Nothing in Life is Free (NILIF)

This posting is courtesy of Lynda Oleksuk < who wants us to emphasize that she did not come up with the method, she just endorses it enthusiastically (see her .sig :-) The posting is extracted from the archives of the shy-k9s mailing list.

From: Lynda Oleksuk <
Subject: Re: Nothing in Life is Free? (LONG)
Date: Fri, 17 Feb 1995 17:39:21 +0500

> A couple of weeks ago somebody mentioned, in passing, the Nothing
> in Life is Free method. Details? Sounds just like something a
> dog I know needs.--Elaine

I usually post NILIF every couple of weeks to the rec.pets.dogs.behavior group on the usenet. But since we've had quite a few new people on shy-k9s, I think it would be a good idea to post it here at least once. I'm pretty sure some of the "older" people have seen it, at least in one form or another. Here is the latest version that was posted on rpd.behavior.

And in case you were wondering -- the bit about NILIF in my sig is NOT a joke ... I used to have a bit about being the alpha-bitch, until I discovered that Gypsy's primary problems were fear, NOT dominance as I had assumed (hey, she was a 14 month old Akita bitch who was growling ... of course you'd guess it was dominance!). I really like the NILIF method, and it has worked wonders for Gypsy.

*********** Here it comes:

By popular demand I am posting the NILIF behavior modification technique that I had prescribed to me by my veterinary behaviorist. Any mistakes in this are mine, not hers ... and no, I am not familiar with who originally developed the method.

This method is a non-confrontational way of reducing/controlling/preventing dominance or dominance aggression in dogs. IMHO, it's a HECK of a lot safer than the "Alpha Wolf Rollover" that the Monks recommend -- and I recently got a magazine that claims they no longer recommend AWRs because of the potential dangers when misused or used by inexperienced owners. And I'd like to see even an experienced person try to alpha-roll a 120 pound dominant-aggressive Akita without getting hurt ... but I digress.

One thing that I like about NILIF -- and Mary Healey said this best in one of her posts (on rec.pets.dogs.behavior) -- is that it's adaptable to ANY dog. I've seen one person PANIC and tell a person on this group that they should NOT use NILIF on their dog because their dog was fearfully aggressive, not dominantly aggressive. For the record, Gypsy was mildly dominant (but did not have aggression associated with her dominance) -- but her main problem was and still is what I loosely call fear aggression (the behaviorist called it "self-protective aggression").

Gypsy's history is that she was SEVERELY abused as a very young puppy and nearly psychotic when she was younger. I was her 7th home -- she was 9 months old when I got her. Dogs can have a combination of causes for aggressive behavior -- and NILIF only addresses the dominance. But it should not exacerbate problems with fear if used correctly. NILIF should be used as a "game" and should be fun for the dog -- NOT a battle of wills. On the occasions when Gypsy's "downs" have slowed, I've gone back to step 1 and started the program over, rather than to try to outstubborn her. Mostly because you cannot outstubborn an Akita. But again, I'm rambling.


  1. Avoid circumstances that elicit the aggression -- at least temporarily. Later you'll be able to work on desensitization, but only after you've gotten the dog's cooperation, not resistance.
  2. Maintain an aloof attitude toward the dog. This is accomplished quite easily by crating the dog (or isolating it from the family in a small area with a babygate). This crating will be 90% or more of the time for a few weeks. This seemed to make Gypsy much more willing to do ANYTHING I wanted her to when she was out -- she was so thrilled to have ANY attention that she was beside herself.
  3. Two-three times a day for 3-5 minutes maximum practice QUICK sits and downs for food. (If you don't know how to train this, go to a class.) You are working for speed and attitude here -- so reward correct behavior generously with praise and food. If your dog has fear problems, ignore or minimize the need for corrections. Don't make these training sessions a chore -- they should be fast and fun, not a battle. When the dog is IMMEDIATELY and CONSISTENTLY and with ANTICIPATION obeying the commands, she is ready for the meat of the NILIF program. Gypsy does the most lightning fast downs I've ever seen -- as fast as a border collie crouches when herding sheep.
  4. At first, priveleges are still restricted, but you'll gradually be able to add priveleges. Don't rush things -- if you have a bad day, just go back to the prior level where things were successful and start over. Don't go from confinement/isolation to full house priveleges in a day -- keep doors shut, start with limited amount of "free time". (This step is my modification to the program, but it worked for me, so I recommend it.) Gypsy got 20 minutes her first day -- twice.
  5. NILIF -- Nothing in life is free. This means the dog must PERFORM to get anything it wants. For Gypsy, because we were trying to reduce dominance that was already present, I chose to use the "down" command because it requires her to throw herself into the most submissive posture available. I have since started peppering "sits" into the program, just to keep her paying attention -- but the dominance problem is long gone, so I'm less concerned with how submissive she is. "Wanna cookie?" -- nothing in life is free, so the dog must "down" on command for the cookie. (BTW -- when you start introducing NILIF, carry food AT ALL TIMES -- you're still rewarding the dog for submitting - this is NONCONFRONTATIONAL. Reward for a LONG time, then wean off food sporadically, but still praise the behavior.) "Wanna go outside?" - dog must "down". "Wanna drink of water?" -- that's right. You're catching on. The dog gets NO freebies. She must *earn* everything -- food (you should see her slam her body on the floor for dinner!), play, petting, water, going out, going for a r-i-d-e, getting T-R-E-A-T-S, coming inside. Gypsy even has to "earn" the right to work on the agility equipment ... partly because I think it helps her attitude ("Ohboyohboyohboy, Alpha-mom made me down, I must be about to do something Good"), and partly because she's so excited to be there that she needs the extra control.

BTW -- there are other non-confrontational ways to establish dominance. Ignore a dog when it tries to initiate play -- and as soon as it gives up, you initiate the game yourself. Alpha dogs decide when the pack plays, and when it hunts. And I do like the idea of teaching a puppy or a dog to roll on its back and accept petting ... but it doesn't have to be a battle. Gypsy LOVES to lie on her back in my lap ... for a time, she was too frightened because of the more violent alpha-rolls I was using to correct her ... but since we've started NILIF, she's started flopping down in my lap more often (which is really cute for a nearly 80 pound dog).

I support this method wholeheartedly. Gypsy would be dead by now if I hadn't found out about it. So -- it stays in my sig. And whether it works because it changes their behavior and not attitude, or because of the isolation in the beginning or the improved obedience -- I don't really care. It worked for me.

I hope it helps a few other people too. I consider it just one more "tool" in my training and behavior modification "toolbox" -- it's not a magic bullet for all problems. I'll happily share it with anyone else who cares. And lots of those who don't. :)

"Wanna cookie? Nothing in life is free." -Lynda Oleksuk (
& Edric the Wonder Mutt, Kati the world's hairiest Akita,  __     /|__
Gypsy the brindle pinto pogo stick, ah, I mean Akita,     /  \___/ ^_/
and Battlecat & Cringer, who think all dogs are dumb      \ \/     |
(oh, yeah, there might be a husband under all the hair)    \ / --\ /
 "If I don't vacuum for another year, maybe I'll finally   ||     ||
  have wall-to-wall carpeting!"

Postscript: On Monday, May 6, 1996, Gypsy was euthanized. But Lynda still swears by NILIF. It made it possible for her and Gypsy to live together for two years.

Marked up in HTML by Patrick P. Murphy
home / work / comments