Dog Time Out: How to Use Them

They say that a dog’s brain is much like a two-year-old’s brain; if that is the case then a time out should have the same effect on a dog as your toddler. The trick is finding out how to use the time out in a way that the right message is sent and the right behaviors are established. Before you start a time out training program, learn how it is different from other negative reinforcement training and when it will be effectively implemented for maximum results.

Defining Time Outs

Time outs are a psychology tool used in behavioral training to stop negative behavior from happening again in the future. When it comes to human kids, parents use a time out to remove a child from the situation where the bad behavior occurred and to give their child time to think about their actions. Common examples of time outs are when kids are sent to their room or outside of a classroom to collect themselves.

By definition, a time out is a negative action or a punishment. Most professional dog trainers will always recommend positive reinforcement training and say that punishments have an adverse effect on long-term dog training success. Yet, many trainers will use a dog time out in specific situations. Understanding the way humans and dogs communicate with each other will go a long way to helping you understand how and when to use a dog time out.

Dog Owners and Dog Talk

Animals communicate much differently than humans. It doesn’t matter how much we chat with our dogs, they don’t understand every word we say. Instead, they understand our tone, demeanor, and actions.

As humans, it is important for us to understand that our dog’s behavior, particularly bad behavior isn’t simply because our dog is a bad dog. Dogs explore the world with their mouths and paws. They gnaw and bite to understand what things are. Adult dogs grow out of many of the tendencies that puppies have of chewing on everything, but may still take to new items out of curiosity or if afflicted by separation anxiety.

In other words, dogs are talking to you with their nips, jumps, and barks. Young puppies have a lot more exploring and communicating to do than adult dogs because they are learning about the surroundings and are unsure of the pack order. His exploration often means more short-term behavior problems.

Common Dog Bad Behavior

Every puppy owner knows that puppies are bundles of energy that fall into balls of fluffy sleep all day long. A puppy is either awake or asleep and if he is awake, the puppy has more curiosity and energy than you can imagine. Stopping unwanted behavior in a puppy helps pet owners develop a better relationship with their dogs throughout their lives.

Common unwanted or bad behavior includes:

  • Nipping, mouthing, and biting
  • Chewing on household items
  • Digging in garbage
  • Potty accidents
  • Pulling on a leash
  • Barking or howling
  • Pouncing or jumping

It is possible to use time outs to stop negative puppy behavior while you teach your dog what is right and wrong.

What a Dog Time Out Really Is

If you ask a professional dog trainer what a dog time out is, you will learn that it isn’t the same as sending your two-year-old human toddler to his room for five minutes. A dog time out has more to do with not rewarding your dog for negative attention. Your dog has no self-control over behavior that is natural to his communication with you until you teach him otherwise.

Instead, a dog time out ignores a negative behavior for just a few moments. Your dog will work hard to get your attention and when he realizes one thing isn’t working, he will try different things to get your love and attention. It may sound counter-intuitive in some respects ­– ignore bad behavior. However, think through it moment-by-moment.

Your dog wants your attention; maybe he wants to go outside or to get a treat. All his crazy jumping, pawing, and barking isn’t getting him anything but ignored. The second he sits down you give him the attention he was seeking. He now starts to associate a consequence to each action: crazy equals ignored while sitting gets a reward. In a time out situation, it’s less about why he chose to sit down as it is that he discovered the right behavior.

When Time Outs Work

When a dog jumps, he is excited to see you and play with you. He wants your attention. By pushing him back, you could be unintentionally engaging in the play he wants, which will only teach your dog that the negative behavior gets him what he wants. Punishment such as yelling or even hitting will only create submissive anxiety and confusion in your puppy or dog.

Instead, leave him alone until he performs the proper behavior such as sitting will be an effective time out. This is more difficult than you might imagine especially if you are trying to teach your dog or puppy to sit and stay. Your natural inclination is to tell that jumping puppy to sit.

The problem is you don’t really have his attention to effectively give him a command because he is trying to achieve something else. This is why you need to ignore the bad behavior and refrain from giving him a command he isn’t in the right frame of mind to perform. Let him figure out how to be a good Samaritan when he isn’t being given commands, after all, you can’t give him commands every second of the day.

Crating Your Dog: Not for Timeouts

Crate training is not time out training. From the moment you introduce a young puppy to a crate, it should be a safe haven where he feels secure and comfortable. It’s a happy place where he sleeps or gnaws on a bone. It’s important to maintain the positive associations with the crate long after potty training is completed. In fact, using a crate at night helps everyone sleep better.

There will be time times where your dog may need to stay in a crate for any number of reasons. If he associates it with negative feelings you might not be able to get him in. Whether he has to stay in a crate at the veterinarian, duck out into his safe spot during a storm, or has to travel on an airplane, your dog must love being in his crate.

Forcing your puppy into his crate when you are upset about something bad he did (like eat your shoe) won’t solve the problem. But it is possible to use a crate to help your puppy learn self-control. If he knows he will get a special bone when he goes into his crate after the doorbell rings, you are helping him curb bad behavior by removing him from overly stimulating situations. He gets to have his bone and settle down, getting used to the visitors in the house for a few minutes before he is allowed out.

Don’t make a big deal when you let him out either. Just open the crate door and leave him alone. Your dog will either continue to do what he was doing in there, come out calmly and join the family, or find a spot to go to sleep. That’s a win!

Teach Your Dog with Positive Reinforcement

When working with a puppy or adult dog, it’s important to always remember that positive reinforcement will always work better than punishment. If you talk to an animal behaviorist or professional dog trainer, you will quickly discover that dogs become fearful and submissive with punishment. And in the cases of overall good behavior development, punishment doesn’t really help curb any problem behavior.

Working on good behavior such as not biting, chewing your socks, or jumping on people is something that shouldn’t be part of constant commands. Your dog must learn that those are simply unacceptable behaviors. While he is learning the right and wrong, you should also be using other positive reinforcement and obedience training to help him with basic commands such as sit, stay, come, and heel when off-leash.

The combination of both command and also good Samaritan training will teach your dog to be a good dog whether there is a command given or not, but that there are additional rewards for obedience.

Proper Time Out Methods: Short Periods for Understanding

Proper time outs for dogs are short. Dogs don’t have long attention spans or a real concept of time so short periods help them understand exactly what behavior is being addressed is important. If you leave and come back to find that your puppy dug into the kitchen garbage can, you have no way of knowing how long ago the crime occurred. In fact, since he came running to greet you from the opposite side of the house suggests he wasn’t in the middle of mayhem when you walked in.

Punishing him at that time does no good because he thinks he is getting punished for greeting you at the door. He’s long forgotten the kitchen trash incident – until maybe he feels your anger while cleaning it up. But even then, he won’t understand the punishment.

Short periods of time hold true for time outs for the same reason. Your puppy won’t be able to understand why he is being ignored if you ignore him for everything he does in a 20-minute period. This means you have to determine what good behaviors will be rewarded after a time out of any duration.

Rewarding Behaviors and Redirects

Rewarding behavior doesn’t have to be over the top when it comes to time outs. Remember that your puppy or dog is doing something because he wants your attention. By ignoring him you are telling him you don’t approve of that behavior. Once you give him attention, he knows he is on the right track. This means you are rewarding overall conduct and not specific behaviors or commands.

What should be rewarded after a time out?

In training your dog to be a good dog with a great demeanor even when commands are not being given means you can reward a variety of behaviors.

Some behaviors to break a time out with your puppy includes when he:

  • Sits nicely looking up at you
  • Grabs a toy to play fetch with
  • Waits at the door on all four paws on the ground
  • Goes to his bed or crate until called

There are many more good behaviors you can reward to break a time out. Remember that the goal is to stop the jumping, barking, or biting. Once you know what you will ignore, you can start to deem any other behavior as acceptable. Of course, this is stage one and you may want to develop specific behaviors your dog does in different situations. He might grab his leash for a walk when you come home or retreat to his crate when people come over.

But the first step is to stop the bad behavior and reward all acceptable and good ones.

Professional Dog Trainer’s Approach to Time Outs

Imagine getting home after a long day at work, having stopped at the grocery store to then be stuck in unexpected traffic. Your dog has been home by himself all day and is desperate for your attention but if you don’t take care of the ice cream and other perishables, your day will only get worse. He is jumping and yelping, trying to get your attention.

You just need five minutes to get life in order and you know he doesn’t need to go potty since he has a doggy door. Yet you are happy that he loves you and is excited to see you upon your return from work. This is the moment where a time out will help modify his behavior and help you gain control of those first few moments when you walk in the door.

Here is what to do when you get home and your dog is overly excited:

  1. Walk in without any fanfare unphased by him or anything else in the house.
  2. Keep your back to him if he is jumping up trying to get your attention.
  3. Avoid eye contact with him.
  4. Refrain from talking to him, yelling at him, or giving him a command.
  5. Toss him a dog treat when he is calm and sits or stands quietly.
  6. Finish with your task without addressing him.
  7. Grab his ball and call him for playtime when you are done.

Set Your Dog Up for Success

Remember that you can’t stop your dog from getting into trouble when you are out of the house and he won’t know why he is getting into trouble if you punish him when you return. Time outs won’t work retroactively; they are only successful with bad behavior he is doing in front of you.

Set your puppy up for success. Limit where he has access to in the house and what he can get into. If you know he’s going to go into the laundry hamper to eat the toes out of every sock in the load, then don’t let him have access to the hamper. The same is true of the kitchen trash or your favorite pair of house slippers.

Make sure he has lots of toys and safe chewies to gnaw on when you are gone to keep him entertained and occupied. Limit where he can wander in the house. For many puppy owners, crate training is the best option when puppies are being potty trained and taught what being a good citizen in the house is. As your puppy or older dog develop better habits, you can extend their access throughout the house.

The Last Woof on Time Outs

Unlike traditional positive reinforcement behavioral training methods recommended for teaching your dog how to interact with you, time outs are a way to help your dog understand what is right and wrong behavior at times when no command is being barked out. The reward for your dog after a time out is getting your calm attention.

He isn’t getting punished in the sense of physical punishment but is instead being punished because you are withholding your love, affection, and attention from him when he is not behaving. This is an important part of overall training for dogs because it helps them understand how to interact not just with you, but also in a variety of situations such as going to the kennel, veterinarian, or dealing with guests.

Other people will not always be comfortable around your dog (or any dog) and it is your responsibility as a dog owner to make sure your dog doesn’t uncontrollably jump on a small child, elderly person, or anyone. If people get hurt, you are liable for that action even if Fido just wanted to play. Plus, everyone is much happier when dogs integrate into the situation without creating frenzied problems. Give your dog ample time to play and get his energy out with tons of love and affection from you – just do so in the right situations.

If you are having a problem getting him to behave properly, seek the help of a professional dog trainer to address the issue with you.


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