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For puppies that are somewhat stubborn, headstrong or have picked up some lazy or bad habits, NILF training is just the technique to get them back on track. For most dominant puppies or breeds that are dominant by nature NILF is also an ideal way to start training and work through training without having to deal with many of the dominance and non-compliance issues you may see in other less task oriented type training methods.
NILF, which stands for "Nothing In Life Is Free" is a method of training that requires the dog to perform as per the owner's requests in order to get what the dog wants. This is not a punishment based training method and as a matter of fact NILF training requires no punishment at all, simply a willingness for the trainer to never give in or accept poor or difficult behavior on the part of the puppy.
Basics of NILF Training
NILF training only works when the puppy clearly understands the commands that you are giving. If the puppy doesn't understand, they must be taught using a positive reinforcement method. If they do understand and know the command but just don't want to follow instructions, it is time to use a NILF strategy.
One of the most common times to use NILF is when the puppy really wants to do something but is behaving badly. A great example is walk time. Most puppies get very excited about the prospect about going out for a walk. As soon as they see the collar and leash they start whining, jumping, barking and generally acting siilly. Call the puppy over and say "Sit" if he or she doesn't sit then walk away and ignore them for 3-5 minutes. If they whine, ignore the behavior and when they calm down and are quiet, repeat the sit command. You may have to do this several times the first few training sessions. When the puppy sits, attach the collar. If he or she jumps up and runs for the door, sit back down. Wait until they are calm, repeat the sit command and then pick up the leash and head out for your walk if they say calm and well behaved. Soon the puppy will learn that sitting down nicely, quietly and waiting for the cue to walk will result in getting outside for a walk a lot quicker than jumping around and acting silly. Please note, this cannot be used unless the puppy is completely housetrained, especially if this in an emergency trip outdoors to go to the bathroom.
You have to stick to this routine without fail. The first time you give in and snap on the lead and accept the puppy jumping and pulling to get out the door you are back to square one. Patience and a willingness to relax and let the dog understand the natural consequences of poor behavior will work, plus it will clearly establish in a non-aggressive or non-punishment based way which one of you is in charge.
Another good example of NILF training in action is teaching a dog to retrieve. Most puppies love to chase after a thrown object, but they don't like to just turn over the ball, stick or toy. They want owners to chase, pull and tug or even fight over the toy. In NILF training methods if you throw the ball and the puppy starts to bring it back but then decides to play a little game of keep away, just turn your back and ignore the puppy. The puppy will soon tire of the game and will come over to you and drop the object. You can then give the puppy lots of praise and throw again.
Growling or Aggression
Puppies may go through a period of possessiveness about their toys food or sleeping area. Using NILF training makes this easy and prevents owners from having to deal with the aggression through punishment. As you go to feed the puppy if he or she growls, simply do not put down the food and walk away. When the puppy is calm, walk back over with the food and give a command that the puppy already knows, like sit or lie down. Once the puppy is doing what you ask, immediately provide the food. If they sit but then growl, hold off until they are sitting quietly. In this fashion you reward the right behavior and the undesirable behavior gets the puppy nothing, so it will quickly be dropped from their repertoire.
Key points to NILF training
The key concepts to make NILF training effective are:
The puppy must know the commands or it will just cause confusion and frustration for the puppy. If you want the puppy to "sit" they must know what sit means before they know if they are doing the right or wrong thing. Use positive reward or clicker training to teach commands.
You must be consistent. The puppy has been able to get away with doing the wrong thing and has learned that you don't really mean what you say. You have to allow them to now understand that you do really mean what you say and that you will decide the behavior that gets the reward, not them. If you give in and just feed when the puppy growls or refuses to sit, the puppy has just learned that you aren't serious about that command and you will have to start over.
Never punish the puppy, rather let the natural consequence of not getting what they want until they do what you want be the training and learning component.
Be prepared to be patient, this will not change a puppies behavior over night. They will need constant practice and consistent use to understand how they need to behave. Remember they are having to unlearn old behaviors and learn new behaviors at the same time.
Everyone in the house working with the puppy must be on the same page. If one person is letting the puppy get away with bad behaviors this can undermine NILF or any type of training. Adults may not want the kids to work with the puppy at this time if they are too young to understand the NILF program methods. They can work with the puppy once the issue has been corrected.
Finally, remember that NILF training is a safe, effective and natural way for a puppy to learn the behaviors that are expected. It allows the owners to become the pack leader and be seen as the dominant figure in the household without having to use punishment on the puppy, allowing the bond between puppy and humans to continue to grow and develop through training.
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