Plenty In Life Is Free - Reflections On Dogs, Training and Finding Grace

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Kathy Sdao
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Dogwise Publishing
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What if the secret to great dog training is to be a frequent "feeder" rather than a strong leader? A skilled reinforcer rather than a strict enforcer?

Over the past two decades, countless dog trainers across the world have embraced the liberal use of positive reinforcement. Often accompanying this trend, however, is an underlying emphasis, inherited from more coercive models of dog training, that each human in the family must be the dog's leader. But adopting the role of leader using what is known as the "Nothing in Life is Free" training protocol can result in stifling rules that constrain a person's ability to share affection and attention with their dogs. This focus on human leadership puts puts the burden on dogs to "earn" their rewards rather than placing the primary responsibility on the humans to be generous, precise, creative "feeders" (i.e., reinforcers).

In this new book, renowned dog trainer Kathy Sdao reveals how her journey through life and her decades of experience training marine mammals and dogs led her to reject a number of sacred cows including the leadership model of dog training. She describes in narrative fashion how she has come to focus her own training philosophy which emphasizes developing partnerships in which humans and dogs exchange reinforcements and continually cede the upper hand to one another.

What animal behavior experts are saying about Plenty in Life is Free:
This extraordinary book fills the gap between contemporary training technology and ethics. With indelible wit and wisdom, Sdao exposes the naked emperor of excessive control and replaces him with the keys to healthful behavior and lasting relationships. This book will improve more than a dog's life it will be required reading for the students in all my behavior classes.
Susan G. Friedman, Ph.D., Dept. of Psychology, Utah State University,

Kathy Sdao is as wise, witty, warm, and adventurous on paper as she is on the lecture platform. This is a wonderful book about an issue deep and dear to all of us: how to learn to be thoughtful, kind, and generous to our dogs, to each other, and to ourselves, in a world that pressures us to be harsh, resistant, and controlling instead.
Karen Pryor, Author of Reaching the Animal Mind, founder of

Kathy Sdao is an Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist who has spent 26 years as a full-time animal trainer. She teaches about a dozen seminars annually, for trainers around the world. Kathy lives in Tacoma, Washington where she runs Bright Spot Dog Training and lives with her two dogs.

Click here to view an excerpt.

What reviewers are saying...
A pet can be a great source of strength in our lives. "Plenty in Life is Free: Reflections on Dogs, Training, and Finding Grace" is a guide to training one's dog through granting a dog leadership, through reinforcing good behavior instead of trying to force the dogs behavior. Kathy Sdao, an expert in animal behavior presents her training knowledge and what she has learned in her pursuits about the human dog relationship. "Plenty in Life is Free" is a unique read for those who want to try a different hand at guiding their dogs. James A. Cox

NextGen Dog Training is here! You can come out of the closet now. Kathy Sdao gives us permission to be permissive some of the time because nobody can follow NILIF (Nothing In Life Is Free) all the time. We don't have to hide our affection for dogs any more or appear perfect for clients and other trainers. As a matter of fact, being perfect even has some negative side effects for dogs and for our relationships with dogs! This ground-breaking book adds a fourth dimension to clicker training. Some will find Plenty disconcerting because Sdao debunks a protocol many of us believe - but most readers will be inspired (just gaze on the cover photo). Unsettling or uplifting, Sdao definitely will be the topic of conversation for a long time to come: PILIF (Plenty In Life Is Free) is the most innovative improvement for dog training in the past 300 years. A respected trainer, Sdao began with marine mammals during graduate school in Hawaii and currently counsels people with canine behavior problems, lecturing world-wide. PILIF is a training adjunct and a philosophical tome. I probably added a dozen zippy new slogans (e.g., You can't ration love (or air), Communication trumps control, Don't force reinforce! ). Sdao continues where clicker training leaves off, with delicious ideas like these: The click takes the photo and the treat pastes it into the [photo] album. (page 65) The click also connects the behavior (what YOU want) with the reward (what the DOG wants) a win-win situation! (page 70) [Think see-saw.] Sdao is not afraid to say the emperor has no clothes. This seminar-in-a-book brings her quirky yet caring and genuine personality right to your doorstep. Think of it as an unconventional conversation with Kathy.' A Renaissance woman and liberal arts scientist, Sdao is a well-rounded, detail-conscious writer who enthralls us. She anticipates our arguments and counters them while brilliantly and simply explaining the theory and practice of reward timing and behavior observations. After all, our job as trainers is to reinforce behaviors we want and prevent reinforcement of behaviors we don't want our dogs to repeat. In essence: are you a leader or a feeder the Big Cheese' or the Big Cheese Dispenser'? I looked long and hard to find anything less than marvelous in Plenty. What I found was fairly inconsequential - I wanted to rush through the first parts of the book that debunked NILIF (I was already a convert) and discover the substitute, but I doggedly' read it all, in order. I would have liked the text divided into more chapters and perhaps I read it too slowly but the concept of stickiness' didn't stick with me. Also, emotional bids' may be difficult to grasp at first. I do look forward, however, to Sdao's engrossing seminar on PILIF! PILIF or NILIF? That is the question. But perhaps the answer is STILAFSA (Some Things In Life Are Free, Some Aren't). After all, it's all Premack! Skye Anderson, writes for Yankee Dog News and other publications.

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  • 3
    Thoughtful and Witty

    Posted by Steph Duchesne on 9th Oct 2023

    Kathy Sdao is bright, witty and so thoughtful in this loving reflection on dog training. I’ve seen Kathy speak in a number of webinars/panel discussions and her heart just transfers to paper beautifully, encouraging reflection and growth in the reader. I gave this book slightly less stars for the mere fact that this book does reflect on her relationship with religion and how this contrasts with our relationship with our dogs and although I totally understand the contrast, the frequent mention of religion was something that made it a bit harder of a read as someone who is not religious. Still worth a read, but just be forewarned if religion is a trigger or difficult topic for you that it is something that will come up in discussion.

  • 5
    Plenty in Life is Free

    Posted by Suzanne l Martin on 24th Mar 2021

    Reminds us that we all need dessert! Thank you very much!

  • 5
    Book: Plenty in Life is Free

    Posted by Linda K on 16th Oct 2020

    One of the best book's on dog behavior and training I have read. Easy to read as the book flows nicely.