Boogie Says PLEASE…

March 10, 2012 at 7:26 pm 10 comments

[Look, it comes with a BAT book bookmark!]

A couple of nights ago, I read Kathy Sdao’s new book : Plenty In Life Is Free (I saw Kathy Sdao speak at last year’s Clicker Expo and she was an amazing, feisty and inspiring speaker.) It is partly a memoir, but mostly a critical look at the  NILIF “Nothing In Life Is Free” sacred cow of dog training, also known as “Learn To Earn” or  “Say Please”.

NILIF is something that almost all dog owners already know about. It is sort of a “relationship philosophy” for humans and dogs that is often said to prevent and/or fix behavioral issues. With NILIF, the dog has to earn his food, attention, permission to get on the couch, anything… by first performing a specified polite behavior, usually sitting. Coincidentally, I recently finished doing some illustrations for Sophia Yin’s “Learn To Earn” program so the NILIF regimen is still fresh in my mind even though, thankfully Boogie is already mostly a calm, polite and patient dog so I don’t feel any need to micromanage his behaviors.

According to Kathy Sdao,  NILIF puts a lot of emphasis on withholding attention/love/food (aka Negative Punishment) and making the dog earn these things. Even though she herself has advocated this philosophy for years,  she now questions if NILIF is in fact a not so benign, “passive-aggressive” way of communicating that doesn’t foster trust and intimacy in any relationship. In some extreme (and unethical) examples  of NILIF  in action,  trainers even starve their animals in order to get more compliance out of them during training.

NILIF also often contradicts some behavior modification protocols. One problem that I can really relate to is when Boogie sees a trigger on the street that he might lunge or growl at. I have learned through many experiences that the WORST thing I can do is to ask him to “Sit” (regardless of whether I give him a treat or not). The sitting only makes Boogie more intensely magnetized to the trigger and there is a higher chance of reactivity or aggression. As I have learned through BAT, the best thing I can do for Boogie is to reinforce voluntary polite signals with MOVEMENT.

There is one page in the book that I found really fascinating and interesting… it’s about Chained behaviors , and also related to asking a dog to SIT for what he wants. I think Sarah has mentioned this before. When Boogie jumps up and I ask him to SIT, then reward him for sitting, I am accidentally reinforcing both behaviors –  “JUMP UP +  SIT”.

My brain went off on a tangent and I started thinking about how Boogie often  sits and stares at me whenever he wants something.  He never barks at me, he never pounces on me. He just sits quietly and waits, and he can do this for a very long time. To most people this might be the sign of a well-behaved dog, but I’ll admit that it sometimes drives me nuts. Yes, Boogie, you are very polite by sitting and saying Please, but WHAT THE HECK DO YOU WANT???

I also don’t always notice him sitting there because he is so quiet.

And then there have been times when I wake up in the middle of the night to see Boogie sitting at the foot of my bed, staring at me, hypnotizing me to wake up because he needs to go outside and eat grass, do a poo, or whatever. I feel so bad because I don’t know how long he has been sitting there quietly and desperately waiting. Any other  dog would probably bark and paw me awake. What if I had taken a benadryl and slept like a log?

Afer four years, even though I have learned to read most of Boogie’s sits (eg, when he needs to go outside, he sits with front legs  held really close together and his ears go back) a lot of the time I am still presented with a multiple choice quiz.  I have to look at the clock or get up from my chair to find out if Boogie will lead me to the kitchen, couch, front door, or bedroom.

Disclaimer:  These drawings are exaggerations.

In the book, Kathy Sdao advocates a protocol of “fifty rewards a day” and also SMART, acronym for SEE, MARK and REWARD TRAINING. In place of  NILIF, we could be devloping better training skills, the main ones being:

1. Seeing/Noticing when our dog voluntarily does good behaviors
2. Marking/Pointing out to the dog when he does these good behaviors (click or “yes”)
3. Rewarding the dog so that we increase the strength and frequency of these good behaviors.

“Seeing, Marking and Rewarding voluntary behaviors violates versions of NILIF that require trainers to ask their dog to respond to a command (or to a trainer-produced cue) before the dog recieves any rewards. SMART frees us to reward dogs anytime they aren’t worrying or annoying us. The more we do this, the more our dogs will behave in ways that please us and the less risk we’ll have of accidentally reinforcing them for pushiness.”

Entry filed under: Books & DVDs, Training.

Photos of the handsome boy. Doggy links and stuff

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. thegraceofdog  |  March 10, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    Hi, Lili! This is really thought-provoking. I love it. I kept thinking of our dog, who sits and stares VERY politely and quietly at my husband every night at dinner. Then he asks or her paw, and give her a treat for shaking his hand. He has also trained (inadvertently) quite a longish behavioral chain whereby the pup whines to go outside (because she loves it, not because there’s any biological need); he stands up to wait for her to be quiet (so as not to reward her for whining). She becomes quiet, then runs around the coffee table, then dashes to the door, sits and throws her paw at him, and then she goes out. What a smart dog!

    • 2. lili  |  March 10, 2012 at 8:02 pm

      Hahaha! A very smart dog!!!

      Boogie also sometimes sits and stares at me like he needs to go outside. I get up from my chair, and he runs to the couch. I assume then that he wants to play so I sit on the couch and throw the ball. He doesn’t run after it. Instead settles down on the couch and chews on his toy. He just wants me to sit next to him on the couch while he chews his toy!

      • 3. thegraceofdog  |  April 3, 2012 at 4:40 pm

        Such a smart little boy!! 🙂

  • 4. teresavet  |  March 10, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    I haven’t read the book, but I sure use a lot NILIF. Why? Because most owners NEVER reward good behaviors. They don’t even recognize them. With NILIF they learn to at least reward one, sitting. I tell them that they have to ask for a sit a minimum of 25 times/day. So they reward the dog at least 25 times. With food, attention, walks, open doors… They learn to see when the dog is not being reactive, when its quiet, when its not barking… and they reward it.
    Apart from that, they have training lessons, and training bursts, and click to calm (reward ANY good or quiet behavior). So NILIF it’s not limiting, its just the basics. From there, you can reward any good behavior your dog gives (like calming signals). But its the baseline, the basics.
    If the trainer doesn’t see an opportunity to reward in other cases, it’s not the NILIFs fault. Its the trainer’s. NILIF doesn’t say “don’t reward any good behavior”. It just says “Don’t reward the dog with attention if it’s misbehaving” (a great deal with many owners). It uses “sit” because it’s easy and useful, and can get most dogs to keep still, but it can be used with any behavior you ask, or anytime the dog gives that good behavior without being asked.
    I don’t know if I’m clear enough, English it’s not my native lenguage.

    • 5. lili  |  March 10, 2012 at 8:48 pm

      Teresa, Are you going to read the book? I would be interested to hear your thoughts after you have read it.
      I think the point of the book is not that most owners never reward good behaviors or that NILIF is bad, but that people put MORE emphasis on NILIF than is necessary when there are more creative and fun ways to train. Kathy Sdao’s training protocol encourages two-way communication between dog and owner so that training is fun for everyone.

      This review is also worth reading:

      P.S. Your English is very good and what you have written is clear, though I don’t think you understand the point of my blog post. I am only using “sit” as an example.

      P.P.S. Also, I think Kathy Sdao is encouraging people to reward more VOLUNTARY good behaviors (ie, good behaviors the dog offers by himself), this way the good behaviors happen more frequently and there is no reason to ASK your dog to sit 25 times a day… In Boogie’s case, he already sits 100 times a day on his own.

      • 6. teresavet  |  March 14, 2012 at 8:00 pm

        For me, NILIF is just a way to get a reward routine with the dogs. My clients just don’t think in rewarding ANY behavior, be it good or bad, they usually just think the dog has to do it “because”.
        So I use it as a way of training the owners to watch their dogs, and the way they are rewarding them now, and what are they rewarding. Dog jumps up and you open the door?? Stop, sit, open…
        For me it’s easy to see their mistakes, but for them is really complicated sometimes. NILIF is easy: sit-reward.
        But it’s just that, a first step. You can’t linger in the first step. You have to hike the ladder…
        The behaviors don’t get cured with NILIF, the owner begins with his own training. It’s more for the owner, than for the dog. But anyway, sometimes it works wonders. Some dogs they just don’t know what to do to get attention, or a walk, or a pet, or a ball. With NILIF it’s so simple for them: SIT.

  • 7. Kathy Sdao  |  March 16, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    Lili, I already knew you were an incredibly talented artist; now I know you are an amazing writer too. Thank you for the terrific summary of my book — and your valuable feedback.

    If I had to summarize my book for trainers who haven’t read it, I’d say that, yes, NILIF can produce some beneficial behavioral effects, but it has costs too. I just want to encourage everyone to weigh these cost and benefits for his/herself. I think there are much better options we can embrace — still simple and do-able but less stifling.

    Kathy Sdao

    • 8. lili  |  March 22, 2012 at 1:15 am

      Thank you, Kathy!!!! Thank you for commenting here. Thank you for your book. I love that we are encouraged to think outside the box.

  • 9. Sam Tatters (  |  March 20, 2012 at 8:08 am

    Ah yes, the “please” sit & stare happens in our house too. I’ve taught Inka a sit and wait for two things – his food, and to go outdoors. He taught himself the sit & stare, or rather thought it “worth a go” along with everything else he tries.
    It’s cute, if also maddeningly silent!

    • 10. lili  |  March 22, 2012 at 1:18 am

      Sam – ha! That’s just it. Maddeningly silent! 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

A gallery of Boogie Art

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 256 other subscribers


Blog Stats

  • 934,382 hits

%d bloggers like this: