Undesirable behavior can be
caused by many things, including undetected illness. No behavior modification
program should begin without first taking the dog to a veterinarian for a
complete physical examination. While you're there, give your vet a printed copy
of this page and ask if it would be an appropriate technique for you to try. The
NILIF program is an accepted standard in dog training/behavior but it is not,
and is not intended to be, a substitute for an in-person, professional
evaluation of your dog's behavior. This technique is intended for dogs in good
health and of sound mind and stable temperament.
NOTHING IN LIFE IS
The NILIF program is
remarkable because it's effective for such a wide variety of problems. A shy,
timid dog becomes more relaxed knowing that he has nothing to worry about, his owner is in charge of all things. A dog that's
pushing too hard to become "top dog" learns that the position is not available
and that his life is far more enjoyable without the title.
It is equally successful
with dogs that fall anywhere between those two extremes. The program is not
difficult to put into effect and it's not time consuming if the dog already
knows a few basic obedience commands. I've never seen this technique fail to
bring about a positive change in behavior, however, the
change can be more profound in some dogs than others. Most owners use this
program in conjunction with other behavior modification techniques such as
coping with fear or treatment for aggression. It is a perfectly suitable
technique for the dog with no major behavior problems that just needs some fine
ATTENTION ON DEMAND
The program begins by
eliminating attention on demand. When your dog comes to you and nudges your
hand, saying "pet me! pet me!" ignore him. Don't tell
him "no", don't push him away. Simply pretend you don't notice him. This has
worked for him before, so don't be surprised if he tries harder to get your
attention. When he figures out that this no longer works, he'll stop. In a pack
situation, the top ranking dogs can demand attention from the lower ranking
ones, not the other way around. When you give your dog attention on demand
you're telling him that he has more status in the pack than you do. Timid dogs
become stressed by having this power and may become clingy. They're never sure
when you'll be in charge so they can't relax. What if something scary happens,
like a stranger coming in the house? Who will handle that? The timid dog that is
demanding of attention can be on edge a lot of the time because he has more
responsibility than he can handle.
Some dogs see their ability
to demand attention as confirmation that they are the "alpha", then become
difficult to handle when told to "sit" or "down" or some other demand is placed
on them. It is not their leadership status that stresses them out, it's the lack
of consistency. They may or may not actually be alpha material, but having no
one in the pack that is clearly the leader is a bigger problem than having the
dog assume that role full time. Dogs are happiest when the pack order is stable.
Tension is created by a constant fluctuation of pack leadership.
Your dog already knows that
he can demand your attention and he knows what works to get that to happen.
As of today, it no longer works, but he doesn't know that
yet. We all try harder at something we know works when it stops working.
If I gave you a twenty dollar bill every time you clapped your hands together,
you'd clap a lot. But, if I suddenly stopped handing you money, even though you
were still clapping, you'd clap more and clap louder. You might even get closer
to me to make sure I was noticing that you were clapping. You might even shout
at me "Hey! I'm clapping like crazy over here, where's the money?". If I didn't respond at all, in any way, you'd stop. It
wasn't working anymore. That last try -- that loud, frequent clapping is an
extinction burst. If, however, during that extinction burst, I gave you another
twenty dollar bill you'd be right back in it. It would take a lot longer to get
you to stop clapping because you just learned that if you try hard enough, it
When your dog learns that
the behaviors that used to get him your attention don't work any more he's going
to try harder and he's going to have an extinction burst. If you give him
attention during that time you will have to work that much harder to get him
turned around again. Telling him "no" or pushing him away is not the kind of
attention he's after, but it's still attention.
Completely ignoring him will work faster and better.
YOU HAVE THE POWER
As the human and as his
owner you have control of all things that are wonderful in his life. This is the
backbone of the NILIF program. You control all of the resources. Playing, attention, food, walks, going in and out of the door, going
for a ride in the car, going to the dog park. Anything and everything
that your dog wants comes from you. If he's been getting most of these things
for free there is no real reason for him to respect your leadership or your
ownership of these things. Again, a timid dog is going to be stressed by this
situation, a pushy dog is going to be difficult to handle. Both of them would
prefer to have you in charge.
To implement the NILIF
program you simply have to have your dog earn his use of your resources. He's
hungry? No problem, he simply has to sit before his bowl is put down. He wants
to play fetch? Great! He has to "down" before you throw the ball. Want to go for
a walk or a ride? He has to sit to get his lead snapped on and has to sit while
the front door is opened. He has to sit and wait while the car door is opened
and listen for the word (I use "OK") that means "get into the car". When you
return he has to wait for the word that means "get out of the car" even if the
door is wide open. Don't be too hard on him. He's already learned that he can
make all of these decisions on his own. He has a strong history of being in
control of when he gets these 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.
You're going to have to pay
attention to things that you probably haven't noticed before. If you feed your
dog from your plate do you just toss him a green bean? No more. He has to earn
it. You don't have to use standard obedience commands, any kind of action will
do. If your dog knows "shake" or "spin around" or "speak" use those commands.
Does your dog sleep on your bed? Teach him that he has to wait for you to say
"OK" to get on the bed and he has to get down when you say "off". Teach him to
go to his bed, or other designated spot, on command. When he goes to his spot
and lays down tell him "stay" and then release him with a treat reward. Having a
particular spot where he stays is very helpful for when you have guests or
otherwise need him out of the way for a while. It also teaches him that free run
of the house is a resource that you control. There are probably many things that
your dog sees as valuable resources that I haven't mentioned here.
The NILIF program should
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",
then "good dog!", then putting the bowl down and walking away.
ATTENTION AND PLAY
Now that your dog is no
longer calling the shots you will have to make an extra effort to provide him
with attention and play time. Call him to you, have him "sit" and then lavish
him with as much attention as you want. Have him go get his favorite toy and
play as long as you both have the energy. The difference is that now you will be
the one initiating the attention and beginning the play time. He's going to
depend on you now, a lot more than before, to see that he gets what he needs.
What he needs most is quality time with you. This would be a good time to enroll
in a group obedience class. If his basic obedience is top notch, see about
joining an agility class or fly ball team.
NILIF DOES *NOT* MEAN THAT
YOU HAVE TO RESTRICT THE AMOUNT OF ATTENTION YOU GIVE TO YOUR DOG. The NILIF
concept speaks to who initiates the attention (you!),
not the amount of attention. Go ahead and call your dog to you 100 times a day
for hugs and kisses!! You can demand his attention, he
can no longer demand yours!
Within a day or two your
dog will see you in a whole new light and will be eager to learn more. Use this
time to teach new things, such as 'roll over' or learn the specific names of
If you have a shy dog,
you'll see a more relaxed dog. There is no longer any reason to worry about much
of anything. He now has complete faith in you as his protector and guide. If you
have a pushy dog he'll be glad that the fight for leadership is over and his new
role is that of devoted and adored pet.
©1999 Deb McKean
visit Deb's website: K9Deb.com