit and wait, and place the bowl on the ground. If he goes for the bowl before you release him with an “ok” or “go ahead,” pick the bowl up and ask him to sit and wait again. Put the bowl down again. If he again lunges toward the food, pick up the bowl again. Continue this until your dog will sit still and wait for your command to eat. In the wild, the alpha dog eats first and decides when it is ok for the other dogs to eat. This goes a long way toward showing your dog who is the pack leader.
Eventually, your dog will anticipate that you want him to sit before he gets to eat. If he sits on his own before you ask him to, he is not really working for his meal. Ask him to lie down and wait, or shake hands, or perform any other small, simple trick, then he can eat. All that matters is that he answers to your commands before he is allowed to have his food.
Pick up your dog’s bowl after 15 minutes, whether he is finished or not. If your dog wanders off in the middle of eating, pick up the bowl and do not give it back until the next meal time. This is another way to express that you control when it is time to eat. Even if your dog just takes two bites and wanders off, take away that bowl. Don’t worry, this isn’t cruel or unsafe for your dog. Unless he has a particular health condition, your dog can miss a meal, or even not eat for a day and still be perfectly healthy. If he does wander from his bowl after eating very little, at his next meal he will be hungrier; therefore the motivation to behave properly and eat on your terms will be even stronger.
This method is fantastic for dogs who are aggressive or overly dominant, and it is also perfect for fearful, overly submissive dogs. Excessively dominant dogs will be quite happy to let go of the assumed responsibilities of pack leader when they understand that the position is not open; it means a more relaxing life for them. Especially submissive dogs will be comforted by the existence of a strong and confident leader; it will help them be less afraid and more confident in their place in life.
NILIF is also wonderful for children. Because of their size, dogs often see children as playmates rather than superiors. If you teach your children the principles of NILIF, and supervise their training interactions with your dog, both parties will be more confident, and your dog will develop a much more thorough respect for your children.
It is important to understand that NILIF is not the denial of attention, affection, food, or play. In fact, since your dog is only allowed to receive these things when you so choose, you have to be quite diligent, and make sure you approach your dog as often as possible to positively reinforce good behavior. You can (and should) give your dog as much cuddly, snuggly affection as you possibly can when it is on your terms; it will only further cement the NILIF principles.
Good luck, and remember—Don’t give in, because Nothing in Life Is Free.