Nothing In Life Is Free

Last updated: March 20, 2013

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Animal Training and Behaviour Centre

In the human world nothing in life is free; there is a cost in time; money; commitment; sacrifice for everything we do. Through thousands of years of domestication our dogs also understand this, that something is expected of them in return for life’s rewards. When we lay everything out for them, and ask for nothing in return they get lazy, demanding, confused and often anxious about things. When we set clear boundaries about how to earn the things they desire they are much happier with life and more willing to play an appropriate role in our family.

This doesn’t mean your dog has to miss out – it just means he has to ‘work’ for the privilege. It is not ‘tough love’ either, you don’t have to be mean to your dog – you just need to be consistent. Gentle, consistent leadership is much more effective than excited, noisy, authoritarian outbursts!

Nothing in Life is Free means that we first need to teach the dog acceptable behaviour, when to practice it, where to practice it, and reward them in terms they understand for getting it right. The behaviours that we don’t want we ignore, or make non-reinforcing so they won’t keep trying them.


When you start changing a dogs behaviour it can appear to get worse. After all this behaviour worked before! This is called an extinction burst, it means we are on the right track and we just need to stick with it a little longer. If the dog’s behaviour becomes concerning, extreme or harmful seek immediate help.

So what should a dog work for?

  • AttentionFood
  • Access to the carAccess through any door or gate
  • Access to games/toysAccess to walks
  • Greeting visitors
  • Playing with canine friends
  • Anything that they really want in life (lots of things are rewarding to dogs jumping, running digging. You have to make sure it is acceptable to you).

How should a dog work?

The work required depends on your situation:

  • Mostly if a dog wants attention, they should sit or lie down,
  • If they want food they should sit and stay while you prepare and present their food, even if it is coming in a Kong or treat ball.
  • If they want to go in the car they should sit while the door is opened then remain seated
  • They should wait for the humans to use the door or gate first.
  • They should sit when receiving or returning toys
  • They should wait patiently while being put on the lead.
  • They should walk calmly and on a loose lead to go forward.

How do I get my Dog to do that?

  • Firstly show them what you want them to do. i.e. sit.
  • Reward them with a treat or attention when they do.
  • If your dog ignores you, walk away and come back a few minutes later and try again.
  • Repeat until the dog learns that the only behaviour that will earn the reward is to sit.
  • Repeat with everything your dog wants. Working on one situation (i.e. walking through doors) at a time means you can set small achievable goals rather than trying to change everything at once.
  • Get every member of your family to repeat these exercises and be consistent, encourage your visitors and friends to help meet your goals.
  • Finally Practice and Practice and Practice.

How do I keep my dog working for me?

Vary what you are asking for in each instant, getting your dog to work to your commands makes it much more interesting for them to engage with you. Once your dog is doing one behaviour for you start asking for two i.e. Instead of sit before dinner, ask for sit, drop. Then three behaviours i.e. sit, drop, shake the paw, etc. You can build up a big repertoire of behaviour or tricks for simple experiences.

You set the standard.

You get to set the standard and limits. So if you love having your dog with you, go ahead and call them to you, get them to sit then invite them up with you and reward on your terms. Do it and enjoy rewarding your dog for nice behaviour.


RSPCA animal training courses are available across Australia:

  • Queensland: call the RSPCA Animal Training & Behaviour Centre for further information in regard to courses available on (07) 3426 9928.
  • Victoria: for any information on training and behaviour in Victoria call Amanda Murcutt on 92242521.
  • West Australia: call the RSPCA PawsCentral Adoption Centre for further information about courses available near you on (08) 9209-9309 or visit the RSPCA WA website.
  • NSW: Information is available on the RSPCA NSW website.
  • Australian Capital Territory: Information is available on the RSPCA ACT website.
  • South Australia: Contact information is available on the RSPCA SA website.
  • Northern Territory: Contact information is available on the RSPCA Darwin website.
  • Tasmania: Training is available at the Hobart Animal Care Centre in Mornington. Go to the RSPCA Tasmania website for further information.

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