10 Important Dog Training Tips: Week 8 – the NILF concept

Welcome back to the series of my top 10 Important Dog Training Tips to remember during the training phase with any dog. The past seven blogs I covered the importance of no grey areasconsistencysetting attainable goalsrepetition, having realistic expectations and confidence in yourself, and finally, knowing when to take a step back. I’m winding down this series with this week’s blog which covers the very important topic of the concept known as Nothing in Life is Free (NILF).

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Dog training with the NILF methods simply means that your dog must work for a resource he wants. This resource could be to cuddle with you in bed, go for a walk in the neighborhood, play fetch, get a bite of your sandwich or swim in the pool. The list can go on and on and simply comes down to that the resource is anything your dog deems important and something they wish to have. Requesting that they do something first, before getting the desired resource, means you are teaching them that good dog manners are reward with “important” things versus a dog learning to be pushy to get what they want.

This is very easily achieved in your household just by asking your dog to do simple things in the beginning. Let’s say your dog wants you to throw the tennis ball. They run over to you and drop their tennis ball in your lap while you are watching t.v. Instead of just throwing the ball automatically, you would instill NILF by asking your dog to do a simple sit command, then throw the ball as the reward for sitting. Once your dog has the hang of this simple command, you would ask your dog to either sit longer, lie down, go to his bed, etc. If your dog doesn’t do what you ask him to, he doesn’t get his ball. He may start to bark, nose you, paw at you, or even try to take the ball, all of which you either have to ignore or correct him for and only reward him once he does the simple behavior you asked him to originally.

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All of these past students are doing something for what they want. Some are laying down politely as guest enter the house; sitting politely to be petted, receive a treat reward or chase the ball or just stay in one position no matter what distractions are around them to continue walking through the park.

 

The NILF concept is especially important for those dogs who show tendencies towards resource guarding and/or aggression. By instilling ground rules from the beginning that your dog can not get what he wants until he does something for you helps them to understand they are not making the rules. They are not the decision makers and in resource-guarding-squarecontrol. Any time I sign on a new client who has a dog who is growling at them when they try to sit on the couch, walk near their food bowl when they are eating, snap at them for trying to take an object away, etc., I always tell each and every one of them NILF must be started immediately. This is for everyone’s safety. At this point I believe your dog has lost their “freedom” and must now earn everything they want. They no longer respect you or your possessions therefor they must go back to NILF and earn every resource they want by doing something. They must respect you and stay out of your space. They must do everything you ask them, and in return, as you start to see their behavior changing, you can reward them with higher valued items. In the end, everyone wins! Your dog listens to you making your house copacetic again and your dog gets what he wants, all by everyone understand the rule of boundaries set by NILF.

Here is a video of my dog, Caleb, when he was 8 months old working for his food using NILF. He had to sit in one spot for 2 minutes to get what he really wanted…his kibble. These simple steps can be started at home with your dog – give it a try!

 

10 Important Dog Training Tips: Week 7 – Take a Step Back

Welcome back to the series of my top 10 Important Dog Training Tips to remember during the training phase. The past 6 blogs I covered the importance of no grey areasconsistencysetting attainable goalsrepetition, having realistic expectations and the importance of having confidence in yourself. This week’s blog covers the importance of knowing when to take a step back in your dog’s training.

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We all have had a hard time learning a subject or concept in our lives and dogs can have the same difficulties and road blocks along the way. To be proper educators, we do need to watch our dogs for any hints that they are not understanding what we are asking of them during the training phase and know when it is time to take a step back in their training. This means that your dog may not have a full understanding of the previous step of the training therefor they are not excelling at the current task. To help them succeed, we must take a step back to the last task and make sure they understand before moving forward.

For instance, when I first started teaching my dog, Caleb, how to do nose work, I moved a little too quickly from the stage of having him find the odor to the stage of having him mark the odor’s location. Caleb was catching on quite quickly that his task was to search for his food which would be placed within view, no higher than his head, at the time. He seemed to be flying around the house finding his food with no problem so I decided to challenge him. The next time I hid his food I put in closed cabinets and drawers and he did exceptionally well. Where the issue came in is that when I decided to build off of Caleb’s current odor marker (sit at odor source), I didn’t work on the smaller steps to get to the final picture I wanted. In my mind, I wanted him to sit there patiently, or for longer than 15 seconds, to know that he was positive this was the location of the odor. However, to Caleb, my lack of a quick praise meant to him this must not be the location and he would get up and start searching again. Clearly this was my fault for not teaching him what I wanted him to do in a clear manner before getting to this step.

Luckily, at about this time, Caleb and I went to work with the amazing and knowledgeable Andrew Ramsey of Ramsey Nosework. Andrew immediately pointed out to me that I was doing a few things incorrectly so we took a step back in Caleb’s training to get him to understand that when he found the odor he had to mark the spot by staying still with his eyes locked on the location for several seconds before the reward came. The subsequent sessions were so much more fun for Caleb because he now had an understanding of what he was suppose to do. Since returning home from our lessons with Andrew, we have worked on Caleb’s focused alerts in the house and are almost ready to move to the outdoors with this sport he so thoroughly enjoys now that he understands his job.

So, if you feel your dog just doesn’t understand what you are asking of them, take a moment to step back to the previous step and make sure they are comfortable with that step before moving on. Example of this can be if you are asking your dog to do a 5 minute sit stay but they keep breaking at 4 minutes – take a step back to releasing your dog at 3:50 and build up from there; if you are asking your dog to do a down at a distance of 6′ from you but they don’t do it until you have asked them multiple times – take a step back to a distance where they feel comfortable and down automatically; if you are asking your dog to jump through a hoop that is 3′ off the ground but they keep running under it – take a step back to a height your dog consistently jumps through then slowly raise the hoop. Doing this will help both of you enjoy your training together!

 

10 Important Dog Training Tips: Week 6 – Confidence

Welcome back to the series of my top 10 Important Dog Training Tips to remember during the training phase. The past 5 blogs I covered the importance of no grey areasconsistencysetting attainable goals repetition and understanding realistic expectations. This week covers the importance of having confidence in yourself.

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As with most things we do in life, being confident plays a very important factor when training your dog. I can not stress this enough to my clients as I see it affect their ability to feel comfortable training their dog. What do I mean by this?

50c950d429050f05094a9733053e8af0If you are not confident that you are doing the right thing for your dog, whether that be your worry of your timing for their reward, that you are not being clear enough or you are not doing it right, or being too mean, all these will affect the way you interact with your dog leading you down the path of self destruction. When I train a dog, whether it be my own or a clients’, I make sure that I feel wholeheartedly that I am doing the right thing and I am confident with my request for the dog, whether it be asking them to do something new or correcting them for a wrong behavior.

I had a client who was training her Labrador to be a mobility service dog and one of the cues I teach all service dogs is how to “under” which means to go under a chair, table, bench or desk to be out of way of foot traffic whether the client is at work, out to dinner, at the doctor’s office or on public transportation. This particular dog was having difficulty understanding the concept that she had to crawl under the chair and stay there. As with all lessons, I let the owner try several attempts on her own the way she wanted to do it which was bribery for a morsel in her hand. Well, this lab, as shy as she was, found out she could just put his front legs and head under the chair and be rewarded then quickly jet out from under the chair. The owner was becoming quite frustrated and saw her dog’s behavior as a sign that she did not enjoy the task and the owner wanted to give up. However, what I saw was a dog who was nervous and didn’t feel comfortable with the task. But I knew that I was not asking the dog to do anything “mean” or “abusive” and helped her out by guiding her under the chair with a treat in front of her and a gentle, soft pull of the leash and collar. And guess what……she did it on her first attempt with me!

Just a couple of pictures of Caleb practicing his “under” at 5 & 6 months old.

This is just one example of how being unsure of what you are doing to/with your dog can possibly hamper their learning abilities whereas being confident in what you are doing/asking can teach your dog (and quite possibly yourself) something new. Don’t be afraid! Stand up for yourself and your decisions that involve your dog’s training, you’ll be amazed at what you both learn!

This video does not show training, but it captured a time where I pushed Caleb to do something because I was confident he could do it. And boy is he proud when he finally picks up the tire and carries it!