Nothing in Life is Free

You have resources—food, treats, toys, and attention. Your dog wants those resources. Require him to earn them. That's the basis of "Nothing in Life is Free." As the human who has control of all things that are wonderful in your dog's life, stop giving away resources for free. Anything and everything that your dog wants comes from you and must be earned in order to properly structure his pack. We want to give your dog a reason for him to respect your leadership and your ownership of these things. To implement the NILIF your dog simply earns his use of your resources by demonstrating a command or trick. Play, attention, food, walks, going in and out of the door, going for a ride in the car, going to the dog park, etc are traded for any command such as "Sit," "Look at me," "Come," "Shake” etc. When your dog does what you want, he gets rewarded with the thing he wants. NILIF is a way of living with your dog that creates trust and confidence.

Why is this important to implement?

"Nothing in Life is Free" gently and effectively communicates to your dog that you are the leader. This technique requires your dog to work for everything he wants in a safe, positive, non-confrontational way in order to establish your leadership position. Even if your dog never displays aggressive behaviors such as growling, snarling, or snapping, he can still be manipulating or controlling your actions. He may be affectionate to the point of being "pushy," such as nudging your hand to be petted or "worming" his way onto the furniture to be close to you. Nothing In Life Is Free gently reminds the dog that he must abide by your rules.

How to practice "Nothing in Life is Free"

1. All of your dog’s privileges (stroking, eating, walking, playing, going outside, and so on…) should be earned. He is not allowed to demand anything from you, whether he attempts to do this through whining, barking, nudging, etc. Simply, have him sit and wait till he is calm. When he demands anything ignore him or have him sit. Your attention is one of his most valued resources that he needs to respectfully ask for and earn.

2. During dinnertime, prepare your dog's food and leave it on the counter. Sit down to your own meal, do not give scraps. When you have finished ask for any command, then give the bowl of food that you prepared earlier. In nature, the alpha male and alpha female (you and your spouse) eat first, then subsequent members of the pack eat according to ranking.

3. You control places of importance. Limit sleeping areas. Do not allow him on furniture (couches, beds, tables, etc.) unless called first. These are places of importance and the higher ranking members of the pack determine who gets to use these places. His resting place or personal area should be removable or a place you yourself can and will occupy whenever you may choose. If your house is large, limit your dog's freedom in the house by blocking off areas like upstairs, basement and parts of the main room. Teach the command “off” which will make the task of getting them off of unwanted places easier.

4. Play and walks should be instigated by you and on your terms. You start and end when you are ready, not when your dog wants. At the end, place the toy/leash out of sight and reach until the next time you decide it is time to walk or play. Play tug can be a confidence building exercise. Overly confident dogs should win less often than the human. Under socialized dogs need to build confidence and allow them to win more.

5. Control all doorways, entryways, and narrow openings such as hallways. People go first and dogs follow. Do not allow your dog to lead you or go ahead of you through each doorway. Use a leash if necessary to gently guide your dog to follow. We do not want to create negative associations, so keep things light and happy. Teaching your dog to “wait” would be well applied here. Leaders lead; this should apply to all doorways, narrow paths, and even outdoor walks.

6. In general, have your dog move out of your way. Don't walk around him. Walking “through” him is typically effective. Your dog should naturally yield personal space to you, if necessary use a leash to gently show your dog what you expect him to do.

7. Ensure your dog is getting plenty of exercise to work off excess energy and place your dog on a high quality-low protein diet. Dogs by nature are explorative and curious animals. Many breeds of dogs were bred to work all day. Provide as many different outlets as possible for your dog’s energy. A tired dog is a good dog! (Ask for enrichment ideas, if needed).

8. Be consistent! Rules don't work in any setting if not always enforced. When you are tired or busy, continue to expect reward inducing behavior and the positive behaviors will start coming more quickly and readily. If you are consistent, good behavior will become a habit for your dog.

Why this technique works:

Dogs want good things. If the only way to get it is to do what you ask, they'll do it.

Good leadership encourages good behavior by providing the guidance and boundaries dogs need. What your dog needs most is quality time with you. This would be a good time to enroll in a basic obedience class. If his obedience is already top notch, consider joining an agility class or fly ball team.

For your dog, not having a clear leader who makes the important decisions is a big source of stress. Dogs are happiest when the pack order is stable. Tension is created by a constant fluctuation of leadership. Patience is an important component of this process. Remember your dog may have a strong history of being in control and controlling resources. Enforce the new rules, but keep in mind that he's only doing what he's been taught to do and he's going to need some time to get the hang of it all, just as you are.

Common concerns

The program need not be a long drawn-out process. All you need to do is enforce a simple command before allowing him access to what he wants. Dinner, for example, should be a two or three second encounter that consists of nothing more than saying "sit," "good dog!," and then bowl down, done!


The NILIF concept speaks to who initiates the attention (you!), not the amount of attention. Call your dog to you 100 times a day for hugs and kisses!! You can demand his attention, he can no longer demand yours!

Be patient and remember that eventually your dog will have to obey to get what he wants. (Use this only in regards to commands your dog knows well. New or poorly executed commands should be addressed during separate training sessions.)

Demanding attention has worked for him before, so don't be surprised if he tries harder to get your attention. When he figures out old tactics no longer work, he'll stop.

This should be positive for both you and your dog, keep training light and happy!