The earlier post, “Fountain, Shield, Babelfish” gave a glimpse into my overall philosophy toward living with dogs: Become the fountain of all that is good, a shield from all that is bad, and learn to communicate in a way that interprets their language while helping them understand ours. Sounds simple, and it is, if one is able to put in the time on that last step; but what does that really mean? And what of the people I chat with casually for only 5 minutes, but actually hope I can tell them something that will solve, or at least help, their dog relationship. For these folks, I recommend NiLiF and the Rule of Seven. It is simple, humane, and effective, and can be explained in a few minutes. I do not know where either of these concepts originated. These are my own takes on them, but I am not the original progenitor of either idea.
Nothing in Life is Free is a simple approach in which the dog should receive nothing without first working for it (and the work can be as simple as sitting or coming). If the dog wants to get in the car, wants affection, or wants to enter or exit the home, they must first do something: sit, shake paws, come to you… the important thing is that it is a clear behavior. Being cute doesn’t count. This can be applied a hundred times a day — there is no other limit or issue to pay attention to. You may call the dog to you and reward it with affection again and again, or require the dog to sit 20 times a day so you can let it in and out. If you enjoy sharing a bag of dog treats with your dog, just ask them to do a separate behavior for each treat.
It is essential to apply NiLiF for anything to do with food as well. Whether it is a Kong, a single treat, or a full meal, the dog must earn its reward. It should be asked to do things it plausibly can understand (don’t require the dog to do algebra for its dinner), and there are no corrections or rebukes of any kind: they just don’t get anything for nothing, and this keeps a simple hierarchy going in the home. Be sure to pull the dog’s food after 20-30 minutes, if they do not eat it all. If they need more food, they wait until next mealtime and then earn it again. Nothing in life is free. An important component of NiLif that is too often ignored or glossed over is that it works both ways: if the rule is the dogs get nothing without offering something, then the dog must be rewarded each time it does something. This is often the case for more complex versions of positive reinforcement training, too — it just tends to be forgotten when NiLiF is explained. Nothing in Life is Free applies to you, also, so be ready with those rewards.
The Rule of Seven is a socialization concept that many breeders apply to their puppies: By the time the puppy is 7 weeks of age, it should have:
–Been on 7 different types of surfaces: carpet, concrete, wood, vinyl, grass, dirt, gravel, wood chips.
–Played with 7 different types of objects: big balls, small balls, soft fabric toys, fuzzy toys, squeaky toys, paper or cardboard items, metal items, and sticks.
–Been in 7 different locations: front yard, back yard, basement, kitchen, car, garage, laundry room, bathroom.
–Met and played with 7 new people: include children and older adults, someone walking with a walker cane, someone in a wheelchair.
–Been exposed to 7 challenges: climb on a box, climb off a box, go through a tunnel, climb steps, go down steps, climb over obstacles, play hide and seek, in and out of a doorway, in and out throug a gate.
–Eaten from 7 different containers: metal, plastic, cardboard, paper, porcelain, pie plate, frying pan
–Eaten in 7 different locations: crate, outside, kitchen, basement, laundry room, living room, bathroom.
There are many other challenges that are good for a dog to be comfortable with (elevators, car-rides, and crowds are a few), but whether 7 weeks or 7 years, it is a good start for people and their dogs to experience all of the seven sevens and make sure their dog is familiar with everything (or at least most everything) on the list.
Many people I meet, and almost everyone I casually observe in public, can benefit from applying NiliF and the Rule of Sevens to their human-dog relationships. For severely obsessed aficionados of canine geekery, NiliF and the Rule of Sevens are just two components of an overall approach. We are very casual about NiLiF at our house, but were very strict with each dog while we were getting to know them, and they us. Though not everyone does it this way, we always provide clean, fresh water, and don’t require any sort of behavior for it. Common sense should be applied when working with dogs no matter what the method or philosophy one is utilizing. Though consistency is vital, don’t be harsh, with yourself or with your dog. These are guidelines, not laws. Your safety, and the safety of your dog, is always paramount.