Our family adopted an 11 month old Coonhound 2 weeks ago and have decided to use the Nothing In Life Is Free training approach. For basic things (such as making him sit before we let him out or ignoring his barking before giving him food) this program seems to be both intuitive and effective. For more complicated things, like when punishment is required for play biting or chewing, things in general that do demand our immediate attention, this program is not so intuitive.

One of the core tenets of this program, as I understand it, seems to be that you never allow your dog to demand attention from you. (For instance - this seems to be a common trend: "Attention seeking behaviors don’t work. Some dogs become quite pushy about attention, demanding that you pet him by pawing, nudging and/or barking. Ignore attention seeking behavior rather then pushing your dog away or scolding him. - http://www.aplaceforpaws.com/reference-articles/dog-training/nothing-in-life-is-free-rules-to-live-by.html". There's also specific mention that negative attention is still attention. (http://k9deb.com/nilif.htm - "Telling him "no" or pushing him away is not the kind of attention he's after, but it's still attention"). If our dog jumps up as soon as we let him out of the crate or gets up on the counter, is the correct thing really just to ignore him and let him do what he wants?

In a recent situation, we took him on an hour long walk, and as soon as we got home he started attacking the Christmas Tree. If we're not supposed to allow our dog to demand attention from us, what is the appropriate way to curb this behavior?

In another recent situation, he jumped on the couch without us inviting him up and tried to walk all over us. It seems like the NILIF program says that he can't be up on the couch unless he's invited, but it also says that we should ignore attention seeking behavior. It seems to me that there's a direct conflict here and I'm not entirely sure how to proceed.

Basically what I'm wondering is, it seems like there are inconsistencies in the guidelines for the NILIF program. What is the correct way to handle punishment for bad behavior, or is simply ignoring the bad behavior the actual solution?

Currently, for things such as biting or chewing, I have been following the advice I grew up with and either holding his mouth open or holding his mouth shut. I'm not entirely sure what the correct response is for other bad behaviors.

*On a side note, this dog is 11 months old and was crated for almost the first 9 months of his life. He understands Sit and Down - he will follow a verbal Sit command but not a verbal Down command (we have to use the hand motion). I believe this is a good program to follow, if it is not please let me know. From everything we've been told by the Vet and have read online, the positive-reinforcement only training is not good for him.

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    In my case what I usually do is to ignore the bad behavior or say a firm "No" to the incorrect behavior and that's about it from that perspective. Then I praise and treat for good behavior. I found in my case that to be the best approach. So to take your example, when my dog wants to get to the sofa and I don't want her to do that, I just say "No" and don't let her up. She understands pretty fast. But am not saying this should be the correct for your case also. Just sharing my experience.
    – jfn
    Dec 30, 2014 at 13:30

1 Answer 1


Negative reinforcement it a bit of a contentious issue. The key problem with it, is you can't always tell what a dog will associate the negative reinforcement with. For example - if you punish a dog for barking, are you convincing it to stop barking, or are you convincing it that the thing it's barking at actually was a threat all along. Or maybe you're convincing the dog that you're the threat in this particular context.

You've got very little control, and that's why it's quite difficult. Positive reinforcement is much less of a problem, because you don't get the same kind of 'downward spiral'.

This is why some trainers adopt Least Reinforcing Scenario instead. An LRS is a passive acknowledgement that you've seen whatever it is they're doing, with no approval. Seaworld discusses doing this here: http://seaworld.org/animal-info/animal-infobooks/animal-training/animal-training-philosophy/

Now, this is about killer whales, but similar principles apply to any animal training.

The LRS has two parts. The first part is a consequence for incorrect behavior. This occurs when the trainer does not reinforce the animal for the incorrect behavior. The second part is a stimulus providing an opportunity for reward - for two to three seconds the trainer is relaxed and attempts no change in environment. (Changes in the environment may accidentally reinforce the behavior.) This brief time period is a stimulus to the animal to remain calm and attentive. This stimulus provides a new opportunity for reward. Following an LRS, the animal is reinforced for calm, attentive behavior. The animal may also receive an opportunity to perform another behavior that will result in reinforcement.

This sounds like it might be what's being referred to.

Or slightly more entertainingly: http://www.newsweek.com/how-train-husband-93617

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    I've been listening to the advice in the seaworld link and simply not reinforcing a lot of the incorrect behavior. Ignoring demand barking actually worked beautifully. He used to bark the whole time we were preparing his food. Ignoring him until he stopped worked wonders. As far as non-reinforcement for things like play biting and rough playing (where we just stop altogether), this hasn't seemed to do a whole lot - I might also be "not reinforcing" this behavior correctly. I'm accepting the answer, but if you have any specific info for biting or being rough, I'd really appreciate it Jan 10, 2015 at 21:24
  • With jumping up and 'nipping' we've found actually pretending it hurt worked quite well. e.g. saying 'OW'/'No' and immediately stopping and ignoring. The attention they get from doing it - be it negative or positive is the 'reward'.
    – Sobrique
    Jan 11, 2015 at 10:45

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