Naughty dog, you just earned a time out!
There is a lot of discussion among dog trainers and behavior experts about the use of time outs or removing rewards to punish an unwanted behavior. There are studies citing that removing rewards from a dog or child raises their cortisol (a stress hormone). Dr. Sophia Yin explores this in her recent article “Is Removing Rewards (Negative Punishment) for Unwanted Behavior Mean?”
Let’s review some common uses of time outs and let you decide for yourself.
Your dog jumps up:
Your dog jumps up and you turn away from him, ignoring him until all four of his feet are on the floor. Once his feet are all firmly planted you give him the attention he desired. The time out here was loss of your attention. (Note: pushing your dog as you say “off” is attention.)
Your new puppy bites:
Your new puppy bites your hand while playing: you say “ouch” or “too bad” and step over the baby gate. The puppy lost play time with you because he was playing too rough. You return again in a few minutes to try again.
Your dog plays too rough at the dog park:
You are at the dog park and your dog is playing too roughly with a smaller dog that appears to be afraid: you leash your dog and remove him from playing with this dog, either leaving the park entirely for the day or a brief time out on leash before allowed to run free to play again.
Your dog barks at everything:
Your dog is barking at everything that moves outside your house windows. You call your dog and he blows you off continuing the barking at the presumed intruder. You go get your dog and put him in a time out in the bathroom.
When you review each of these examples, you will see each involves removing the opportunity to continue to gain the reward that keeps that behavior going strong. Each involves a time out from accessing the reward your dog wanted to gain.
How it works…
Your dog jumps up:
You remove your attention. If you continue to allow your dog access to your attention and that is what he wanted, you will indeed be rewarding the behavior of jumping up that you would prefer goes away. Active training sessions teaching your dog that sitting gets loads of attention is magnificently helpful. But we are not always in training mode with every interaction with our dogs. When you are not in training mode, removing the reward is effective. Your dog will not be happy that jumping up did not get the attention he sought, but he will learn jumping up does not work to get it. Giving lots of love and attention when your dog gets it right (all four paws on the floor), will also teach your dog this is how you get that attention you want.
Often, dog parents will state that time outs do not work. Time outs do work. Most likely you are missing an important piece of the puzzle – clear communication with your dog. A no reward marker such as saying “too bad” at the very moment your dog performs the undesired behavior, followed every time with a consequence will assist your dog’s ability in making the connection. Legwork, persistence and consistency are key.
Your dog plays too rough at the dog park:
First, you have to decide: what is the behavior your dog does that you would prefer he no longer performs? It may be he lunges forward at the smaller dog and pounces, which can scare many smaller dogs. Who likes to be squished? When your dog approaches a smaller dog with loads of excited energy, you can give him a warning, “gentle please”. If he refrains from that exuberant lunge, you can let him continue to play. If he proceeds to that lunge towards the smaller dog, you will want to mark that EXACT behavior with saying “too bad” and go get him to leash him and remove him for his time out. Without this clear communication, by the time you go about the messy business of getting your dog and leashing him many behaviors have been performed by him. This creates confusion and makes it much less likely for him to connect: “Oh, it’s when I lunge and squish that I lose the ability to play”. (Note: if your dog is in the habit of squishing smaller dogs, please do not allow him near smaller dogs until you have some practice under your belt.)
One dog time out will not effectively rid you from a behavior you would prefer to live without. It will take some repetition for your dog to connect his behavior to his loss. If you communicate clearly to him and put in those repetitions, he will make the connection and his behavior will change. After all, dog do what works!
Best practice, Prevent rehearsal through management, teach what to do instead and be consistent giving your dog time out:
If you encounter a particular behavior you want to go away, give that time out. Remove the opportunity for the reward that keeps that behavior going strong. Keep in mind there are many other wrong choices of behavior your dog could perform. To overcome the likelihood your dog will choose yet another behavior you do not like, teach your dog the behavior you would like him to do instead. Whenever you are caught saying “too bad”, stop and think about what you would like your dog to do instead in that particular situation. Take the time to teach him to “do this”.
When you are not in training mode, remove the opportunity to rehearse that wrong behavior and remove the reward that keeps that behavior going strong when it is performed.
There are few dogs who are so shy or fearful that time-outs are too much for them to handle. These cases are not the norm. If you have a dog that has significant fear issues and does not cope well with time outs, these issues would warrant a consult with your veterinarian or behaviorist. You may also check out Debbie Jacobs at Fearfuldogs.com, a brilliant resource for those with fearful pups. Extremely fearful dogs need special care, sometimes medications and carefully constructed confidence building.
Check out our Dog Time Out online dog training video for free!
What other dog behavior professionals say:
“Time outs work (have massive track record for the very type of problems you describe), are non-violent and free from fear side-effects, and can be used seamlessly in conjunction with differential reinforcement and management. I vote effective and ethically without issue.”
~ Jean Donaldson, The Academy for Dog Trainers
“I have used time outs successfully to change behaviors from barking out the window to new fosters that want to resource guard me to dogs whose play is not the most appropriate in play group. The key is consistency and giving a time out EVERY time the behavior happens. It doesn’t matter if you are tucked in on the couch watching TV, working at the computer or cooking dinner, you must give the consequence for the behavior every time.”
~ Lynne Bengtson, Safe Hands Rescue
Now what do you think? Are time outs good or bad? Are they effective or ineffective? Tell us below in the comments!
Until next time, Have Fun & Enjoy Your Dog!
Jody Karow – CTC
Your Personal Puppy Expert, Dog Life Coach & Online Dog Trainer
P.S. Don’t forget to check out our online dog training program for living your best life with your dog!