Nothing In Life Is Free (NILIF)
Dogs, by their very nature, are pack animals. They are pre-programmed to
believe that someone must be in charge – responsible for the good and well
being of all members of the pack or family unit. That is why Adopt A Boxer
Rescue strongly recommends that each family enroll themselves and their dog
in an obedience program. Beginning your life with your dog must start with
a good foundation, a foundation that gives your dog the security that
‘someone is in charge’.
No training program should incorporate harsh or cruel training methods. It
is unnecessary and often will result in a frightened, unsure dog. Hitting,
yelling at, punishment, and using ‘tools of force’ are counter productive.
They only temporarily stop a behavior and you should never incorporate
into your dog’s life. Your ultimate goal should be a well-trained,
confident dog, and we believe that by following the NILIF program, you
should be able to accomplish your goal.
No behavior modification program should begin without first taking the dog
to a veterinarian for a complete physical examination. The NILIF program is
an accepted standard in dog training/behavior. This technique is intended
for dogs in good health and of sound mind and stable temperament.
program is remarkable because it's effective for such a wide variety of
problems. A shy, timid dog becomes more relaxed knowing that he has nothing
to worry about, his owner is in charge of all things. A dog that's pushing
too hard to become "top dog" learns that the position is not available and
that his life is far more enjoyable without the title.
It is equally
successful with dogs that fall anywhere between those two extremes. The
program is not difficult to put into effect and it's not time consuming if
the dog already knows a few basic obedience commands. I've never seen this
technique fail to bring about a positive change in behavior; however, the
change can be more profound in some dogs than others. Most owners use this
program in conjunction with other behavior modification techniques such as
coping with fear or treatment for aggression. It is a perfectly suitable
technique for the dog with no major behavior problems that just needs some
The program begins by eliminating attention on demand. When your dog comes
to you and nudges your hand, saying, "pet me! pet me!" ignore him. Don't
tell him "no", don't push him away. Simply pretend you don't notice him.
This has worked for him before, so don't be surprised if he tries harder to
get your attention. When he figures out that this no longer works, he'll
stop. In a pack situation, the top ranking dogs can demand attention from
the lower ranking ones, not the other way around. When you give your dog
attention on demand you're telling him that he has more status in the pack
than you do. Timid dogs become stressed by having this power and may become
clingy. They're never sure when you'll be in charge so they can't relax.
What if something scary happens, like a stranger coming in the house? Who
will handle that? The timid dog that is demanding of attention can be on
edge a lot of the time because he has more responsibility than he can
Some dogs see their ability to demand attention as confirmation that they
are the "alpha", then become difficult to handle when told to "sit" or
"down" or some other demand is placed on them. It is not their leadership
status that stresses them out; it's the lack of consistency. They may or may
not actually be alpha material, but having no one in the pack that is
clearly the leader is a bigger problem than having the dog assume that role
full time. Dogs are happiest when the pack order is stable. Tension is
created by a constant fluctuation of pack leadership.
Your dog already knows that he can demand your attention and he knows what
works to get that to happen. As of today, it no longer works, but he doesn't
know that yet. We all try harder at something we know works when it stops
working. If I gave you a twenty-dollar bill every time you clapped your
hands together, you'd clap a lot. But, if I suddenly stopped handing you
money, even though you were still clapping, you'd clap more and clap louder.
You might even get closer to me to make sure I was noticing that you were
clapping. You might even shout at me "Hey! I'm clapping like crazy over
here, where's the money?". If I didn't respond at all, in any way, you'd
stop. It wasn't working anymore. That last try -- that loud, frequent
clapping is an extinction burst. If, however, during that extinction burst,
I gave you another twenty-dollar bill you'd be right back in it. It would
take a lot longer to get you to stop clapping because you just learned that
if you try hard enough, it will work.
When your dog
learns that the behaviors that used to get him your attention don't work any
more he's going to try harder and he's going to have an extinction burst. If
you give him attention during that time you will have to work that much
harder to get him turned around again. Telling him "no" or pushing him away
is not the kind of attention he's after, but it's still attention.
Completely ignoring him will work faster and better.
YOU HAVE THE
As the human and as his owner you have control of all things that are
wonderful in his life. This is the backbone of the NILIF program. You
control all of the resources. Playing, attention, food, walks, going in and
out of the door, going for a ride in the car, going to the dog park.
Anything and everything that your dog wants comes from you. If he's been
getting most of these things for free there is no real reason for him to
respect your leadership or your ownership of these things. Again, a timid
dog is going to be stressed by this situation; a pushy dog is going to be
difficult to handle. Both of them would prefer to have you in charge.
To implement the
NILIF program you simply have to have your dog earn his use of your
resources. He's hungry? No problem, he simply has to sit before his bowl is
put down. He wants to play fetch? Great! He has to "down" before you throw
the ball. Want to go for a walk or a ride? He has to sit to get his lead
snapped on and has to sit while the front door is opened. He has to sit and
wait while the car door is opened and listen for the word (I use "OK") that
means "get into the car". When you return he has to wait for the word that
means "get out of the car" even if the door is wide open. Don't be too hard
on him. He's already learned that he can make all of these decisions on his
own. He has a strong history of being in control of when he gets these
resources. Enforce the new rules, but keep in mind that he's only doing what
he's been taught to do and he's going to need some time to get the hang of
You're going to
have to pay attention to things that you probably haven't noticed before. If
you feed your dog from your plate do you just toss him a green bean? No
more. He has to earn it. You don't have to use standard obedience commands,
any kind of action will do. If your dog knows "shake" or "spin around" or
"speak" use those commands. Does your dog sleep on your bed? Teach him that
he has to wait for you to say "OK" to get on the bed and he has to get down
when you say "off". Teach him to go to his bed, or other designated spot, on
command. When he goes to his spot and lays down tell him "stay" and then
release him with a treat reward. Having a particular spot where he stays is
very helpful for when you have guests or otherwise need him out of the way
for a while. It also teaches him that free run of the house is a resource
that you control. There are probably many things that your dog sees as
valuable resources that I haven't mentioned here.
program should not be a long, drawn out process. All you need to do is
enforce a simple command before allowing him access to what he wants.
Dinner, for example, should be a two or three second encounter that consists
of nothing more than saying "sit", then "good dog!", then putting the bowl
down and walking away.
Now that your dog is no longer calling the shots you will have to make an
extra effort to provide him with attention and play time. Call him to you,
have him "sit" and then lavish him with as much attention as you want. Have
him go get his favorite toy and play as long as you both have the energy.
The difference is that now you will be the one initiating the attention and
beginning the playtime. He's going to depend on you now, a lot more than
before, to see that he gets what he needs. What he needs most is quality
time with you. This would be a good time to enroll in a group obedience
class. If his basic obedience is top notch, see about joining an agility
class or fly ball team.
NILIF DOES *NOT*
MEAN THAT YOU HAVE TO RESTRICT THE AMOUNT OF ATTENTION YOU GIVE TO YOUR DOG.
The NILIF concept speaks to who initiates the attention (you!), not
the amount of attention. Go ahead and call your dog to you 100 times
a day for hugs and kisses!! You can demand his attention, he can no longer
Within a day or
two your dog will see you in a whole new light and will be eager to learn
more. Use this time to teach new things, such as 'roll over' or learn the
specific names of different toys.
If you have a
shy dog, you'll see a more relaxed dog. There is no longer any reason to
worry about much of anything. He now has complete faith in you as his
protector and guide. If you have a pushy dog he'll be glad that the fight
for leadership is over and his new role is that of devoted and adored pet.
Dogs are masters
at throwing calming signals. Watch 2 dogs meet for the first time. Often,
eyes will be down, ears back, head slightly bowed. You may see yawning or
stretching or sneezing. One dog may roll over onto his back. These are all
signals dogs send to each other that they mean no harm; they are not
challenging each other. It’s doggie lingo for ‘I’m not looking for a fight
so please don’t hurt me’. You can help your dog overcome any fears that
s/he may have by imitating these calming signals.
Is your dog
afraid of thunder? Get down on the floor with your dog – stretch and yawn.
Very often your dog will yawn right back at you. Fake a sneeze – I bet
you’ll get one back. What you’re telling your dog with your body language
is ‘everything is fine, life is good’. Never, allow yourself to ‘comfort’
your dog in what s/he perceives as a scary situation. Telling him that
‘it’s ok – I’m here – don’t be afraid, good dog’ is only reinforcing your
dog’s thinking that his fear is ok, his fear will get you to stay with him,
and that he’s a good dog for being afraid.
If you’re out in
traffic and your dog panics, stop walking and start throwing some calming
signals. If you act confident, your dog will believe you that nothing is
wrong. Once you have him under control again, begin your walk, head up,
easy strides. Remember that you’re the pack leader. If you are unafraid,
your dog will believe that you will protect him and therefore, there is
nothing to worry about.