Nothing In Life Is Free

Does your dog get on furniture and refuse to get off? Does he nudge your hand and insist on being petted or played with? Does he refuse to come when called? Does he defend his food bowl and toys from you? “Nothing in life is free” can help. It’s not a magic pill that will solve specific behavioural problems, but it is a way of living with your dog that will help him behave better because he trusts and accepts you as the leader and is confident knowing his place in the family.

How to Practice “Nothing in Life is Free”

  • Use positive reinforcement techniques and teach your dog commands and/or tricks. “Sit,” “Down” and “Stay” are useful commands and “Shake,” “Speak,” and “Rollover” are fun tricks to teach.
  • Once the dog knows a few commands you can begin practicing “nothing in life is free.” Before you give your dog anything (food, a treat, a walk, a pat on the head), he has to perform a command he has learned. For example:
You: Your Dog:
Put your dog’s leash on to go for a walk. Must sit until you’ve put the leash on.
Feed your dog. Must lie down and stay until you have put the bowl down.
Play a game of fetch after work. Must sit and shake hands each time you throw the toy.
Rub your dog’s belly while watching T.V. Must lie down and roll over before being petted.

• Once you’ve given the command, do not give your dog what he wants until he does what you want. If he refuses to perform the command, walk away, come back after a few minutes, and start again. If your dog refuses to obey the command, be patient and remember that eventually he will have to obey the command to get what he wants.

• Make sure your dog knows the command well and understands what you want before you begin practicing, “nothing in life is free.”

The Benefits of This Technique

• Most dogs assume a neutral or submissive role to people, but some will challenge owners for dominance. Requiring the dominant dog to work for everything he wants is a safe and non-confrontational way to establish control.

• Dogs who do not display aggressive behaviour like growling, snarling, or snapping could manage to manipulate their owners. They might show affectionate, but “pushy” behaviour like nudging your hand to be petted or “worming” his way onto the furniture to be close to you. This technique will remind a “pushy” dog that it must abide by your rules.

• Obeying commands helps build a fearful dog’s confidence. Having a strong leader and knowing his place in the hierarchy helps make a submissive dog feel more secure.

Why This Technique Works
Animals that live in groups establish a social structure within the group called a dominance hierarchy. A dominance hierarchy maintains order, reduces conflict, and promotes cooperation among pack members. In order for a home to be a safe and happy place for pets and people, the humans in the household need to assume the highest positions in the dominance hierarchy. Practicing “nothing in life is free” effectively and gently communicates to a dog that his position in the hierarchy is subordinate to yours. From the dog’s point of view, children have a place in the hierarchy as well. Because children are small and can get down to the dog’s level to play, dogs will consider them to be playmates, not superiors. With adult supervision, it is a good idea to encourage the children in the household (aged 8 and over) to also practice “nothing in life is free” with your dog.



Adapted from the Dumb Friends League, 2009