Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Shift in Thinking

I think I’ve been going about the Nothing in Life is Free program the wrong way for Rubi. A cornerstone of NILIF is that it puts the power back in the owner’s hands. You decide when to play with your dog, when to go outside, when to get treats, when to go up on the couch. It’s about limiting and controlling resources. There are a lot of owners who would benefit from telling their dogs “no” more often.

I don’t think this is what I should be doing with Rubi.

A couple of weeks ago, I tried to imagine what this was like from her perspective. I’m pretty sure that if I were Rubi, I’d be thinking that my mistress is terribly finicky and inconsistent. If I’ve taught B that she needs to “ask permission” by laying down before get up on the couch, and she lays down and I don’t let her on the couch, what message am I sending her? How worth it to her to ask permission in the future? If I want Rubi to come to me to get resources in her environment, shouldn’t I give her those resources when she asks for them? If I want her to know that she can manipulate her environment by coming to me, then I had better damn well let her manipulate her environment by coming to me.

It’s more than a matter of consistency; it’s also relationship building. Think back to when you were a kid: did you have a favorite parent? Grandparent? Aunt or Uncle? How did they treat you? When you asked them to play with you, did they brush you off and say, “not now”? Probably not. More likely, they spoiled you rotten. If they didn’t want to do what you wanted, they’d try to find something else to do that you’d enjoy. I am not the same as a cookie or a toy. I’m not asking Rubi to develop a relationship with the couch. My time and attention is a resource, true, but handling them the same as I would an inanimate object doesn’t help strengthen our relationship.

So every time she comes and asks me to come up on the couch, do I let her? Well, no. Sometimes I don’t want her up on the couch with me. But I’m making a point not to tell her to go away and leave me alone. If I don’t want her up on the couch, I pause in whatever I’m doing and rub her ears for a bit. If she brings me a toy to play tug with, and I don’t feel like moving, we’ll play fetch for a bit. A year ago, Rubi couldn’t have cared less if I dropped off the planet as long as there was someone else around to feed her. Now, she wants to hang out with me. How cool is that? Why am I taking it for granted?

Photo by Paige Reyes

1 comment:

  1. Great points. I think NILIF has its merits but for most dogs, should only be used in early training to establish who's in charge and reinstituted temporarily to help with behavior issues that may crop up. I had a trainer once ask me if I thought it acceptable to always have to have treats on me for my dog to which I should have replied "Is it acceptable to always have to feed my dogs after me, not allow them through doorways before me, never let them up to cuddle with me?" I'd much rather have a bunch of treats in my pocket than keep such a strict house!