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all articles by Lisa Lafferty unless otherwise noted.  Some previously published on K9Station (defunct) under author's previous name Lisa Giroux

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Listening for Life

by Lisa Lafferty

...In order for your dog to be a good companion for life, he needs to know the rules.  As a matter of fact, if he doesn't know the rules, he's likely to be restless and stressed.  Dogs thrive on routine and on knowing what is expected.  In order to be truly obedient and willing, your dog must have lots of practice.  This article shows you how to develop rules, reinforce general listening, and PRACTICING each new skill in such a way that you will barely notice you are practicing!  The results will astonish you.  Commonly called "Nothing in Life is Free," this program is so utterly simple, so logical, and so easy for the dog to understand, that even your children can help train.  Very small puppies started on this program, and older dogs that you have owned for years or that you adopt, are able to successfully become wonderful pets using this method.

Do you have problems with your dog?

Like:  Doesn't listen, runs away and won't allow himself to be caught, constantly seeks attention, always excited and can't calm down easily, barks to make you listen, digs, chews, grabs stuff and plays keep-away, behaves aggressively, acts "jealous" when couples try to hug or kiss or when another dog tries to interact with "his" person, grumbles or growls when jostled...

If so, you need Listening for Life.  Some call it Nothing in Life is Free.  No matter what you call it, here's what it is.  It's a simple, very fun, gentle program that integrates basic obedience and basic listening into your dog's daily routine, and YOUR daily routine.  It's not time-consuming.  It's about doing LITTLE things that make a surprisingly huge difference in the long run.

This program teaches your dog that in order to get the things he wants, he has to listen; not to his impulses, but to you.  The program makes daily control exercises a part of life, no big deal, and even pleasant!  This means that when you *need* control you are more likely to have it.  It's a way to add more mental stimulation to your dog's day as well. 

The program is *not* about deprivation. Your dog can still have everything he wants.  However, your dog needs to work for what he gets for his own well-being.  This is not unpleasant for your dog, as he will be getting more attention and clarity in his life, and will be more relaxed and happy as a result.  It's not the "Doggy Boot Camp" that some people call it...it's fun and easy for both you and your dog! 

There are two basic stages to Nothing in Life is free.  The first stage is very outlined and supervised.  The dog will be near you and working for almost everything for a short while.  The second stage (life maintenance) is making the dog work for a few things each day.

For puppies, new dogs, or dogs that are showing unwanted behaviors, the first stage should be followed for a period of two weeks to a month.  This allows the dog to understand what is going on with no confusion.  It sets the parameters.  Although the program usually produces drastic results in just a few days or a week, do not abandon or reduce the program!  The dog will quickly forget these habits unless you practice with him for a good length of time.  It’s a big change…give him (and you!) time to get used to the new routine.

  • Get your dog on a twice-a-day feeding routine.  Do not allow food to sit on the floor for more than 10 minutes!  Do *not* restrict access to water dishes--these can stay on the floor.

  • Pick up all the toys except for a couple of chew bones.

  • Using positive reinforcement, teach a few simple behaviors such as sit, down, or shake-a-paw.

  • Once your dog knows these commands, begin asking your dog to perform these behaviors prior to getting the things he wants.  It is important that your dog is doing it *when asked* and not just by offering you the behaviors.  If your dog offers a behavior, praise him, but then ask him for a different one to show him it's you that is in control of the situation.  It is also important that you *direct* the dog to the thing he wants after he has performed his "work" so that he understands even more clearly.

    Dog wants this Dog does this on command You do this
    Greet you when you get home from work Down-stay while you remove outer clothing You invite him into your space for hugs and lovin'
    Play with a stuffed toy Sit-stay-shake-a-paw Throw the toy down the hall with some happy "yippee" yells
    Get on couch Sit Invite onto couch
    Go for walk Sits and is still Put on the leash
    Petting Shakes-a-paw Pet the dog
    Go out the door Sits Direct him to go out door
    Get into car Down Direct him to get into car
    Supper Sit-stay Direct him to his food dish
    Ball Game All different behaviors between each throw Throw ball
    Sniff a hedge Sit-stay Direct him to the hedge so he can read his PeeMail
    Greet a guest Down-stay Direct to greet visitor


  • If your dog does not comply with the command you have given, simply walk away or withdraw the item he wants.  Try again in a few moments.

  • You might get "Paris Hilton" behavior at some point.  Some dogs are quite compliant with the program for the first day or so, then realize that they are losing control and begin trying very hard to "get around" the program.  Your dog may be waiting excitedly at the door to go out, hear your "sit" command, and walk away in apparent disgust as if to say "well, if I have to pay for it, forget it, I didn't want it that badly.  Screw off, you and that damn door."  If this happens, shrug your shoulders and walk away as well.  Your "Paris Hilton" will probably be staring at your back in disbelief!  Eventually he will come around as he realizes that NOTHING, no NOTHING, in Life is Free.

  • If your dog does a "Paris Hilton" and walks away, make sure that he does not proceed to another fun activity.  Place him on leash for a few moments and sit down on the couch or something.

  • Dogs that resist the program the most are usually the dogs that need the program the most.

After about one month of this, most dogs are happy, eager participants in the Nothing in Life is Free program.  They have learned who is in control of the couch, doors, food, toys, and other fun things.  They have also learned that by looking to *you* for direction, fun things happen!

You probably will have noticed that when you ask the dog for obedience behaviors, he is less likely to blow you off.  You probably will see the dog is more relaxed in general, because of all the "work" he has done that satisfied his need for daily mental activity.  You might see that your very shy dog is more confident, because now he knows that he's not in charge of looking after everything.  Dogs that grumble when jostled usually will have stopped within the first week.

It's now time to slowly start reducing the Nothing in Life is Free program bit by bit.  Do this over a period of about another month, gradually reducing the amount of things you ask him to do.

Lifetime maintenance

Ask the dog to perform a behavior at least 5-10 times a day, rewarding him with access to the things he wants when he complies. 

Dogs should always have to do some sort of behavior for any type of food.  Food is the most valuable resource on the planet for a dog, and also the most easy to control.  Ask for a sit-stay and then direct the dog to his food for life.

Other ways to easily keep Listening for Life operating are to continue to always ask for behaviors when putting on the leash, going out doors, or greeting visitors.


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Lisa & Kerry Lafferty  /  ozarklisa@gmail.com  /    Mountain Home, Arkansas