Should You Use “Nothing in Life Is Free” with Your Dog?

Learn how to use not only treats but any everyday interaction to teach your dog good manners.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
6-minute read
Episode #52

At the dog park, you have Dogalini target your hand with her nose once or twice before you unclip her lead. Back home, she can wait in a down-stay while you get her dinner ready and set it on the floor, then head for her bowl when you give the okay. When you’re playing fetch with her in the backyard later that evening, you ask her to sit or down or do a well-known trick before every ball throw--the throw is her reward for responding to your cue.

Obviously, “Say Please” calls for some effort on the human’s part, if you’re not used to thinking much about your interactions with your dog. But it can become second nature if you stick with it for a while, and of course it gets easier and easier as your dog learns to look for your cues throughout the day. Still, you might wonder, why go to the trouble of learning this more structured way of relating to your dog?

Benefits! Big-time benefits.

How to Use “Say Please” for Puppies

You know what a puppy is? A puppy is a learning machine. Practice “Say Please” with your baby Dogalini for a couple of months and you will be patting yourself on the back every single time you see the out-of-control adolescent dog down the block. A puppy whose people teach manners erratically or not at all grows into a dog who’s clueless about human rules.

How to Use “Say Please” for Newly Adopted Dogs

A “Say Please” or “NILIF” program doesn’t focus on punishment--it focuses on rewarding behaviors that you like.

Or suppose you’ve just adopted a dog--oh, maybe yesterday. Zippy doesn’t know what you expect of him or what life might be like with you. Start him off on a “Say Please” program and, yes, you jump-start his manners training--but you also build the bond between you. Remember, “Say Please” doesn’t focus on punishment--it focuses on eliciting and rewarding behaviors that you like. When you teach a behavior by rewarding it, doing the behavior comes to feel good. That’s because your dog associates the behavior with the reward he gets for it–whether that’s a treat, or a chance to go out or chase a ball. And just as we feel good about teachers who encourage us, dogs feel good about us when we use rewards to teach them.

How to Use “Say Please” for Dogs Who Need a Boost

For the same reasons, “Say Please” works beautifully for dogs who could use a little confidence. Each reward they earn by responding to you is a success for them. And an animal who knows a set of consistent, workable rules for life probably experiences something like the feeling of competence and safety that we have when we understand what’s expected of us on the job or how we can meet a partner’s needs at home.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).