Classical conditioning vs NILIF

Play with your dog
Play with your dog

 

Nothing in Life is Free (NILIF), Learn to Earn. You may be familiar with these terms. They were devised, probably by well intention people, to allow you to use what your dog routinely gets in his life as ways to train him. The other thing some NILIF advocates is that your dog is behaving in a poor manner because he has unlimited access to resources, is spoiled or thinks he’s the “boss” or you are not the “pack leader”.

Now, some of what I say in this blog may seem contradictory as you read it, but it’s the reason why we are doing it, and the scientific reasons for it’s success/effectiveness which are important.

Following on from last week’s blog, I’ll define a couple of terms again, in simple terms (very simple)

1. Classical conditioning – learning by association.

2. Operant conditioning – learning by trial and error

3. Reinforcement – anything which causes the increase in the duration/frequency/intensity of a behaviour

4. Punishment – anything which causes the decrease in the duration/frequency/intensity of a behaviour

5. Positive/negative – adding(+)/subtracting(-) something from the dog’s environment. In training/learning, it     doesn’t mean good or bad. We have positive and negative punishment and positve and negative reinforcement.

Proper understanding of the terms is important, because it allows us to have a greater understanding of what we are doing during training and why we are doing it.

So, to get back on topic. NILIF protocols advocate taking everything away from your dog if he isn’t behaving the way you want him to behave. The dog has no free access to food, toys or people for petting, playing etc. Further, every time your dog wants something, he has to earn it. You can’t just give your dog something, like a rub on the ear, just because he’s your pal and you want to. He has no access to toys he can play with himself, like chewing on a nylabone or kong, or playing with a squeaky plush toy to keep himself amused. Every morsel of food, every game you play with your dog, every time you want to pet her depends on her doing something you want her to do like sitting politely or coming when called.

The NILIF protocol says that when you decide you want to, you give the dog all the good things, and don’t when you don’t want to. What can happen here, is that if owners can’t be bothered or don’t have the time to interact with their dogs, they now have permission not to. It further recommends that if your dog approaches you for attention, ignore him, but when he walks away, then call him back and pet him then. That way, you are dictating access to you, not the other way around.

Now, if you haven’t already thought about this, this can lead to a very sad and frustrated dog. The day before you instigated this programme, your dog was fed regularly, had toys to play with, could come and say hi when he wanted to and you’d say hi back. Now his whole life has been changed, and as far as he’s concerned, not for the better and he can become depressed. The dog can also become demanding if this happens as he is trying desperately to get attention.

The other side of this, is that we can do very similar things to NILIF, but for different reasons and obtain hugely different results. These are all training programmes I’ve learned from the best trainers in the world such as Ian Dunbar, Jean Donaldson, Ken Ramirez and Kathy Sdao, among many others. Your dog has to eat. Hopefully, you like going out for walks, playing with your dog and giving them attention and petting. Your dog likes, and needs, these things too. So let’s use them for training. This is where it does become different.

1. Your dog’s food – food is a primary reinforcer. So let’s use it to train our dog. It reinforces behaviour, so when your dog sits, give him a piece of kibble so he’s more likely to do it again. Take your dog’s food out on a walk with you. Sit on a park bench and every time a person or dog walks past, give him a piece of food. This way he learns dogs and people means food comes out which makes him feel good and with enough practice, dog’s and people approaching makes him feel good with there being no food present (classical conditioning) and you are reinforcing him for paying attention to you when people or dogs are around (operant conditioning using positive reinforcement).

2. Your dog’s toys. Let him play with his own toys. He has his, I have mine. Mine are a couple of balls on ropes and a tug toy. He gets to play with his by chewing on them, maybe throwing them in the air and catching them. I let him play with mine, but only when I’m there and there are rules attached, but mine are more fun, beacsue I’m involved in the play. My toys move, I throw throw them and I tug on them. She gets to chase them and tug on them back. The rules are be careful with your teeth, and give them back when I ask you to. I don’t play with my dog’s toys but I do allow her to play with mine, because they are fun (for both of us) and because I can train her when playing.

Your dog enjoys playing tug or chasing a ball, you play tug or throw the ball, your dog will now enjoy playing with you (classical conditioning). You give your dog a game of tug or throw the ball when they come back to you you are now using positive reinforcement to train a recall.

There’s also loads you can do for free for your dog which is still training your dog and classically conditioning you to him in a beneficial way. Playing long games of tug in the garden with your dog, for no reason other than having fun, classically conditions your dog that you are a great, fun guy to be around, Further to that, now when you give your dog a short game of tug after a recall or a down stay, he has that long history of big tug games to refer to and it is much more powerful. Similarly, petting your dog for 40 minutes in the evening when you are sitting reading or watching TV means that clapping your dog when he does something you like now has more meaning.

One of the main differences between this approach and NILIF is that it doesn’t give you permission to do nothing. Your dog needs daily exercise and stimulation for a full life. The more we use our dogs food and play and attention for training, the better trained our dog will be. If you use a quarter of your dogs food for training, rather than all of it, you will only get a quarter of the benefit. That said, you don’t need to hand feed it all, put what you don’t use in a Kong or other stuffable toy and you are now teaching your dog to entertain herself, chew an appropriate item and be calm. The minimum we can do with this, if we’re motivated to is to give all daily food in toys or food puzzles so you are at least getting that benefit from it.

A programme like this leads to a well trained, sociable dog, and a truly deep relationship with you.

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Building a meaningful relationship with your dog

Invest in your relationship.
Invest in your relationship.

For many of us, we bring a dog into our lives to have a truly meaningful relationship with him/her. One of the easiest ways to do this is to build a huge history of both positive reinforcement for wanted behaviours and a massive history of classical conditioning.

In case you are new to my blog, or to dog training, I”ll offer a brief description of both. Positive reinforcement is where we add (+/positive i.e the mathematical term) something to the dog’s environment which makes behaviours more likely to occur in the future (reinforcement). This is a scientific term, and this is the meaning of it.

Classical conditioning, is linking one thing, to another, through repetition. It is learning by association. You pick up your dog’s leash and go out for a walk. Over time, picking up the leash in itself, causes the dog to become excited as he has learned that this predicts a walk, you have classically conditioned the leash to the feeling of excitement of the walk. I’ve linked a fuller explanation here

http://www.simplypsychology.org/classical-conditioning.html

Positive reinforcement is used to make behaviour more likely to occur in the future. Think of it as paying into an investment account, which will pay future dividends. I’ve also linked a previous blog for a fuller explanation of this

https://glasgowdogtrainer.wordpress.com/2013/03/17/building-a-balance-of-trust-with-your-dog/

When your dog doesn’t respond how we would like, it is for three reasons. The first is that your reinforcers are not reinforcing enough. A piece of dried kibble or a short pat on the head might not be enough reinforcement for a recall in the presence of other dogs. The second is that you don’t have a sufficient reinforcement history (you haven’t practiced enough) or haven’t practiced enough in those specific circumstances. The third reason is that your dog is having an off day for whatever reason, much like some days we go into work or into the gym and can’t get out of second gear, it’s just not happening on that day.

Now, using classical conditioning (CC) we can build a great bond with our dog. I will talk about the science of it here rather than any deeper spiritual or emotional connection with your animal as that is a matter of opinion and belief (I do believe we can form deep emotional bonds with our dogs). When a dog eats a piece of food, her internal chemistry changes and she feels a release of feel good hormones. If we feed our dog, then over time, we will cause that release of feel good hormones. The dog will now feel good just being with us. Conversely, if you are unpredictable around your dog, or shout at him, you will classically condition fearful emotions in your dog. The more you feed your dog, the more classical conditioning occurs. Instead of feeding all of your dog’s food from a bowl, set a portion of that food aside. Take one piece, smile and tell her she’s a good girl and then give her the kibble. Do this with all of the portion, one piece at a time. The more you do, the quicker and stronger these CC ties build.

Find our what your dog likes. A game of tug or a belly rub might be his favourite. Spend time doing this. Take five or ten minutes of the day, to just do this, not for any other reason other than to do it and spend time with him (make sure he actually does enjoy it or you will be classically conditioning unpleasant feelings with you rather than pleasant ones). If you are petting your dog, it is good to use the five second rule. Pet your dog for five seconds, and hold your hands back. If she moves back in for more petting, continue. If she moves away, she’s not enjoying it in that moment. Just by spending time with your dog doing something you both enjoy, teaches your dog, through classical conditioning, that you are good to be around.

The added benefit of this is that you can now use your bond to reinforce behaviour. When your dog does something you like, tell him “Good boy” and smile. This now has more meaning than it did before. Your dog does something else you like, you tell her “good girl” and play a short game of tug or give her a short ear scratch or belly rub. Because you have spend time investing in your relationship, this short reinforcement can be hugely reinforcing because you have taught your dog what it actually means rather than being something you kind of do for good behaviours i.e the dog has a reinforcement history of the long game of tug or the big belly rub.

The same principle goes for our family and friends too. We need to invest time with them, showing we care about them so that when we aren’t able to, they still know it. If we aren’t able to reinforce our dogs when they do something we want them to do, we at least have a huge history of really good stuff to fall back on and the behaviour and our relationship remains strong.

Future posts – what would you like to see?

Firstly, apologies for not blogging for a few weeks, I’ve been crazy busy. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to blog about the following

1. Preparing your dog for the arrival of a new baby

2. Nothing in Life is Free Protocol versus using your dog’s food and toys for training and classical conditioning

3.Building a truly meaningful bond with your dog through positive reinforcement

4. Forging a new behavioural path and letting the “bad” ones overgrow.

If there is anything at all you’d like me to write about, please comment below, If you are having a problem with your dog’s training or behaviour, write a comment and I’ll do my best to answer it in a future blog.

www.glasgowdogtrainer.co.uk