NILF – Nothing in Life is Free , Protocol for Deference: Basic Program

Understanding the Social Structure of Dogs

Dogs’ social systems resemble those of humans. They live in extended family groups, provide prolonged parental care, and cooperate to care for their offspring. Dogs nurse their young before transitioning them to semisolid and solid foods. They use play to develop social skills and communicate extensively through vocalizations. Importantly, they establish social hierarchies based on deference rather than aggression, similar to human societies.

In wild canines like wolves, fights for status are rare, occurring only under abnormal social conditions. Human social relations are typically structured by negotiation and deference, not violence. In both humans and dogs, deference-structured hierarchies mean that the individual to whom others defer can change based on the situation. For instance, a child may defer to their parents but become the leader among peers. Dogs are similar in this regard.


Dogs often view their human families as their pack, looking to them for guidance. Problems arise when dogs stop doing this or never do so. This program aims to prevent such issues and address all forms of behavioral problems. All social animals establish some form of rule structure to communicate. Dogs, like humans, need guidance to comply with these rules. Puppies and problem dogs require a consistent, kind rule structure to follow.

The Program: Establishing Deference

The goal of this program is to create a baseline of good behavioral interaction between the client and their dog, teaching the dog to consistently defer to people for attention. This is done safely, kindly, and passively, though it may be more challenging than clients expect.

Key Points:

  • No Passive Interaction: Clients must not touch, love, or interact with the dog unless the dog defers and awaits their attention. This is done by having the dog sit.
  • Teaching Sit: Even young puppies can learn to sit in exchange for a treat. As soon as the puppy sits, praise it and give a small treat.
  • Enforcing the Rule: The dog must sit and be quiet to earn anything it wants. This includes food, treats, love, grooming, going out or coming in, having a leash put on, being invited onto furniture, playing, and any other desired attention.
  • Consistent Enforcement: All family members must be consistent in enforcing this rule. If the dog resists, walk away. The dog will eventually sit to get attention.
  • Rewards: Praise and reward the dog for sitting. Use food treats to teach puppies or dogs that do not know how to sit.

Dealing with Pushy or Energetic Dogs

Clients with very pushy or energetic dogs may find constant monitoring exhausting. In such cases, it’s better to banish and ignore the pet unless actively working with them. This is not the same as withdrawing affection, which can increase anxiety in dogs and make clients feel guilty. Instead, provide a safe, comfortable space for the dog to stay, with toys and activities to keep them occupied. Scheduled interaction periods are essential to maintain the deference protocol.

Benefits of the Deference Protocol

  1. Reinforces Social Structure: Sitting and deferring for everything reinforces the dog’s innate social structure and teaches it to look to its people for behavioral cues.
  2. Provides Respite: Deference behaviors act as a “time out,” giving the dog a break from potentially worsening situations.
  3. Calming Effect: Sitting helps the dog calm down and be less reactive, associating verbal cues with appropriate behavior.
  4. Predictable Expectations: Consistent reinforcement allows the dog to anticipate what is expected and earn attention.

Steps to Implement the Protocol

  1. Immediate Implementation: The dog must earn everything it wants by sitting quietly for a few moments.
  2. Using Commands: Ask the dog to sit using its name and the command “Sit.” Repeat every few seconds as needed.
  3. Dealing with Resistance: If the dog resists, walk away. When the dog follows or demands attention, repeat the process until the dog complies.
  4. Rewarding Compliance: Reward the dog immediately when it sits. Teach the dog to stay using quick releases and gradually increasing the duration.

Additional Tips

  • Consistency: All household members must consistently enforce the protocol.
  • Supervision: Children must be supervised to ensure they reinforce the correct behaviors and do not tease the dog.
  • Rewarding Behaviors: Reward the dog appropriately, making the process fun for everyone.

Teaching Sit and Stay

  • Sit: Use a food treat to guide the puppy into a sitting position. Praise and reward immediately when the puppy sits.
  • Stay: Once the dog knows how to sit, teach stay by taking small steps backward, praising, and rewarding for compliance. Gradually increase the distance and duration of the stay.

This protocol helps in treating and preventing behavioral problems by establishing a structured, positive interaction between the dog and its people. Consistency and kindness are key to its success.

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