No Stimulus Goes Unconditioned: Thinking out of the NILIF box

Following is a link to an excellent blog post about pairing classical and operant conditioning in dog training (might as well use all the tools in the toolbox, right?).  It speaks to me particularly because I strongly believe in resolving behavioral problems, not simply putting a bandage over them.  Check it out here:  No Stimulus Goes Unconditioned: Thinking out of the NILIF box.  Here’s a sneak peak to get you started:

When I first read Kathy Sdao’s book, Plenty in Life is Free, I cried. I cried because her words made sense. I cried because she described the incredible impact, negative and positive, we can have on our dogs’ lives through what we choose to reinforce, and through the contingencies we place on those reinforcers. It’s a daunting responsibility, but one that is so rewarding if done correctly.

As you can probably guess by now, I do not recommend Nothing in Life is Free (NILIF) protocols for my training clients. Sdao explains the pitfalls of NILIF much more eloquently than I ever could, so I will refer you to her book for those details. At times, depending on the severity and urgency of a behavioral problem, I will “close the economy,” meaning I ask owners to feed their dogs a certain portion of their food via training, either via classical or operant conditioning. But this is different from NILIF, and this difference is critical when working with fear-based behaviors.


2 thoughts on “No Stimulus Goes Unconditioned: Thinking out of the NILIF box

  1. While I would question the NILIF concept of training, it does seem very prominent in our society which I would suggest has its origins in child raising! I can well remember being told that nothing in life is free, with the inference being that one has to work for everything. While there is an element of truth to it, to understand it “in a vacuum” (i.e. without exploring the multiple parameters which impact any given situation) is extremely misleading. To apply the concept to dog training??? That would appear to be too convenient and rather simplistic.


    • I haven’t heard much talk about it lately, but I did have a former acquaintance who swore by it and insisted that her headstrong Rottweilers needed that kind of structure. I think her interpretation of it centered more around the “pack leader” mentality and the fact that her dogs would understand valuable resources came from her and she was important. I don’t utilize this structure with my dogs and give away lots of free stuff all the time (hugs especially). Somehow I have still managed to stay important, so I think I’ll stay the course as well!


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