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The NILIF System for training dogs and children part 2
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Mon Apr 19 2010, 02:04PM

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The NILIF system for Dogs, Children and People

In my last newsletter we talked about the importance of not allowing your dog to become the boss of the household. We will now explore how to implement the NILIF concept.

For years so-called expert dog trainers have maintained that one should only start training a pup when he is six months old. This idea has now largely been discredited. The dog has already developed bad habits at six months and in many cases has already become the alpha (boss) dog in the household. Now at this relatively advanced age, you have to unlearn bad habits before you can start training properly. I have now successfully trained two dogs starting at eight weeks.

Once you have very firmly established who is the alpha dog in the house, you can reinforce that with the NILIF system. The dog must understand that Nothing In Life Is Free. Start with food. He must be made to understand that he won't get his food until he performs a simple task like sitting, staying, or lying down. To get him to sit, you must clip a lead onto his collar, pull his head up with the lead, push gently down on his rump and in a firm voice say, 'SIT!' The second he sits, give him the food. To get him to stay, get him to sit first, now place your open palm in front of his nose. While pulling upwards on the lead, walk back saying 'STAY!' If he stays put for one or two seconds, walk back to him, praise him and give him the food.

A very powerful way to reinforce your alpha status is to get him to lie down on command. Lying down in front of an alpha dog is the ultimate gesture of submission for a subordinate dog. The easiest way to achieve this is to place your foot on the lead about 25cm away from the collar. While saying something like 'REST' or 'DOWN', gently put pressure on the lead with your foot until his head almost touches the ground. At the same time, with your free hand, point firmly down to the ground. In this awkward position, he has very little choice but to lie down. If he is still reluctant, you may have to push gently down on his rump until he is completely prone. Once he is lying down, praise him and reward him with a favourite titbit. Once he goes down immediately after you've given the command without having to tread on the lead, you can use this trick to stop any bad behaviour in its tracks. You can also use any of the 'sit' 'stay' or 'rest' commands to get him to earn the right to play, retrieve, romp or whatever pleasant activity he wants to engage in.

Lets have another look at the system one step at a time: (based on an article by Deb McKean):


When your dog comes to you and nudges your hand or puts his chin on your lap, he is saying, stroke me! Pet me!". It should be clear to you by now that you have to ignore this behaviour.  Don't say "no" or push him away. Simply pretend you don't notice him. When your dog learns that the behaviour that used to get your attention don't work any more, he's going to try much harder. If you give him attention during that time, you'll 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. After a time he'll realise that this is not working any more, and he'll stop.

The top ranking dogs in a pack 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.

If the dog is naturally dominant, he may assume the 'alpha' status. He will then become difficult to handle when he is told to "sit" or "down" or some other demand is placed on him. This type of dog is not stressed out by his leadership status: it's the lack of consistency. 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.


You must take control of all the wonderful things in your dog's life. This is the crux of the NILIF programme. You control everything. 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.

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 "UP") 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.

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.

NILIF DOES NOT MEAN THAT YOU HAVE TO RESTRICT THE AMOUNT OF ATTENTION YOU GIVE TO YOUR DOG. The NILIF concept determines 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 different toys.

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.

Most of the principles I have described above will also apply to relationships within the family. If a child becomes the boss of the household and demands and gets attention, toys, cars, free time to wander the streets, spends hours on cell-phones and computers, has no idea how to pick the right kind of friends, in fact has to set his own limits, such a child will usually be unhappy and will often end up abusing alcohol, drugs and become infected with HIV or ruin her life by becoming pregnant. So inculcate the mantra NILIF to the whole family. You might as well remember it yourself!

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