Dog obedience tip “Nothing In Life Is Free”

Do you have problems with your dog getting on the couch…then refusing to get off? Does he ignore you when you call him? Does he nose or paw at your hand for you to pet or play with him, or get defensive and protective of his food or toys?

If so, an obedience technique called “Nothing In Life Is Free'”may help both you and your dog. “Nothing In Life Is Free” isn’t a wonder trick that will fix a particular behavior issue. Instead, its objective is to help your dog behave better by getting him to accept you as the alpha dog and understand his place within the family structure.

How to apply ‘Nothing in Life is Free’

First, your dog should master some of the basic commands and tricks–“Sit,” “Down,” and “Stay” are good starting points in any training regimen. Use positive reinforcement with lots of praise and treats when he does it right. “Shake,” “Speak,” and “Roll over” are amusing tricks to teach him once he has mastered the basic commands.

Once your dog has these basic commands down, you can start to use “Nothing In Life Is Free.” It works like this: prior to giving your dog routine things (food, a treat, a walk, or a pat on the head) he must first complete one of the commands you’ve trained him. For example:

Get your dog’s leash for a walk…Must sit and stay until you’ve hooked the leash on his collar.
Feed your dog…Must stay or lie down in one spot until you have filled the bowl.
Toss a ball for him to fetch…Must sit and ‘shake hands’ before you throw the ball.
Give your dog a belly rub while reading the paper…Must lie down and roll over on command before you do so.

Consistency is very important. If you have given a command, don’t reward him until he does what you’ve asked. If he snubs you, ignore him or walk away; then return a few minutes later and try again. If your dog continues to disobey the command, be tolerant and remember that eventually he will have to obey your command to get what he wants.

Make sure your dog demonstrates the proper responses and understands what you are expecting before using “Nothing In Life Is Free.”

The Payoff

Most dogs take an impartial or subservient role toward people, but some dogs will try to dominate their owners. Making your dominating pooch work for what he wants is a safe, non-confrontational way to turn the tables.

Even dogs who don’t show aggressive behavior such as growling, snarling, or snapping may still try to control you. They may exhibit friendly actions that start to become pushy, such as pawing at your hand to be petted or slowly climbing up on the couch to be close to you. “Nothing In Life Is Free” kindly reminds your dog that he must conform to your rules.

Anxious or apprehensive dogs may grow more confident by observing commands and rules. When you show yourself as a strong leader and your dog learns his place in the family, it can help make a shy or nervous dog more secure.

Why ‘N.I.L.I.F.’ makes sense

Dogs are pack animals. Before they were domesticated (and even now for wild dogs) they ran in groups that followed a social structure. This trait has been carried over into their domesticated life as something called dominance hierarchy. This dominance hierarchy provides a structure that keeps order, cuts down conflict, and encourages cooperation among pack members.

To make certain that your home is a safe and cheerful place for your dog and your family, all the humans in the house should take on the dominant roles in this dominance hierarchy. Using “Nothing In Life Is Free” kindly and consistently says to your dog that his role in the household is subordinate to yours.

From your dog’s viewpoint, children also have a role in this hierarchy. Because children are small and often get down on his level to play, your dog may consider them buddies rather than bosses. It’s a good idea for children eight years old and up to use “Nothing In Life Is Free” with the family dog, under the watchful eye of an adult.

Source: Adapted from the ASPCA (originally adapted from the Dumb Friends League, Denver, Colorado)