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Using Time-Outs to Stop Unwanted Behavior in Dogs

Generally speaking - all animals repeat behaviors that are rewarding while behaviors that are not rewarded tend to fade and extinguish; therefore controlling consequences is the key to controlling behavior.

All this really means is:

If you want to see a behavior more often – reward it.

If you want a behavior to stop – find out what the reward is and take it away.

The reward dogs often seek and receive for exhibiting the following behaviors is 'attention'; therefore the best way to stop these behaviors is to take ‘attention’ away using time-outs.

Why use time-outs: One big advantage to the 'time-out' is that it is a mild form of punishment unlikely to make your dog fearful or aggressive.  The 'time-out' by its very definition is also the most effective way to put a stop to attention seeking behaviors.

How to time-out:  When time-out has been called you will need to take your attention away from your dog.  You can do this by turning your back and completely ignoring your dog or separating yourself from your dog.  Here are some options available for separation: simply walk away from your dog; put your dog in another room or go into another room yourself; put your dog outdoors; put your dog in a crate or exercise pen; leash your dog to a specific spot.  The best option is one that will provide adequate control. For example: if turning your back and ignoring your dog doesn't stop the behavior you will need to separate yourself from your dog.

The time-out is most effective when the following criteria are met:

  1. The time-out must be called and started as the unwanted behavior starts.  Delays of even a few seconds can compromise the effectiveness.
  2. Time-outs must be delivered consistently.  For example, every time your dog mouths your hand you must take your attention away.
  3. Time-outs should last 30-seconds to 2-minutes.  Longer time-outs may interfere with learning.
  4. Negative attention is still attention.  Don’t tell your dog what a bad boys he’s been, throw any nasty glances his direction or spend time trying to wrestle a jumping dog down.
  5. If your dog self-rewards by resorting to mischievous acts during the time-out period you will need to provide a time-out space that is completely void of fun stuff to do.  A crate is perfect for this; a bathroom or laundry room can work well too – just make there’s nothing your dog likes within reach.  You could also use a leash to keep to your dog in a specific area. If your dog likes to chew the leash, a nylon coated cable can be used instead.

The Learning Curve:  If time-outs are delivered according to these criteria it will probably take 7-12 trials before your dog makes a strong connection between his actions and the consequence.  Once a strong connection has been made you should see a rapid decrease in the behavior.

The Dogs Side: Sometimes dogs exhibit attention seeking behavior because they are generally ignored otherwise.  If you feel this rings true for your family be sure to schedule quality time with your dog everyday and read the Doggie Boredom Prevention article on my website.

Cynthia Edgerly, owner of Bingo! Dog Training in Watsonville, CA, is a Professional Dog Trainer & Certified Dog Behavior Consultant.

Bingo Dog Training proudly provides boarding school for dogs, private dog lessons, group training classes and dog behavior help in the following California cities: santa cruz, prunedale, aromas, freedom, corralitos, seaside, marina, pacific grove, scotts valley, watsonville, castroville, salinas, carmel, aptos, soquel, ben lomond, felton, pebble beach.