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  • Writer's pictureKara Dyko

Lead Your Pack with 'No Free Lunch' Dog Training

You're the center of your dog's universe and the source of everything awesome: food, treats, toys, attention, trips to the park, etc. The “No Free Lunch” dog training approach (also known as Nothing in Life is Free) recognizes that those things have tremendous power as motivational tools. If you dole out these rewards simply for being alive, cute, or looking at you with those big "puppy" eyes, your dog will have zero motivation to do as you ask and simply think of you as a treat (or reward) dispenser.

The 'No Free Lunch' technique is really simple: Anything your dog wants, they have to earn. Although this has benefits for most dogs, it can be particularly effective for overly active, enthusiastic, or pushy dogs (or puppies).

With this strategy, you and your dog both win. You get a well-trained, polite dog and your dog gets what they want (a belly rub, frisbee time, a treat). What's more, you've laid the foundation for an enjoyable relationship for a lifetime.

How to use it.

Step 1. Make a list of all the things and activities that are most important to your dog. Use those as rewards for growing their self control.

Step 2. Choose a command your dog knows. “Sit” is one of the easiest commands, but feel free to use any command your dog knows. Have you used a rug or a dog bed as a "place" training tool, for example? If so, you can absolutely use that as part of your “No Free Lunch” training!

Step 3. Create a couple of verbal cues to help communicate with your dog. For example, when my dog makes the right choice, I tell her, "Yes". I say it in a sincere, happy tone of voice she immediately understands. However, when she chooses not to cooperate with a known exercise, I simply say "Nope". By using these two phrases, I better my communication with my dog and alleviate any confusion.

If your dog doesn't sit with your first request, simply say, "Nope," put the treat back in your pocket and walk away. No amount of begging, looking cute, or sitting will result in a treat right now. She blew it (for the moment). However, a few minutes later, try again. When your pup does sit on the first request, reward, and then let them go about their business.

Step 4. Sit for other rewards. Once your dog has mastered sitting nicely for high value (favorite) treats, then begin having her sit calmly and politely for each meal. When meals are going well, teach her to sit nicely for hooking up her leash to go for a walk, to sit before going outside and coming inside etc.

The next time your dog wants you to do something for her, like throw a tennis ball, give her a command first.

Say you tell her to sit. Sitting politely for a few heartbeats should be the only thing that makes you throw the ball – not looking pathetic, not wiggling, and definitely not barking or jumping impatiently. If she doesn’t sit and you throw the ball anyway, you have demonstrated that she doesn’t really have to cooperate to get what she wants.

Remember that every interaction with your dog is a training opportunity.

Once you get the hang of it, the opportunities to practice 'No Free Lunch' are endless:

  • Before throwing a ball or Frisbee.

  • Before giving him a toy.

  • Before putting the food bowl down.

  • Before handing over a treat or antler.

  • Before opening a door.

  • Before putting on a leash to go for a walk.

  • Before taking off a leash at the park or on a hike

  • Before giving him a belly rub or good ear scratch.

  • Before hopping into or out of the car.

  • Before allowing your dog onto the couch with you.

You get the idea right?! And the best part of being consistent with this practice is a well trained dog who listens to you. Consistency is the key to all dog training, so don’t wait for a specially designed dog-training session to practice.

Still on the fence with trying out this training method? Think of it this way...'No Free Lunch' is a positive reinforcement strategy that uses everyday situations to reward your dog for good manners: you’re rewarding your dog for following directions. Like people, dogs feel secure and empowered when they understand how to get what they want. And seeing your dog happy, healthy, confident and emotionally stable is worth all the work.


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