Nothing in Life Is Free (NILIF) Dog Training

What is the Nothing in Life Is Free program?

NILIF is a simple and effective way to control our dog’s behavior, by controlling his most desired resources.

To implement NILIF, all we have to do is ask our dog to do something for us first, before giving him something in return. For example,

  • If our dog wants to go out to the backyard, ask him for a Sit first, before opening the door.
  • If our dog is looking for affection, ask him to Go Bed first, before scratching him on his favorite spots.
  • If it is our dog’s meal time, then ask him for a Down-Stay before starting to prepare his food.

The Nothing in Life Is Free program is not a command or a single technique, rather it is a general strategy for dog behavior control.

With NILIF, we teach our dog that the best way to get what he wants, is to first do what we want.

Why Apply the Nothing in Life Is Free Program

With NILIF we teach our dog –

  • To work for the things that he wants most.
  • That people are the source of food, toys, play, and many other good things.
  • That he gets the most resources by working together with us, staying calm, and following house rules.

This helps to build a strong bond with our dog that is based on cooperation, positive outcomes, and a good work ethic. It is an effective and non-confrontational way to achieve control.

Dogs have needs of their own. They are not mindless satellites that revolve around us, and that only live to serve us. With NILIF, we channel a dog’s energy into positive activities, and reward him well for his good works.

How to Apply the Nothing in Life Is Free Program

While applying NILIF on my dogs, I learned that it is very important to be consistent, firm, and fair.

1. Consistency

I set up a consistent set of rules, a consistent routine, and a consistent way of communication. My dogs understand what things they get rewarded for, and there is always ample opportunity for them to work for their supper.

Clear communication is also very important, so I identify good behaviors with a yes-mark (Yes or Good) and bad behaviors with a no-mark (Ack-ack). Similarly, they have a good dog name and a bad dog name.

Finally, dogs do not come with a ready-made human rulebook in their heads. For health and safety, we must teach a dog our very human rules. These rules will likely make very little sense to him, which is why we want to tie them to the things that he values most.

2. Firmness

If my dog fails to perform a command or only puts in a half-hearted effort, then I do not reward him for his lackluster performance; no matter how cute he looks.

For example, my Shiba Inu will sometimes only perform a half-down when I give him the command. When he does this, I just give him a look and wait for him to do it properly. When he sees that he will not get rewarded unless he does a good job, he puts in the extra effort.

He works even harder when I do group obedience sessions and he sees that my Siberian Huskies are being rewarded well for their good performance.

3. Fairness

All my dogs follow the same rules and get similar rewards. Their rewards are not always identical because they each have different temperaments, and are motivated by different things.

For example, both my Siberian Huskies are very motivated by food, especially Shania. My Shiba Inu is less motivated by food and more motivated by freedom, new objects and experiences, as well as chasing games.

Husky Lara likes to chase, jump, and weave between a person’s legs. Husky Shania loves meeting people, getting tummy rubs, and licking faces. A big part of being successful with NILIF involves understanding our dogs, and identifying what motivates them most.

I always try to set my dog up for success. In particular, I give him tasks where he has a good chance of completing. For example, I start by teaching him simple commands such as Look and Sit. I wait until he has mastered more basic commands before moving on to Fetch, Come, or Go Bed which are more complex commands, that include a sequence of actions. The more successful he is, the more confident he will become, and the more quickly he learns that working with me is a very rewarding activity.

Instead of throwing my dog into a situation that I know he cannot handle, I start small and we take small steps together. He works for each step, and gets rewarded for it with food, play, affection, and more.

I make sure to only reward good behaviors, and not give him anything for bad behaviors, including my attention and affection. Instead, when he does something undesirable, he may lose a reward or privilege.

In this way, a dog learns to repeat good behaviors because he gets what he desires most. Similarly, he stops bad behaviors because it gets him nothing, or he loses something that he desires. With NILIF dog training, we build a relationship that is based on trust and respect, rather than one that is based on confrontation and fear.

The Spirit of NILIF

Some people interpret the nothing in NILIF in the most extreme way. In particular, they give a dog access to some resource if and only if he completes a requested task. At other times, the dog is kept in a kennel or crate, so that he does not have his freedom, which in itself is a desired resource.

Confinement also prevents the dog from getting other desired resources on his own, including sticks to play with, or objects to chew on. In short, the only way he gets any and all resources is through us.

This may be one of those instances where we are trying so carefully to follow the letter of the law, that we end up defeating the spirit of the law.

The spirit of NILIF, as it is widely used today, is to build a strong bond with our dog that is based on trust and respect rather than on confrontation and physical force. We would hardly be doing this by keeping our dog locked up all day, with short bursts of freedom to hero-worship us. Such a strategy focuses purely on the human, and leaves nothing for the dog.

I train my dogs and use NILIF, not to boast about my dog training prowess, or to follow random rules for no reason. My ultimate goal is to provide my dogs with a good quality of life. Constantly depriving them of freedom and activity would hardly achieve this goal. Common sense dictates that this extreme interpretation of NILIF is not only untenable, but also unproductive.

When I implement NILIF, I reward my dogs for good behavior. It does not matter whether I asked for a behavior or not; if they behave well, they get rewarded. They are still working for their resources by behaving well, therefore they are not getting resources for free. However, I see absolutely no need to explicitly control every single action by my dog.

If my dog follows house rules, then he gets to roam freely in the house, play, rest, drink water, chew on toys, or whatever else. If he breaks an important house rule, then he may lose a reward, or very temporarily lose the privilege of his freedom.

Sometimes, I also reward my dogs with food and affection when they are resting calmly together. They get rewarded for sitting while greeting people. They get rewarded for staying calm while out on walks, and much more.

Isn’t the ultimate goal to get our dog to behave well on his own? Isn’t that much better than dictating his every move – like a robot controlled dog? It is extremely unhealthy to set ourselves up as the sole focus of our dog’s world, and take away all of his freedom and options. It is unhealthy for us, and unhealthy for our dog.

I like giving my dog options and helping him fulfill his needs. In my book, that is what trust and respect mean. That is also what love means.

We can nitpick on terms until the cows come home, and twist words to win online debates. At the end of the day though, what matters is not the terms used but what we do, and how we strive to give our dogs what they deserve – a good life that is safe and filled with happiness.

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  1. k desilva says

    I have a just turned 1 year old Akita male I was told by the 14 year old brat that owned him that he was friendly to other dogs have since found out that’s a lie now he’s acting dominant and aggressive towards my mothers dog who we live with I want them to get along when we took them together out for a walk my male dog tried to mount my mothers male dog so neither of them liked that but him trying to mount every one in sight has stopped on its own my only problem is the aggression I CAN’T AFFORD a dog TRAINER i did buy a pet corrector spray and that has helped a little can you give me any advice please

  2. Shawna says

    Any advice for 5 and 1/2 month old dog whose behaviours are changing?

    Waking up barking in crate at 5:30 am all of sudden

    Standing on hind legs around the dinner table and jumping up on tables and chairs?

  3. tasha says

    Hiya, love your website and have spent the last few weeks reading through your articles which have been very helpful but I was wondering if you could help and elaborate a bit more for me.

    I rescued an abused puppy going on 8 months ago he was very, very nervous of everything and anything (once he got chased off by a cat.) He has got more confident but still reacts with people, especially men, on occasion. He’s a corgi cross german shepherd and is extremely loving but has that aggressive bark and growl to try and warn people off but if they come closer he usually licks them or at worse have a little accident.

    I’ve been implementing NILIF, or attempting to, in the hope to strengthen our bond (when we’re outside he tends to totally ignore me especially if he sees another dog or worse a seagull to chase.) The only thing that gets me confused is when it comes to breakfast and dinner does he have to work for each piece of kibble or can he do a sit, down, paw and high five for the whole bowl…or should it be in a kong…

    One more thing that I am absolutely desperate to get advice on is the situation at my parents house. We live on our own and to be fair Buster will bark when someone knocks on the front door and comes in but will usually after a maximum of 5 barks stop and want either a fuss or goes and lays in his crate. At my parents house, which we go to every weekend, he is totally different. Luckily my dad picked him up with me so there is no problem there but if my mum or brother wants to come into the living room then they have to deal with Busters barking. The last few weeks has seen Buster get halfway to accepting my brother, sometimes he wont bark at all, sometimes he’ll bark when he leaves and sometimes he does bark when he comes in. My mum however has sort of created a rod for her own back in a way because when he has barked at her she has either run off or taken to hiding behind the door. I got some advice about it from my trainer saying that we should go for a walk together but my mums disabled and spends the majority of time in bed unable to move. Buster can’t sit in with her as she is allergic to dogs. I want to know how I can make it so that both my mum and brother can walk around their house without having to worry about Buster barking at them…he doesn’t seem to do it when I’m not there so I realise I might be the problem. So any advice you might have on how to better the relationship or at least get him to stop barking when anyone enters the room would be greatly appreciated.

    PS he doesn’t have his crate at my dads but he has his bed. Thankyou for reading this really long message.

  4. Vanna says

    How do you implement NILIF when puppy is young and doesn’t know any commands yet? For example, if I want to give my puppy a toy and they don’t know “sit”, they only know yes or no marks, how would the puppy give me something first for their toy? This is just an example, but how would you start early on implementing NILIF if they don’t know commands yet?

    Also, how do you introduce your puppy to kong toys and to use them for food?

    LOVE your blogs!! Very helpful and informative. 🙂

  5. April says

    Your advice for gentle touch was helpful. Took Samson an hour to learn. Still wants to bite,even draws blood. Jumps at you,pulling at your cloths and tearing them.Also will bite your; hands,legs,feet and sides.Tell him no sit,keeps coming at you,put him in time out. Then play and train,and then he start,s all over again.His bite is a lot stronger and it hurts.

    • shibashake says

      I deal with my puppy biting by doing three things-
      1. Bite inhibition training.
      2. No-bite conditioning.
      3. Structure and impulse control.

      I talk more about what I do here.

  6. SV says

    I love your website. I feel like I have obtained more helpful information here than I have from 2 dog trainers and a plethora of popular media resources. I’m very thankful for the NILIF description and will be implementing this with my dog, as positive reinforcement alone led to a dog who thought he could do anything he wanted, and aversive training is now leading to a dog with leash aggression who turns on me.

    One thing I would love to know a little more about is how NILIF works when a dog breaks a rule. For example, let’s say my Ari knows not to pick up my slippers or sweater off my bed but does- what do I do then? Or he’s in the backyard and I tell him to come but he doesn’t, what could be a good consequence for that situation? Or should I already have had him on a leash the entire time he’s in the backyard so I could control him coming to me?

    Thank you for this website.

    • shibashake says

      Thank you SV and big hugs to Ari!

      Prevention is usually best with my dogs. My youngest Husky loves shoes because she loves her-people scent. When she is home alone or everybody is busy, she will sometimes pick up shoes and play with it and sometimes chew it. Having something that smells a lot like her people helps to calm her down.

      Therefore, I give her old blankets that smell like people for her to cuddle in. At the same time, I put away all my good shoes so she can’t get to them. In this way, I set her up for success and give her alternatives for people-smell and calming herself.

      I set up a fixed routine for my dogs, a consistent way of communication, and a consistent set of house rules. I also carefully manage their environment so as to maximize success. Structure and management gets me most of the way there, because it minimizes the number of “corrections” that I need to make.

      For example, I manage my dog’s excitement level with play breaks so that she is less likely to get over-excited and lose control. When my dog tries to jump or bite on me, I start by giving a no-mark and then follow-up by telling my dog what to do instead. In this way, I can redirect my dog into doing something positive and then reward/reinforce that positive behavior. I give my dog many chances to redirect into a positive behavior, and I only slowly escalate my response if my dog escalates her bad behavior.

      Only when necessary, I do “corrections” by taking away a valued resource, e.g. access to people, freedom in the house, freedom in the backyard, access to daily walks, etc. What resource I use, will depend on the behavior I am trying to correct and the surrounding context.

      In general, however, I try to set my dog up for success through structure and management.

      More on how dogs learn.

      As for recall training, that is something that I want to make as positive and rewarding as possible. The goal is to get my dog to *want* to come to me, which means that I have to be more fun, more positive, and more cool than anything else around her.

      When my dog comes to me, I make it extremely fun and rewarding for her, with her favorite treats (that she doesn’t get from anything else), with lots of super fun games, affection, and more. If every time she comes to me, she gets lots of rewards, and then gets to go back to doing whatever she was doing, then she will repeat that come behavior more and more often.

      I set my dog up for success by starting in a low stimulus environment, and only calling her when she is not doing anything interesting and is more likely to come. In this way, we start with lots of successes and I can keep reinforcing the behavior. As my dog learns to come more consistently, then I can slowly increase the challenge in terms of competing stimuli.

      One common mistake in recall training is to call a dog to come, give her a little treat, and then put her in a crate, end play, end backyard time, leave her alone, etc. In this way, many dogs learn to associate coming with the loss of play, freedom, fun, or some other resource. In essence, we are “punishing/correcting” this behavior by taking away a very valued resource. This in turn, will teach a dog *not* to come when called.

      Instead, I call my dog to me many times during play, just as a play-break. We do some very simple commands and I reward her extremely well for it with great treats, play, affection, and more. Then, she gets to go back to playing. I keep repeating that many times. And very occasionally, when I call her, we do the same awesome rewards, stop play, and do something else.

      This ASPCA article has a good list of recall training techniques.

    • shibashake says

      I am not sure what you mean. I use commands to redirect my dog away from undesirable behaviors, and to get him used to performing people-positive behaviors.

      If my dog is sitting or lying down, then he cannot be jumping on people. If my dog is at his bed during dinner time, then he cannot be disrupting the dinner table. Commands are a way to communicate with my dog so that he learns how to live well and be successful in a human world.

    • shibashake says

      I started training my puppies when I first got them home, which is usually around 8 weeks old.

      A puppy is going to need more food and will have much shorter attention spans, so I make it very easy for my puppy to get rewards in the beginning. For example, I reward very well for even a little bit of attention, letting me touch different parts of her body, very simple commands, doing potty, etc.

      Whatever food I don’t use in training, I put in very simple interactive food toys, and I help my puppy figure out how to get the food out. I make sure to make things challenging enough that my puppy starts to learn and grow, at the same time I make things simple and rewarding enough that my puppy is motivated to continue and can easily get all the food that she needs.

  7. terri says

    Two years ago we adopted a 6 yr old female maltese that was used for breeding only .We were told she does not like men. Well, she loves my husband and other people when I am not around. The moment I come in, she guards me, attacks my husband when he comes near me. If he stays away from me, she is in his lap loving him. I am at my wits in, because my son & his kids came for a visit and when my son got up to walk past me to the restroom, she charged and bit him. We have tried everything, to my getting up as soon as she shows the signs, to putting her in a kennel. We hired a trainer who told us to use those 2 methods, they didn’t work. We love her, but my son and his family are coming this fall for another visit and I am worried. No one can come near me except some women. never men. Please help me

    • shibashake says

      There are three keys things that I do with my dog when trying to change behavior.

      1. I start small and go slowly.
      This is really important because it ensures that my dog is calm enough to listen and learn. It also helps him to associate a previously negative stimulus with something positive. The key is to maximize positive successful experiences, while minimizing bad experiences where he keeps practicing aggressive behavior.
      More on how I desensitize my dog to people.

      Changing Sephy’s behavior often took a lot of time, consistency, and repetition.

      2. Prevent bad behavior
      I carefully manage Sephy’s environment, use collar and leash, or other management equipment to ensure success. I do not expose him to situations that he is not ready for and where he will resort to aggression. The more he practices the bad behavior, the more likely he will repeat the behavior. Instead, I use desensitization exercises (step 1) and management techniques to teach him better ways of responding to the stressful stimulus.
      More on how I deal with my dog’s bad behavior.

      3. Calm energy
      My Shiba used to go crazy around me, and mostly only around me because of my energy. I was very stressed and a bit fearful while handling him in the beginning because of his crazy behavior. Unfortunately, Sephy is very sensitive to the energy of the people around him so he picked up on my stress, got stressed himself, and his behavior worsened significantly. After I changed my own energy, Sephy’s behavior also got better.

      Note though that dog behavior is very context dependent. Here, I talk about my dog’s experiences and what works with him. However, each dog and each situation is different, therefore it is very important to customize training techniques to suit the particular dog and his surrounding context. This is why in cases of aggression, it is safest to get help from a good professional trainer.

      It is not always easy to find a good trainer – we went through a bunch of them while looking for somebody to help us with Sephy. Ultimately, I started reading up a lot on dog behavior and this was helpful not only in filtering out bad trainers, but also in being able to read Sephy better and understand where his behaviors are coming from.

  8. Carly says

    I have a husky, the first of our dogs and oldest (we got her when she was about a year old), a small pit/lab/boxer mix, and another bigger pit/terrier/herding dog mix; they are all females. We have had issues in the past with pack order and them fighting before and corrected the behavior, but lately the two pit mixes are displaying dominant behavior and have been fighting each other lately, to the point I am worried we may have to get rid of one of them. The larger pit mix (she looks like a huge terrier with large stand up ears and a sort of curly tail, she weighs about 60-70lbs, she bites the whiskers of our smaller pit mix (brown dog, about 45lbs, thin face, looks more like a lab, acts like a goof ball) has been trying to hump the other dog all the time. The husky stays out of most of it, except she growls when Bailey (the brown one) tries to hump Clo-ee. Today, Bailey ran toward Clo-ee and attacked her, we had to stop it. Last week Clo-ee attacked Bailey seemingly over her food bowl. This behavior has to stop. We now have a 3 year old in our home and a grand baby on the way. This is one reason we were also thinking they may be fighting more lately (territorial over the child). We are at a loss and need advice. Please help if you can! Thanks!!! Our dogs are FAMILY and we certainly don’t want to get rid of any of them!!!!

    • shibashake says

      Dog behavior is very context dependent. A dog’s routine, temperament, rules, past experiences, past training, and more, are all important in figuring out where the behavior is coming from, how to manage it, and how to retrain it. Changes in a dog’s environment and routine (e.g. new people in the house), can cause increased uncertainty, which can lead to stress and changes in behavior.

      In cases of aggression, especially where there are children in the house, it is usually best to get help from a good professional trainer. In this way, we can make sure to keep things safe for everyone and start off on the right foot.

      With my dogs, it helps to set up clear dog-to-dog interaction rules. I supervise them closely during play-time and meal-times, and also whenever there are new changes to their environment, e.g. when there is a new dog, new people, new house, etc. I set their rules, I supervise, and I deal with possible conflicts early on, before things escalate into something more serious. I find that prevention is best.

      I try my best to set my dogs up for success, keep things safe, and to ensure that their interactions are positive, so that they will view each other as allies rather than competitors. The more calm and positive interactions they have, the more confidence they build, and the more likely things will continue to be so. The opposite is also true. More on what I do with my dogs.

      However, each case is different because each dog is different, the environment is different, and the context is different. When we had behavioral issues with our Shiba Inu, we visited with several different trainers. It is not always easy to find a good trainer, but I learned many useful things from the good ones that we found.

  9. Magicturtle says

    Hello, I got my 3 month old beagle from a shop. It was been 3 weeks. It knows how to Sit and Down commands. However, it loves to bite on my pants, socks, and shoes. I’ve tried correcting him by leaving him in one place, redirecting to chewing toys and food.

    However, lately he starts growling while he chew on my pants! and his bite is quite hard. and I also noticed he growls when he eats in his bowl while i pet him.

    I haven’t been taking him for walks cause’ he has not completed his 2nd injection yet. I guess that’s the problem he is bored and lacks exercise (we live in an apartment, no backyards).

    Any advice? Thanks! 🙂

    • shibashake says

      I’ve tried correcting him by leaving him in one place, redirecting to chewing toys and food.

      What do you mean by “leaving him in one place”? Do you put him in timeout? Where is his timeout area? What is his reaction after timeout? Does he redirect to the toy?

      Also, I do not give my puppy food when he bites on me. Giving him food then, rewards the biting behavior and may reinforce it. Redirecting to a toy can be useful for playful puppies because it teaches the puppy what is ok to bite on and what is not.

      In terms of biting, this is generally what I do with my puppy-

      However, dog behavior is very dependent on context, so what I do also depends a lot on the current context. Timing is also very important. This is why working with a good professional trainer can be very helpful.

      For exercise, I do obedience training, grooming, structured games, puppy training class, and puppy socials at a nearby daycare center. I make sure to visit the daycare center first and make sure that they check all the puppies for vaccination records.

      My dogs work for all of their food from doing the activities above, and by following house rules. Whatever is left over they get through interactive food toys.

      Here is a bit more on food aggression and resource guarding.

  10. Lindsay says

    Thank you for the excellent, detailed information on your website. I am going to adopt an adult female Sibe from a rescue organization. As far as I can tell, she has lived in a good home and not been mistreated; she was bred for sled-racing, but was unable to meet the standards the original owner made. The current foster home also seems very accommodating and pleasant; the only issue is that she and the older female dog don’t get along.
    In looking to bring her into my home, I’m lucky in that it’s just me and no other pets, however I’m unsure of how much freedom to give her to start out with, and how best to make her feel welcome and comfortable. Do you have any recommendations for making her adoption into my home a smooth transition?

    Thank you!

    • shibashake says

      Congratulations and four paws up for helping out a Husky in need of a home!

      however I’m unsure of how much freedom to give her to start out with, and how best to make her feel welcome and comfortable.

      I think that would very much depend on the temperament of the dog, background, routine, and more. How old is she? Have you met her? Is she shy towards people? Does she get along with most other dogs? What type of training has she had? What does she like to do? Is she leash trained? Does she live nearby? What is her current routine?

      For a smooth transition with food, my Husky breeder usually gives me a bag of kibble so that I can slowly transition my Husky over to her new food. I do it in quarters, 3/4 old food, 1/4 new food for a few days. If everything is going well, then I do 1/2,1/2, and so on.

  11. Anna says

    Hi there, we are the proud owners of a four month old shiba inu called shika. We have four children in the house. And although shika was quiet when we all arrived home together she has started to bark in the house at the children when they move around the house. We are thinking of controlling her movements around the house so that when she does see the kids we can reward her for coming into the room and not barking. Is this a good method or would it be more productive to have all the kids sit in a circle around her with treats or would that be too confrontational?? Thanx

    • shibashake says

      Congratulations on your new Shiba puppy!

      would it be more productive to have all the kids sit in a circle around her with treats or would that be too confrontational??

      Personally, I would *not* do that. My Shiba, Sephy, does not like being hemmed in or restrained. If he feels trapped, he will get stressed, and may respond with aggression. Sephy also likes having his own space and does not like being forced into a greeting. He was also very sensitive to touching and handling.

      What works well with Sephy is to let him come to me when he is ready. I did a lot of touch exercises with him, and I also make sure that he has his own space to rest when he needs it – without being disturbed by my other dogs or by people.

      In addition, Sephy also loves playing chasing games. If there is a lot of quick movement, it will get him excited, and he will want to join in and play. When he was young, he got over-excited very quickly, and also got mouthy. I always have him on-lead when there are young children around, I hold the lead, keep a very close eye on him, and I always manage his level of excitement. I make sure that everyone is calm, and I establish clear interaction rules so that everybody knows what to expect.

      Much of the training will depend on the source of the behavior, temperament, routine, and surrounding context.

      What is Shika’s body language like when she is barking? Is she trying to play or is she feeling uncomfortable, and is asking for space? What do you usually do when she barks and what is her response? What is her current routine? Does she play with the children? What type of play?

      Since there are children involved, it may be best to consult with a professional trainer.

      Big hugs to Shika!

  12. Kelly S. says

    I have to tell you how very much I appreciate the wisdom and clarity I have found on your blog! We recently got a new male puppy (Shiloh Shepherd) and have an existing female Terrier Mix rescue we got from our local SPCA several years ago. It was a long haul socializing her and getting her fear down and confidence up. She is doing soo much better. Our new puppy has an amazing calm temperament and is not always in her face, which is just a gift in itself.

    I am sooo grateful for the NILIF concept you explain so well 🙂 We are adopting this method with both our new puppy and our Mixed Terrier girl, and we are seeing improvement every day. It has been 9 days with the new pup and we are slowly allowing them to be together for short periods, and rewarding both for calm, good behaviour.

    We tackle each room of the house slowly, and with rewarding good interactions, as our girl is still quite territorial of some areas in the house, but I believe your method is really making the transition successful. This morning they actually played in the yard together, first time 🙂

    • shibashake says

      This morning they actually played in the yard together, first time

      That is so good to hear. They sound like a fun pair, and it is great that they have such a good mom. 😀

      Big hugs to Shiloh and your Terrier girl!

  13. Shaun says

    I just recently adopted a 3-year-old male Shiba inu. Not sure what his past is like, but he’s generally a good boy. Having some problems with leash training though: He likes to pull and bark at other dogs. I’ve been trying to de-sensitize him by making him sit when we see another dog on our walks, and I give him some treats if he keeps quiet. What can I do when the other dog gets too close and he starts barking? I also try to keep him at my side with treats, but it seems like he’s learned that if he pulls on the leash and I stop, he can walk back to me and get a treat. The result, therefore, is that he will tug on the leash just so I stop (“red light”) and he will end up getting a treat by coming back to me. Help!
    Also, I’ve tried to teach him how to sit, and down, on command with treats. But it seems like half the time he is just sitting down to get a treat, without me even asking. Should I stop giving him treats for every single sit?
    Thanks so much, I love reading your website!

    • shibashake says

      What can I do when the other dog gets too close and he starts barking?

      What works with my dogs is to create distance. Distance helps to weaken the stimulus of “the other dog” so that my dog is able to stay calm throughout the encounter. To create distance, I usually move into a driveway or cross the road. Moving my Husky behind a barrier (e.g. car) can also help, but distance is best.

      With Shiba Sephy though, I usually create distance (by crossing the road) and then move him along. If I stay still, he starts to obsess on the other dog, and psychs himself up. Here is a bit more on what I do with Sephy and how I desensitized him to other dogs.

      By moving out of the way, I set Sephy up for success so that the other dog doesn’t ever come too close. At the same time, I do desensitization exercises in a controlled environment to raise his tolerance for “other dogs”.

      In the controlled environment, the other dog is specially chosen based on Sephy’s current level of tolerance, and is also under the control of another trainer. In this way, we only go at a pace and at a distance that Sephy is comfortable with, and can handle. With practice, I am able to move Sephy closer and closer to the other dog without him over-reacting.

      If a dog gets too close because of actions that are beyond my control, and Sephy starts to react, I no-mark, and move him away. This creates distance again, and gives him the chance to calm down and refocus on me. I always try to stay very calm throughout. My energy is very important in helping Sephy to stay calm.

      Re: leash training
      With leash-training, I reward or don’t reward Sephy by giving him more or less freedom. If he pulls, then I stop, shorten the leash, and bring him in. In this way, he is right next to me and can’t roam about and smell. When he is calm, I reward him by starting to walk again. If he walks nicely, then I give him more lead, so that he has more freedom to roam and smell.

      Re: giving treats
      I usually reward Sephy very well when I am teaching him new commands. Once Sephy has learned the command, then I only reward him on a variable schedule. When done right, a variable schedule of reinforcement (only reward sometimes) works better than a regular schedule. This is why slot machines are so popular. 😀

      Hugs to your Shiba boy. Four paws up for adopting a dog in need.

  14. jennifer lorio says


    • shibashake says

      I start NILIF with my dogs really early on. However, I make sure to be flexible, to set my dogs up for success, and to give them ample opportunity to work for the resources that they want.

      For a new dog, I start small, make initial tasks really easy, and practice in a quiet environment with few distractions. In this way, the likelihood of success is much greater, which helps the new dog to learn, to associate people with positive events, as well as to build confidence and trust.

      I always listen to my dog and tweak techniques according to his temperament and needs.

  15. Nikki says

    Hi I was just informed about the NILIF method and am interested in starting it with my new puppy. He is a rottweiler and lab mix and about 9/10 weeks old. His mother died shortly after birth so we adopted him a little early. He LOVES biting, growling, barking and chewing on everything. When we are walking, he will attack our feet and pant legs and when we tell him “no” in a very stern voice, he just growls at us. Then we pet him and he will try biting our “mouthing” our hands. Again we tell him “no” or “ouch!” and he just continues to do it but worse and growls/barks. I have noticed his aggressive behavior getting worse and it’s to the point now that he’s beginning to show his teeth. I’ve used the timeout method when he gets really bad and even tried to calmly put him on his side for a few just so he realizes that he can’t push me around. He has plenty of different types of chew toys ranging from rawhides and nylabones to plush squeak toys. Nothing seems to be working and I wonder if the NILIF system will work for this and if so, how should I approach this? He’s doing great with potty training and picked that up very quickly but his aggression is something different. We are having a baby here soon and I am in desperate need of fixing this before he arrives. Help please!! 🙂

    • shibashake says

      Congratulations on your new puppy!

      Re: Yes and No

      In terms of “Yes” and “No” – these words are just markers. Initially, they will mean nothing to our dog. For them to mean something, we need to tie them to consequences. For example, yes is paired with a desirable consequence (e.g. affection, food), while no is paired with a undesirable consequence (e.g. timeout). With repetition and consistency, a dog will learn to associate the “yes-mark” with something good, and the “no-mark” with something not-good.

      Here is more on markers and how I trained my puppy.

      Re: Timeout

      Can you elaborate on what happens with a timeout? How does puppy respond? Where does puppy go for a timeout? How long is puppy in a timeout? What happens when puppy comes out?

      Re: Putting a dog on his side or back

      This technique is also called an alpha roll. It was also something that I tried on my Shiba Inu when he was younger. It ended up making him very sensitize to handling, and we were also starting to lose his trust. I later learned that the alpha roll is a very risky technique, that can also encourage aggression. Here is more on my experiences with alpha rolls.

      Re: NILIF

      The Nothing in Life Is Free program is not a command or a single technique, rather it is a general strategy for dog behavior control.

      NILIF gets our dogs used to following our rules and commands. It is a great way to achieve and maintain pack leadership by controlling our dog’s resources. With my dogs, I use NILIF together with redirection and timeouts to stop biting.

      Consistency, calm energy, and timing are all also very important in dog training.

      For aggression cases, it is usually best to get help from a professional trainer. As you know, dog training is very context dependent. A good trainer will be able to read our dog’s body language, get to know his temperament, as well as observe his environment and routine. Aggression can result from many different things – and how we retrain the behavior will also be dependent on the source of the behavior. Here is a short but useful article from UC Davis on the different types of aggression-

  16. Mikhail says

    Hello, I have been reading more and more of your articles and am really intrigued by them. I am beginning to implement the dominance rules that you have stated and it is working greatly (i.e. NILF method and the keep calm and structured method). My question is: When I leave the house and my dog (Chihuahua) stays home alone, is it better to keep him in his closed corner we have for him with his bed and toys and food (I do not want him jumping on the furniture when we are not home) or should we trust him alone around the house?

    Thank you

    • shibashake says

      Dogs like getting on couches because we are on the couch a lot, and it smells a lot like us. My dogs will also get on the couch when they are playing, excited, or in an energetic state.

      I have a three legged dog, Shania, so it is very important that I make sure she does not get up on the couch. Otherwise, she might get hurt while coming down.

      In the beginning, I kept her in an enclosure when I am not around to supervise. When I am around to supervise, I teach her to lie next to the couch instead of going up. If she tries to go up, I no-mark and body block her away. If she manages to get up, I carry her down right away. I am totally consistent with this so that she *never* gets rewarded for being on the couch.

      Instead, I give her the Down command when she is next to the couch, and then give her a lot of affection when she lies down next to the couch. In this way, she learns that trying to get on the couch = get nothing, but lying down next to the couch = affection, attention, and food rewards.

      Once she is good with this, I slowly lengthen the time that I leave her alone. First, I am just away for 10 seconds. If she is good with that, I try for a little longer and so on. I make sure that she is calm and well exercised before leaving.

  17. Haley says

    Hi! I’ve been browsing your site for the last few days. I am really wanted to get a shiba inu in the future. (Fairly far in the future…six months at the very least and that is unlikely) but I have quite a few questions.

    First, how did you get Sephy? I’m trying to locate refutable shiba inu breeders but it is difficult.

    Second, I am going to be living in an apartment. I am a college student, so I can schedule my classes to allow me to go back to my apartment throughout the day to check on the dog. I know an apartment environment is not ideal for any dog, but my research on this breed has led me to believe that they are good in apartments as long as you give them the proper exercise. What do you do with your dogs when you’re not home? I hate the idea of locking a dog in a crate all day, but with an apartment, I’d be wary of letting it run around for fear of tearing up furniture. And on that note, how do you stop them from chewing on furniture? What do you do to keep them entertained during the time you’re not home? It won’t be too long. At the least, I’d like to come back during lunch for a quick walk and to play with the dog.

    Also, how do you find having Siberian huskies? A Siberian husky was my dream long for the longest time – still is, along with the shiba inu – but a lot of what I read about them really put me off of the breed. Basically just that they are so high energy and high maintenance and impossible to train. Of course, I’ve read the same thing about the shiba inu, so I guess that falls more on the owner than the dog? I wouldn’t be getting a husky any time at all in the near future, since I’ll be living in an apartment for a while, but I was just curious.

    Thanks! I really love this blog! It’s been very helpful in my research!

    • shibashake says

      Re: Shibe Breeders
      I got Sephy from a local breeder. At the time, we didn’t know much about dog breeders so we got her name from one of those online puppy sites. That was a mistake. Sephy’s breeder was not very interested in our house environment, and she was not interested in following up with Sephy after selling him to us. We called her a few times to ask her questions about Sephy’s care, but I don’t think she cared much after she made the sale.

      In contrast, I got both my Sibes from a breeder that I got off the Siberian Husky Club of America site. They are the AKC-recognized breed club for Siberian Huskies. My Sibe breeder is awesome. We first met with her to look at her puppies. During this time, she showed us their mother and gave us health certifications for both parents. She also talked to us a lot about the breed. Then, she came over to our house with puppy for a house check.

      After that, she gave us a blanket with puppy sibling smells, a favorite toy, and a bunch of kibble. We had Sephy then, so she told us that we can keep Shania for a few days and see how things go. If things don’t work out with puppy and Sephy, she will take Shania back. Later, she hooked us up with Husky club events, sent us local club newsletters, and also comes over to visit the pups several times a year.

      If you are interested in buying, I highly recommend getting from an AKC-registered breeder. Here is a list of breeders from the National Shiba Club of America

      In my experience, many of these breeders love talking about their breed and are great sources of information. Even though I was not looking for another puppy after I got Sephy, I visited with several Shiba breeders and just talked to them about Sephy and the Shiba breed in general. They were quite helpful in helping me understand some of Sephy’s behaviors.

      Re: Home alone time
      In the beginning, Sephy stayed in his crate. Before we left him home alone, we first crate trained him and also did some short alone time runs. When he was ready, we left on short trips, about 2 hours at most. After he matured and was more calm, we let him have more freedom around the house. Now he gets to roam anywhere downstairs. We have a gate at the bottom of the stairs.

      Another possibility is to use an enclosure instead of a crate. For example, gate off the kitchen area or some other safe room. We kept Shania in an enclosure when she was young. We put nice blankets and bedding in it, as well as potty pads so she could do her business. We also gave her some safe chew toys. Because she will be chewing on those toys without supervision, we made sure that she can’t tear-off chunks and swallow it, which may become a choking hazard. Also, some chew toys are too hard and may crack a dog’s teeth.

      My favorite are food toys. When they were puppies, I gave them all a lot of Frozen Kongs. The cold is good for teething puppies, and the food keeps them interested in the toy. Plus then, they have to work for their food. I make sure to have a fixed schedule, and I exercise puppy very well before her nap time.

      Re: Siberian Huskies
      I love Siberian Huskies. As you say though, they are very high energy; much more high energy than a Shiba. However, my Sibes were *much much* easier to train than my Shiba. Shiba Sephy is extremely crazy stubborn. Here are a couple of articles that may be interesting –
      Shiba Inu vs. Siberian Husky
      Why Shiba Inus are such a difficult breed to train.

  18. Mary Colvin says

    my dog is deaf, he understands more than he pretends to; but nevertheless I’d still like some pointers on how to manage him and train him to behave. I have another dog who is ten years old this January, she’s fine and wonderful, but can be very jealous. they do get along better as time goes by, but training my deaf puppy is my main priority. thanks for any info.

  19. Teresa says

    We just adopted a sheba inu/shitshu mix she is really a handful but i am hoping she will get better or we will. she is very stubborn we have tried keeping her in a fenced yard no luck i put her on a chain no luck now she wont come to me what should i do. I want to keep her safe but dont want to leave in a cage like she was before please help

    • shibashake says

      we have tried keeping her in a fenced yard no luck i put her on a chain no luck

      I am not sure what you mean by “no luck”? Does she escape from the fenced yard? How does she escape? Is she an outside dog? or are you using the fenced yard as a timeout location?

      What is her daily routine like?

  20. Amber says

    I have used to NILIF system with my dog, Lola. She is the daughter of a Beagle (mother) and a German Spitz (father). She does really well 90% of the time. She is just under a year old. She displayed a LOT of resource guarding for a while. We have since got that under control. We have two problems now and I am just at my wits end!! 1) She will NOT leave my two cats alone! She attacks and drags them across the floor by their necks. They have hissed, swatted and bit her ears and drawn blood. I figured after a few good swats from the cats- she would leave them alone. But no- she will not. We keep her in her crate while we are having dinner and if a cat walks by, its like she is pouting bc she is in her kennel and she will growl like she is about to attack if they walk near her kennel! The second thing- my 1 year old likes to walk around with a snack or two in her hands. And Lola will go and snatch the cheese, fruit loop, gummy, cracker.. etc out of her hand. She goes as far as to follow my daughter and will NOT leave her alone! I have tried distracting and using the “leave it” and “drop it” commands. But she just won’t do it!
    Do you have any suggestions?

    • shibashake says

      Re dog-cat training:
      I don’t have any house cats so I don’t have any first-hand experience in this area. This is an interesting thread on how some Shiba owners divert their dog’s attention-

      Re jumping for a snack:
      Dogs often jump on people because they inadvertently get rewarded for the behavior. For example, if a dog jumps on a table and often finds a yummy snack, she is getting rewarded for the behavior. This will encourage her to keep jumping up on tables, and she may even try to jump up onto other things. The same is true with a dog that is jumping up on people.

      With my dogs, I have found that the best way to stop them jumping up on people is to make sure that they do not get rewarded for it.
      1. I make sure that they never get any food for jumping up on people.
      2. If they jump on me or others, I no-mark the behavior, and give them an alternate positive command, e.g. Sit (something that they already know how to do). If they redirect, I reward them well with food and attention. In this way the not only learn not to jump, but they learn what they should do instead of jumping.
      3. If they ignore me and continue, I fold-up my arms, turn away from them (in-place) and ignore them. If they are jumping on someone else, I lead then away from the person, and they have to stay right next to me for a brief period of time. This shows them that jumping = no food and no attention.
      4. If they escalate their behavior and start biting at me or my clothes, then I say timeout, and briefly put them in a timeout area. This teaches them that if they cannot behave around people, then they do not get to be around people. The same applies if they are jumping on other people.

  21. joanna says

    hi, i have an 8 week old sibe, shes lovley but is taking the nipping to extremes, she becomes very aggresive and digs her teeth in as hard as she can, i shout ouch everytime and take my hand away if i can! but she comes at you all the more, i sometimes wonder if she likes me at all, i am the one who tells her no and is here all day training her i use food rewards and im starting a class in 2 weeks when she fully vaccinated, despite this im the one she follows and sleeps at my feet all the time wherever i am she is there so i dont understand why shes like this, i also have two cavalier king charles spaniels and she is bullying them and jumping on them all the time and im spending all day telling her no off! i know its a strange combination of dogs to have together but i thought it would be ok as ive had a husky before and never had these problems she was very gentle and very easy to train and great with all annimals of any size, im beginning to think i just got lucky with her! im afraid of her agression i have 4 children aged 5+ so i need to be able to trust her and cannot bare to think i may one day have to part with her ive never rehomed any pet ive had before but obviously my first priority is to keep my children safe can u suggest and ideas or advice plz plz

    • shibashake says

      Hello Joanna,

      Yeah a Sibe puppy can be quite a handful. The breed is already high energy and athletic, so when you combine it with the energy of puppyhood, you get an Energizer Bunny that keeps going and going.

      In terms of the biting, my Sibe puppies usually do it in play. It has nothing to do with liking or not-liking. In the beginning, everything is new to a puppy so she will be testing out her boundaries and trying out various behaviors.

      When I got puppy Lara, I set up a routine and a consistent set of rules for her right away. I find that it is best to start things as early as possible, so that puppy learns that there are limits to her behavior. Here is a bit more on how I trained puppy Lara.

      In terms of biting, I do bite inhibition training with all of my dogs. Bite inhibition training helps to teach a dog to control the force of her bites especially when interacting with people.

      Depending on the situation, I will also sometimes do timeouts. When puppy Lara bites-
      1. I use a consistent no-mark (Ack-ack) to let her know that it is undesirable behavior. What I use here is also dog-dependent. For more calm puppies, I may use the Ouch. The idea of the Ouch is that it will startle puppy and cause her to stop whatever she is doing. However, doing high pitched sounds may sometimes get a puppy even more excited. Therefore if puppy is already excited, I use a calm no-mark (Ack-ack).

      2. Then I make sure to redirect puppy into doing something else. I may give an alternative command that puppy already knows (e.g. Sit) or redirect puppy onto biting a toy. If she redirects, then I praise her and reward her with a fun game. In this way she learns that –
      Biting on me = no playing; Following commands or biting on a toy = Attention and fun play session.

      3. If she does not want to redirect and goes back to biting me, then I withdraw my attention and stop playing with her. I do this by standing up, folding my arms, and turning away from her.

      4. If she escalates her behavior and jumps on me or bites my clothing, then I say “Timeout” and calmly remove her to a timeout area.

  22. Justin says

    Great website!, My wife and I recently got a Shiba (Quarter American Eskimo) and now he is 5 months old. We had him sleeping in a crate at the foot of our bed but, a month ago we broke down and let him sleep on the bed with us. He was very good until a couple of weeks ago, then he wakes us up in the middle of the night to let him out every couple hours. Thinking he needed to go to the bathroom we always let him out but, he just sat on the back deck. My wife thinks we should ignore him when he asks to go out (except for 1 time) and I think there maybe a better alternative. What are your thoughts?

    • shibashake says

      I think it depends on the dog.

      With Lara, she likes being outside all night long, especially when it is hot.

      With Sephy, we will take him out once (on-lead). Then, he can go back into his crate to sleep if he wants. But usually, he prefers to just roam about downstairs. If he fusses in his crate a second time, he loses his bedroom privileges and goes downstairs.

      If we keep letting Sephy out, he will just keep going in/out all night long. Give Sephy an inch; he will take a mile. 😀

      Shania is really good about being calm and usually rests nicely in her crate. The only time she fusses is when she is too hot or when she really needs to go out. During the summer, we set up a fan next to her crate so that she is comfortable at night. I let Shania out or in whenever she needs it.

      Lara, Sephy, and Shania are fully potty trained. We took them out a lot more during the potty training period.

      Let us know how it goes, and big hugs to puppy!

    • shibashake says

      Hello Paul,

      I probably learned the most about training my Shiba Inu by visiting the Shiba meetup group forums. There are a lot of Shiba veteran owners there with very good advice.

      There are other meetup groups for most other breeds as well.

      Ian Dunbar’s books Before You Get Your Puppy and After You Get Your Puppy also offers some good information.

      There are many areas in the books where Dunbar does come across as somewhat alarmist, but overall, there are some good exercises and information in there. For example there is good stuff about bite inhibition exercises, how to socialize a puppy, and handling exercises.

      Be cautious though and make sure to customize exercises to suit the temperament of our own dogs. For example, many people including Dunbar suggest holding a dog to calm him down and not letting him go until he is calm. The idea is to teach the dog that he gets his freedom or gets to play again when he calms down. However, this exercise did not work well with my Shiba. Boxing him in like that only made him feel threatened and afraid. He knew that he could not run away if he needed to, which stressed him out even more. Rather than following exactly what the books say or what any one particular trainer says, I learned that it is best to be flexible, carefully observe our dog, and do what seems most appropriate based on his temperament.

      Other books that were recommended to me –
      1. Other End of the Leash
      2. The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson
      3. Don’t Shoot the Dog
      4. Bones Would Rain from the Sky – This is less of a training book and more of a dog relationship book. I really enjoyed it though and it changed how I viewed dog training and dog relationships.

      The other books give some good background on the psychological underpinnings behind dog training, but for breed specific information or for solving specific issues, going to breed specific forum sites, e.g. the meetup groups, was the most helpful for me.

  23. Jacki says

    I’ve seen clicker training suggested for Shibas. Have you tried it with Sephy at all? I really want a Shiba puppy [and I have my eye on one in particular], so I really want to have a game plan for training her once I get her home. Thanks! 😀

    • shibashake says

      Hello Jacki,

      I mostly use reward training with Sephy. It is very similar to clicker training, except instead of using a clicker to mark a good behavior, I just use a verbal mark, e.g. Good Boy. The advantage of using a clicker is that it produces a unique sound that does not occur in normal people conversation. In this way, it allows us to communicate clearly and consistently with our dog. However, any other unique sound that we use consistently, will achieve the same goal.

      Here is a bit more on dog training and how dogs learn-

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