I am a reward-based dog trainer, which means that I try very hard to mostly use rewards to reinforce a behavior I like and then ignore or prevent a behavior I don’t like until it goes away on its own. An example of this would be teaching a dog to sit instead of jumping up and using a leash or tether to prevent jumping up in the meantime. That said, I do use a mild punishment on some behaviors and my go to is a Time Out (TO). It can be used to discourage naughty behaviors like playing too rough, nipping, jumping up, destructive behavior or barking. The most important thing to remember about the TO is that it should be used sparingly. Removing your dog from his people is a punishment to him and punishments can have negative side-effects and cause stress. When using the TO, it’s important to also put effort into setting your dog up for success and teaching your dog good manners using rewards.
There are two ways of doing a Time Out. The old standard is to take the dog to a safe and boring location for a brief amount of time. Let’s call that “Dog is Timed Out” (DTO), an alternative (that I prefer!) is when the human leaves the dog and goes behind a closed door for a brief amount of time. Let’s call that “Human is Timed Out” (HTO).
I used to always use the DTO, but these days I’m finding it more effective to have the human go away as a deterrent for attention-motivated naughtiness. It is more elegant because you aren’t trying to move your dog using the leash and it does not have the potential side effect of your dog not liking you moving towards him to put him into the time out. The HTO works for many naughty behaviors, but it does not work if the naughty behavior is not about your attention. An example of a behavior that would not work with the HTO but would be best addressed with the DTO is your dog digging at the couch.
Steps for using the Time Out:
Decide on a location for your DTO. Choose a location that your dog will find boring - neither scary nor wonderful and is safely puppy-proofed. Possible spaces are a tether out of view, gated pantry, spare room, or bathroom. For the HTO, you want to go to an area where you can close a door between you and the dog.
Decide exactly what misbehavior you will be timing your dog out for. Let other family members know how to follow your plan. If the TO is applied consistently, it will work much faster and generally within 10 trials. Do your best to set up the situation so that your dog is fairly likely to succeed and is not just getting frustratingly timed out over and over again.
When your dog misbehaves, give him a warning by saying something like ‘no” or “eh eh”. If your dog stops what he was doing, let him know he did the right thing by saying something like "good". If instead he continues to misbehave, calmly say something like "time out" and then repeat saying "time out" every few seconds as you either go to get him (DTO) or leave the area yourself (HTO). For the DTO, avoid looking your dog directly in the eye when you walk towards him, as that can be intimidating. Grasp your dog's collar or drag line / leash (a drag line or leash is preferred) and walk him gently, but decisively, to his DTO space. Place him there for 1-2 minutes.
After a couple of minutes of Time Out has passed, if your dog is calm, release him from his DTO space or return from your HTO. If he is not calm, walk away for another few seconds before attempting to release him again or come out of your HTO space.
The naughtiness should start to decrease after applying the TO about 5 times. In order to permanently change his behavior, keep applying the TO each time the misbehavior occurs.
If your dog tries to avoid being caught after you say "time out", during the DTO, that's understandable and tends to lessen with time. Just calmly continue after him while repeating "time out" every few seconds until you succeed in putting him in DTO (and then put a drag-line on for next time).
After you are seeing some success with this technique you can leave out the warning cue "enough" and skip directly to timing out.
The TO will only be effective if you are very consistent with using it. This is definitely a case for putting effort in early to save work in the long run! Make double-sure that you and your family are following through with all of the steps each time your dog does the misbehavior.
Make sure that your TO space is boring and/ or that you leaving for the HTO really matters to him. If he really enjoys going to his TO area or doesn’t mind you leaving, then there will be no reason for him to stop misbehaving. If he is frightened of the DTO space or by being taken by his collar or leash to DTO, then he may be too stressed to learn the lesson well and for him it may be best to focus on using a HTO or prevention and teaching an acceptable behavior.
If your dog is trying to get something through the misbehavior you are timing out, make sure that you are timing him out before he gets what he was after. For example, if he eats a steak off of the counter, a DTO following that great prize will probably not have any effect on future "counter surfing" attempts.
Note that if your dog has been repeating a behavior for years, it will likely take longer to diminish using the TO.
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