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!)