A new take on NILIF/NILF

Sit for dinner, sit to open the door, lay down for pets, touch for access to the porch, spin to throw the ball, etc.  Nothing in Life is/for Free (NILF) is a work to earn type  protocol–dogs must work for everything except for water.  Many people who are into dominance based training require this type of very strict and regimented protocol to further reinforce their “alpha status” (often in conjunction with other more forceful tactics).  Other trainers will suggest NILF as a way to build some boundaries and control with dogs who may not have a responsive relationship with the humans in the house (ie they walk all over the humans and really do control the household).  Frankly, when I encounter a dog who is out of control and who walks over his owners (sometimes literally!), I do like NILF as part of the solution.  It is a non-confrontational way to relatively quickly grab-hold the reigns and regain control.

What I do is a little different, I suppose, I actually suggest a modified NILF as a protocol for dogs new to the home, as a relationship builder, and even as a tool to work with fearful/insecure dogs.  Instead of looking at it through “dominance” colored glasses, I think about it as being able to say to a dog “I like what you are doing” and “through me you can get anything you want” a hundred times each day.  I instruct people to make sure their dogs are earning their kibble through out the day. When the dog has to “earn” nearly every individual kibble, that means that they are also being rewarded many times each day  by the people in the house which is a relationship builder.   I like to take it further than simply giving the dog what they want for doing something that I want.  I purposefully look out for reasons to reward the dogs (honestly when working for individual pieces of kibble, I really have to seek out reasons to reward my dog because they get over 100 kibbles each day!).  I don’t know about you, but if I were rewarded a hundred times each day, I’d start feeling pretty good about myself and pretty good about the people doing the rewarding.

My modified NILF encourages me to find many things each and every day that my dog is doing well.  If he has to earn everything, I need to make sure I’m noticing when he’s doing things that I like so I can reward it (along with the more classic quid-pro-quo NILF).  Oh look, Dexter, you aren’t jumping on the counter while I make dinner, “GOOD!” here’s some kibble.  Oh Dexter, you chose to lay down inside, here’s a treat.  You want to be pet, “Sit” what a good boy!  I noticed that when I went to open the door you sat and waited, that’s awesome, you can go outside now.  Wow, you looked at the cat and didn’t go forward, here’s some kibble.  Get the idea?  It is both a true NILF approach in that all resources come through doing something for the person but taking it further by simply rewarding good behavior as often as possible.

Though, upon writing it all out, it’s sort of two different things…but SHH!  The point is.. having new dogs/insecure dogs both work for their food by completing well known cues to get all their resources and simply rewarding them frequently for moments of good behavior can help the dog built a good relationship, gain confidence, gain an understanding about how they can come to control their environment, and learn to see the humans as the source of all things awesome!

It’s just my spin on a pretty common protocol and taking it out of the dominance context and seeing it in a completely different light.

(oh and don’t forget about the contest!)


About Success Just Clicks

I'm a dog trainer and enthusiast who moonlights as a blogger and custom tug-toy maker.
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23 Responses to A new take on NILIF/NILF

  1. It is a way to look at it in a positive manner.

    • yeps… i’ve just heard recently of a few R+ trainers not liking NILF and i just didn’t get it… why they didn’t like it but when asked they mentioned the connection to dominance training which really confused me…since it really ISN’T only attached to dominance mind-set

  2. Anna says:

    always interesting to get other perspectives… no matter where you come from with it it usually benefits the dog. I often suggest this to clients.. the whole working for everything. To be honest some people get it, and some people don’t want to take the time to do it. But another great benefit of it for most dogs is that it also wears them out. To simple take a couple minutes out of each day and work the basics, will only contribute to the mental exhaustion you are trying to achieve for the day. And I think that’s the biggest reason I do it, that and it gives them a job to do and does reinforce order. I used to do a lot of sitting with luna but with having done more shows lately i have been trying to get her back out of the habit of sitting for anything. Once show is done I will go back to it as she has become kind of lazy about it. As opposed to wyatt who knows few things, who has been offfering sits on his own when I have something in my hands, in hopes he might get it. I like that he has made that association and being a lab sit is a big part of training (hunt) so it’ll only help us later. I also teach my parents, nieces and nephews and friends tricks/behaviors to do with them as they are wanting to give them treats. That way they at least have to work for them.
    Interesting post, and I assume any comment will get another entry into the contest right?

    • It’s funny when they make the connection that sit makes things happen… I try to mix it i up with my dogs… so i dont get such a crazy default behavior that it effects our shaping sessions.

      Yep through tuesday when you first comment on a new thread, it gets you another entry into the contest 🙂 (only one new entry per post–so you can’t post like 100 comments on one post to get lots of entries into the contest).

      • Anna says:

        With wyatt not being taught many others it makes it hard to get him to do things. Maybe I should take him on as a challenge as I can’t even remember how I got started with all of Luna’s tricks/behaviors. But I see your point about them defaulting to that. Luna likes to do that when I hold my hand open, she throws her paws at me rather than listen to me asking for touch. Though usually she only does this when it’s above her head so it’s probably mostly confusion. But she loves to touch, and bow. and I have been making her do more stands from a sit to mix it up. I don’t stick to things long, she could learn a lot more if I took the time to really work with her. Ah well, it is life.

        • Shayne had a crazy default sit… it took me a long time to break her of that… she may not have as nice of a default behavior but at least now she is open to shaping and capturing in a way she wasn’t before… she’d just sit and wait for 20 minutes LOL… now she’ll try things and offer things instead of just sitting forever LOL!

  3. Jo says:

    I use NILF in exactly the same way, I have four dogs as it helps them to have good manners and they love the regular rewards that the y receive. its no hardship to them, there bums cannot get onto the floor quick enough when i am making their tea (they sit on their beds for their tea) they also sit to have their collars and leads on for walks, and have just come to associate sitting as a prerequisite for walkies. I did not know about NILF when I taught them this, it just seamed to be common sense and good manners.

  4. Lori says:

    Thanks for this post! Its a great way to outline and explain to people how they can reinforce behaviors they want. This is also a great way to introduce all sorts of reinforcers as well 🙂

  5. As someone with a lot of dogs at the house, it really takes a very long time sometimes to sit down and have training sessions with everyone. NILIF is a methodology that has allowed me to be constantly refreshing my dogs on the manners and behaviors that we have worked on, helping us keep that caregiver-ward partnership that we have, and gives them confidence because they see that the key to getting what they want is just a little compromise (more like Premacking.)

    • Another great point… you dont really have to set up training sessions if you are using something like NILF because they are regularly practicing behaviors to keep them on top of the ball!

  6. lexy3587 says:

    I kind of do a very low-level version of this with Gwynn, and I think my family doesn’t realise how much they do it.
    He sits to get into and out of the house, before we cross an intersection on a walk, and to put his leash on or off, but that’s more about making him polite around doors and the potential for a walk.
    My dad usually gives him a piece of cheese or something else when he’s done with prep-work for a meai (ie, good, you weren’t bugging me while I was working with food… you get a piece of what I was cutting up!), and my sister gives him a few pieces of dry popcorn when she’s done using the air-popper. It’s an interesting idea doing that kind of rewarding on purpose, and paying attention to when he’s doing something good.

    • It’s something i did a lot of as a teacher… i tried to point out during random moments when someone was doing something appropriate or that I liked (not in a public praise type of way but let them know one on one that i noticed them doing something great). It is definitely about building good manners and impulse control, and learning to work with people… i really do think it can make such a huge difference with a slightly crazy dog (or even the normal ones, not that i know what those look like LOL!)

  7. Kristin says:

    Nothing wrong with that! NILF has taught Shiva to have value in working with me. If she could just get what she wanted every time she wanted it, she would see no point in participating in my life. When she came to us she was a fearful, anxious mess. Learning how to earn rewards through simple behaviours, essentially learning how to be a dog in a human world, gave her so much self-esteem she now has confidence up the wazoo. It’s by far my proudest accomplishment and it thrills me every time someone makes reference to her fearlessness. Sometimes I wonder if we did too good a job in that area… 😉

  8. Of Pit Bulls and Patience says:

    I use a similar approach with certain clients as well. It most definitely helps the insecure dog build confidence and establish a good relationship with the family. I used it with my own dog when she came home because she was unsure of herself AND didn’t like to follow simple rules. I like how you wrote it out, and I’m sure I’ll come back to read it and compare the next time I explain the process to a client. Thanks!


    • it is so versatile that the same protocol can simply be worded differently to focus on the issue at hand with a given dog: “teach him boundaries” “build his confidence” “learn to work with you” “see you as the giver of all things good” etc.

  9. Courtenay says:

    I love the way you’ve reframed this. Any chance you have a client handout ? 🙂

  10. miranda says:

    I don’t think I could manage a 6 dog household (plus occasional fosters!) Without NILIF. It makes an amazing difference in the ease of dealing with so many at once and really keeps things simple. They know what I want, and they know how to get what they need. Its about working together, not dominance. Great post Tena!

  11. Pingback: Absence makes the heart grow fonder… «

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