Timeouts in dog training

How to Use Timeouts Effectively

Renee Premaza, Dip., CB,CCBT
Dog Obedience Trainer www.jerseydogtrainer.com


A timeout is considered negative punishment, in which something is withdrawn from the dog that he considers as reinforcing. Timeouts are used to manage common behavioral problems, like attention-seeking or excessive and competitive behaviors.


There are 2 types of timeouts. Simply put, (1) you can either withdraw your attention from the dog by turning your back on him or going into a closed room and leaving the dog alone; or (2) you can bring the dog into an isolated area and then leave him there alone. Personally, I prefer choice #1 because there is no physical handling of the dog, and it avoids any confrontation with him. Timeouts should last for no more than 30-60 seconds. If the dog is isolated for too much time, he’ll merely go to sleep and will not have learned anything from it.

Keep in mind when doing a timeout, your timing is critically important. The timeout has to occur no later than 1/2 second of the behavior. Because you want your dog to associate *that* behavior with being totally alone, you’ve got to be quick about it. Behaviors happen quickly, so if your timing is poor, you could be issuing a punishment for something the dog did that was *good*, like sitting. When doing timeouts, use a “bridge” word, like “timeout” or “too bad.”

For timeouts to be effective, you need to be consistent. If, for example, your dog is barking in your face demanding your attention, you need to disappear everytime he barks at you. You can’t withdraw your attention one time and the next time you don’t. Be consistent. Also, it’s critically important that no emotion be used during this process! No hollering, no physical pushing or pulling should be used. You want the dog to associate being isolated *with his behavior* and not with your emotions.

If you find that after doing timeouts over and over, that this isn’t working to improve the situation, you’ve got to do find an alternative method to teach the dog a more appropriate response. Seek the help of a professional trainer! Don’t try to work it out yourself unless you are knowledgeable about the psychology of learning theory.

Here are a few suggestions regarding behaviors where timeouts would be indicated: (1) dog barks demandingly for attention; (2) dog play bites; (3) dog jumps on people; (4) dog licks people excessively; (5) dog constantly paws people for attention; (6) dog behaves inappropriately with other resident dogs (for this, take the dog to a spot well-away from the other dogs and remove his ability to play for 30-60 seconds); (7) dog repeatedly ignores obedience cues and has been well-trained and you are sure he understands what he’s being asked to do; (8) dog bites angrily (calmly remove the dog to a bathroom without causing confrontation. Return to the dog after both he and you have chilled out. If your dog is biting or threatening to bite, please seek the help of a professional trainer or behaviorist!).

Copyright 2004 by Renee Premaza

Author: Amy Dunphy

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