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Using The NILF Training Approach For Your Newfoundland

What is NILIF Training?

NILIF stands for Nothing in Life is Free.

It’s a positive dog training approach that asks the dog to do something before getting something.

It’s kind of like asking them to say please and when used properly it can make life a lot easier for dogs and their people.

NILF might not be the right training program for some people and their Newfs but it was definitely a game-changer for us when Sherman and Leroy began having issues. 

Training Your Newfoundland Using The NILF dog traning approach

Why I used the NILIF Training Approach

We had an issue with Sherman and Leroy getting along together several years ago.

After speaking to a trainer to try and figure out what the issue was, it pointed to be an issue with Sherman resource guarding me. 

We had rules in our house but I was pretty laid back with them so we initiated the NILIF approach to try and restore order. 

It wasn’t so much of me trying to be the alpha, which is what NILIF is based on,  but more about setting boundaries.

While Sherman was the one doing the resource guarding, Leroy was the one that was creating the issue because he was pushy.

Leroy is the type of dog that is always in your face front and center. 

He has no respect for personal space and he’s demanding. 

It’s who he is.

Sherman is much more reserved and doesn’t like anyone in his space.

I have one laid back Newfie and one headstrong, pushy Newfie which can mess up the dynamics in the house if someone doesn’t set some boundaries.

NILF training was the perfect way for me to do this.

Why NILF For a Newfoundland?

While I’m not a professional dog trainer by any means I am familiar with the Newfoundland breed

I think that NILIF works well with this breed because in general Newfs don’t respond well to harsh training methods but do respond well to positive training experiences.

Newfies can be stubborn but they also tend to shut down if they’re yelled at or punished. 

A Newfie that shuts down and is not responsive to their family is a sad Newfie that may form bad habits or even turn aggressive. 

Newfies are working dogs

Newfies are working dogs by nature so asking them to perform a task where they have to work to get what they want is helping them to keep that working drive going.

Newfoundlands want to please their owners so if you ask them to do something they will almost always happily oblige!

NILIF teaches dogs good manners.

Many Newfies learn how to get the things they want such as food or playtime by being pushy. 

In a Newf’s mind, they think that they are little dogs trapped in a big body.

They paw at people, jump on people, push their way into a situation or even bark and whine to get attention because they don’t think that you can see him. 

While this can be cute, it can also be dangerous due to the size and power of a Newfoundland. 

Most of us have taken a paw to the face and it hurts. 

Some of us have been jumped up or had our legs taken out by a pushy Newfie. 

It happens. It’s part of life with a Newfie but lessening those occurrences is key for everyone’s safety.

What is one of the reasons why Newfie’s end up in adoption? Because they grow into big dogs that haven’t been trained properly, they have no manners and owners can’t handle them. 

NILIF makes life more predictable

NILIF makes your dog’s life more predictable and offers him lots of chances to earn good things which can help lower his anxiety.

It also teaches him to trust you as a leader; this can help build his confidence and provide a sense of security.

If you don’t think your Newf needs a leader than that’s a problem. 

NILIF can easily be customized to fit your specific training needs. 

It’s not a firm “You have to do this specific thing”, you adjust it to work how you need it to work in your dog’s life. 

Some people do like the NILIF training approach because it’s based on the alpha training method which can sometimes be interpreted as mistreatment. 

I don’t necessarily agree with this because when done correctly, NILF is not forceful and does not include punishment.

To me, it’s more teaching your dog manners and giving them some sort of order to their lives. 

It’s also an ongoing training activity.

NILIF can be used for dogs of any age

As long as your dog knows basic commands NILIF can be used for all life stages, puppies, teenagers, adults and even with senior Newfs.

Do Newfoundland Dogs Really Need To Be Trained?


So many Newfie’s end up in rescue surrendered by their owner because the owners couldn’t handle them.

They are big, smart, love to work and grow super fast. 

If they are not trained they can become aggressive and unruly.

Training a Newfoundland should start from the first day they are in your home and should be ongoing throughout their life.

Tips For Using NILIF Training With Your Newfoundland

Pick what things you want to use NILIF with. 

If you have a very pushy dog than you’ll want to use NILIF for everything that your dog wants.

If you’re using it for resource guarding then you might want it to use it when feeding, when playing with their favorite toy, when it’s treat time or even when they want to be petted especially if you’re the resource like I was. 

Get everyone on board

Everyone in your family and people that have contact with your dog such as the dog walker) needs to be using NILIF.

NILIF works best when it’s used consistently. If one person in the house is asking your dog and paw before they eat but someone else isn’t, this will lead to confusion for the dog.

Use the command only once. 

Give the command to your dog only once.

If they don’t respond then walk away and try again in a few minutes. 

Be patient and allow yourself extra time.

It can be frustrating at first but this is new to your dog so be patient and allow extra time.

You might have to walk away 6 times one day but the next day it may be one less and by the end of a week you might not be walking away at all.

Your Newfie is smart, he’ll eventually catch on!

Keep using it

Nothing In Life is Free doesn’t replace training your dog to prevent specific unwanted behaviors but it can work in conjunction with those. 

For example, If your dog is barker NILIF isn’t teaching your dog not to bark but it is teaching your dog that barking at you will not get him dinner faster so it will start weeding out the thought that barking gets him something that he wants. 

NILIF might not be for you and your Newf

Many people are not fans with the Nothing in Life is Free method because they think it’s cruel. 

Some people feel that their dog shouldn’t have to work for food or affection or play.

In my opinion, they shouldn’t demand it.

You’re not depriving your dog of food, play or affection you’re just not letting them demand it.

But if that’s not your cup of tea you could check out the “Say Please”, “No Free Lunch”, or “Learn to Earn”  method of training. 

It’s basically the same approach just under a nice name. 




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Jan Ouellette

Tuesday 7th of June 2022

I just read you articles and kinda patted myself on the back because I have been using that method of training for all the Newfs I have had since I was nine (6 of them). And they are very smart. At one time I heard they have the intelligence of an 11-12 year old child. I believe it. I really enjoyed the articles and I have signed up for your newsletter. Thank you!

My husband and I are retired and just lost our Newf, Coco, at 10-1/2 years to bone cancer. I wished they lived longer; the longest living one I had was over 12. They are wonderful dogs.

Lisa Graziano

Sunday 16th of January 2022

I really need help for barking. He is not hungry, doesn’t want out. Wants our older dog to play, or us to play or just likes the sound of his voice. Jeb will bark a long long time in your face. I tried the trainers method of kennel up until he stops them free dog. He just keeps barking. Any ideas? My husband works at home due to Covid and phone conferences can be a chore. We tried toys, bento ball. Interactive toys.

Karl Denby

Thursday 19th of December 2019

I remember reading most of your posts while we were contemplating getting a Newf. I just re-read them and some others, including this NILF post.

We got Izzy Bear at 8 weeks from a registered Newf breeder. Izzy has her UKC papers. (Izzy is short for Isabella which is the name for the rare double-recessive light brown-grey colour gene she has). At first, life with her was grand! She was cuddly, cute, playful, and always wanted to be right beside us. She grew so fast at about 10 pounds every month and is only just starting to slow down that rate at almost a year old now - her mom was 140 pounds and daddy is pushing 200. We figure she'll be about 150-160 if she ever stops growing!

However, at 7 months old we started having all sorts of aggression issues with her. My wife, new to dogs, gave her a T-bone steak bone, cooked. As soon as I saw it in Izzy's mouth, I knew that is not the right type of bone and tried to get it from her - she growled for the first time ever, so I got my wife to call her name and try to distract her. She dropped the bone and turned her head and I quickly reached in to grab it - that resulted in three puncture wounds to my hand with blood dripping off my fingers. Thankfully, my wife learned her lesson and now only gives her raw beef leg bones.

Then while camping, which we did every couple of weeks last summer, Izzy would all of a sudden start jumping up at us, snout wrinkled back, and start trying to bite us and would not listen to any commands we attempted to give her. Sometimes it took both of us to grab her leash or lead, pull it down to the ground, and step on it and hold her there for a minute until she calmed down. But is was happening more frequently and more violently each time.

We ended up going to a local trainer with 30+ years experience training numerous breeds and sizes of dogs including a dozen or so Newfs. He was shocked and is still amazed at her behaviour saying she is not a typical Newf and he's never seen a Newf act like this, but has in other big guard-dog breeds like German Shepherds, Rotties, Dobermans, etc, or in off-the-street-rescues.

She can still be a handful at training sessions sometimes, but we have learned how to deal with it and thankfully she is a lot better at home now, not to say there aren't still a few issues, but the violent aggression at home is gone - only at training when we're working her. She is smart as a whip, but stubborn as a bull. When she want to do what we're telling her to do, she's fantastic. But if we're telling her do something and she wants to do something else that we won't let her do, she turns aggressive and will try to take us down. We've become so much better at dealing with it now, she usually gives up after a couple failed attempts to get her own way. Usually!

The only issue we are having at home is when she wants our attention and she thinks we're ignoring her. Usually while I'm trying to work on the computer or on a phone call with a client (I work from home 2-3 days a week). She'll flop her head or her paw on my keyboard, I'll tell her no, gently stroke her head once or twice, and gently move it off. And then it comes right back.

She'll grab my hand in her teeth and guide it her chest or belly for a scratching or rubbing session, relentlessly. The worst is when she repeatedly paws at your arm, chest, or face and won't stop until she either gets her way or I end up yelling at her as a last resort after several failed attempts to get here to stop. I've always got red scratches on me somewhere and have had a few nasty ones across my face (not great when I have to meet with a client).

When she wants to go out for a bathroom break or to play, she'll mouth, paw, whine, and/or bark in your ear (Man, that bark makes your ears really ring sometimes). We tried the bell hanging from the door knob - she refuses to use it until you're at the door with her, kind of defeating the whole purpose.

We use the NILF approach for feeding time and treats (she'll practically stand on her head for a banana!). After reading this post, I think I'll try using NILF for she wants attention and when she want to go outside and see if that helps.

Despite all of these issues, she is great! We constantly get comments from everyone we meet, that she is the most gorgeous dog they've ever seen (I wonder if their dog sitting beside them gets a complex?).

You're so right that they don't realize how big they are! Every now and then, she'll try to climb up onto our lap and curl up in the chair with you. After a few seconds, she'll realize this isn't working and get down and lie on the floor next to the chair instead.

The funniest was the first time we took her to a lake to swim. I went in with her because she was a little apprehensive. She started playing in the water with me and having fun until I kept going further out until the water was over her head - once she couldn't put her back legs onto the bottom anymore she panicked and started pawing at my chest trying to climb on me - did she not know that Newfs love swimming? It took a couple weeks for those scratches to heal! The next time we went camping we did the same thing again and started throwing sticks in to Lake Huron (second largest Great Lake). She started jumping the waves and body-surfing them back to shore. Now she loves the water and has no hesitation of just jumping in on her own and going out past where she can touch bottom. Of course we're always at least on shore and keep a flexi-leash on her to keep her safe. We even started working on getting her to lay in the bottom of the canoe for an hour or so! Can't wait till I can take on her a canoe trip with me, but not until she's mastered off-leash training (we're still in on-leash training).

I yearn for the time when this adolescent stage to evolves into the gentle giant adult stage, but maybe you don't really appreciate the "nice" stages unless you've suffered through the others first!

I enjoy your posts and humour!


Karl (aka Izzy's Daddy)

Ducky's Mom

Friday 19th of July 2019

Reading this post made me smile. When it came to everything but food, Callie and Shadow got along great. When it came to food, however, Callie was pushy and disrespectful of Shadow's space while Shadow was totally respectful of Callie but wouldn't tolerate being dissed by her. I had to stay in the kitchen during mealtimes to keep Callie away from Shadow while she ate. Like I said, though, they shared everything else nicely.

Of course, when Ducky came along, mealtimes turned into a 3-ring circus of bitey-face if I wasn't super diligent. I had to just feed the older girls first and then feed Ducky. NILIF is fine when used properly, as you said. But can be totally confusing to a dog when one human is consistent and the other is not only inconsistent, but totally unwilling to partake in training. Luckily, Ducky is a smart girl and learned quickly what Mama wanted. If only her "Daddy" was as trainable! ?


Monday 22nd of July 2019

That's how Sherman used to be but it was with me. He's so laid back but when it came to Leroy being around he didn't want Leroy messing with me.

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