Has your dog taken over the house?

Incorporating a “Nothing In Life for Free” way of life

While the nature of most dogs is to please, I often hear of dogs who seem to do whatever they want, whenever they want. They respond perfectly to sit, down and come when treats are present, yet they appear to completely forget all of their training when there is no food or treats present. These dogs often demand attention and get it whenever they want. They get to go for walks when they ask, get to play tug or fetch whenever they ask, and easily get ear scratches just by setting their heads on someone’s lap. What does this all mean?

Where is my cookie?

First, it’s important to remember that dogs have evolved with us over centuries – some say thousands of years – working cooperatively with us. In the past, dogs served humans by helping to hunt, herd, fetch, and warn of danger. While there are service and assistance dogs in action today, most family dogs don’t have “jobs” in the traditional sense. As a result, they are often left without direction, and with very little respect for leadership. This can lead to problems, particularly in high energy and intelligent dogs.

Fortunately, the solution to these pushy and disobedient dogs is not difficult – in fact, even a schoolchild can do it! (Supervised of course!) The best way to convince a dog that you are worth respecting and obeying is to employ a program that is commonly called “Nothing In Life For Free” or NILFF. Much like the rules that we set for children – such as no video games until your homework is finished, or no TV until you’ve taken out the trash – the demanding pooch must do for us before we do for him. Does he want his ear scratched? He must first sit, then down, then sit – OK, now pet him! Does he want to go outside for a walk? First he must sit and shake a paw – now we’ll go outside. And don’t forget to make him work for his meals as well as any petting or affection. Additionally, if you regularly play games such as tug or fetch with your dog, use these as opportunities to train as well. In between throws of a ball or Frisbee, ask for a sit/down/sit, or a spin or some other trick then throw again. If you play tug, intersperse the game with drop it cues and ask for sits or other behaviors before resuming the game.

In addition to adding more interest and mental stimulation to everyday games and tasks, incorporating NILFF with your pooch will reinforce in him the habit of responding to your cues. Then, when a command is of particular importance, such as a recall near a busy street, you’ll be much more likely to gain compliance. And when you are trying to relax and watch a movie or get some work done, he can learn to be less pushy and demanding of your attention.

Now, if the problems with your pup are related to aggression or anxiety, of course you should contact a professional trainer or behavior counselor. However, if it’s just about better obedience, think about incorporating NILFF into your routine. Although it may seem like a lot of work, you’ll find that it easily fits into your schedule. And remember that it’s not about the commands specifically, but about teaching the dog that he’s not the one calling all the shots – you are!

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