Dog Self-Control: Nothing in Life is Free

Change Your Dog's Behavior by Putting Him to Work

Japanese Woman Training Her Dog
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Dogs often misbehave because they lack self-control. This lack of control is at the root of a number of behavior problems, including jumping up, bolting out the door, and demanding attention. You can begin to get some control over your dog's behavior by putting him to work. This means that you are going to ask your dog to do something for you, such as sitting or lying down, before he is allowed to do the things he wants to do, like eating, going for a walk, or playing a game with you. Many dog trainers refer to this as Nothing In Life is Free (NILF).

Nothing In Life is Free doesn't replace training your dog to prevent specific behaviors, but rather reinforces the other training you are doing with your dog. It allows you to establish your role as leader and helps to build your dog's confidence.

Here's how to put your dog to work:

Train Your Dog to Sit and Lie Down

You should train your dog the ​sit and ​down commands before you begin working on Nothing in Life is Free. You will be asking him to do these things frequently. You can teach him other commands to use with this program, as well, but he should know at least these basics before you start. Once he knows a few simple commands, it's time to put your dog to work.

Make Your Dog Work for His Dinner

Dogs tend to get excited at mealtimes. This can lead to your dog jumping up on the counter as you prepare his dinner, or jumping up on you before you can get his bowl on the floor. Instead of allowing your dog to misbehave, make him work for his dinner. As you are preparing your dog's meal, give him the command "sit" or "down." He must sit calmly until his meal is placed on the floor before he is allowed to eat. If he jumps up before you have his bowl on the floor, pick up the bowl and put it away. Walk away for several minutes, and then return and again ask your dog to sit or lie down. As soon as he is sitting or lying down calmly, place his food on the floor and allow him to eat.

Make Your Dog Work to Go Out

Your dog should never be allowed to bolt out the door. If your dog is allowed to play off-leash in your yard, do not let him out while he is jumping or scratching on the door. Instead, ask him to sit. If he refuses to sit, walk away from the door for several minutes, and then return and try again. As soon as he is sitting, you can open the door and let him outside.

The same goes for taking your dog for a walk on a leash. Before your dog is allowed to go out for a walk, he must sit calmly while you put on his leash. If he refuses, walk away. Give him a few minutes to calm down, and then return and ask him to sit again. As soon as he sits, attach his leash and head for the door. When you reach the door, ask him to sit once again rather than bolting out the door and yanking you behind him. If he refuses, walk him away from the door, and try again in a few minutes.

Make Your Dog Work for Your Attention

Most of us love playing and cuddling with our dogs. It can get annoying, however, when your dog is constantly demanding your attention by nudging his head under your hand or pawing at you. Make your dog work for your attention. Ask him to perform a behavior, such as sitting or lying down, before you pet him or play a game with him. If he tries to demand your attention, stand up and walk away. Once he sits or lies down when you give the command, you can play and cuddle for as long as you like.

Patience is Key

When you start working on NILF, your dog's behavior may seem to get a little worse before it gets better. Be patient. After you walk away from your dog a few times, he will begin to understand that he's not going to get what he wants until he does as you ask. If you pair Nothing In Life is Free with obedience training, you should see a big improvement in your dog's behavior. He may even surprise you by sitting down patiently before you even give a command!