What is time out?
Time out is a method of dog training that attempts to change dog behaviour by isolating the dog immediately after the unwanted behaviour occurs.
Time out works as a form of negative punishment. This means that something the dog likes is taken away from them in order to reduce an unwanted behaviour. Usually, the ‘thing’ that is taken away is social contact. For example, if the dog jumps up on someone, the dog is removed from any social contact to reduce jumping. The dog is usually taken to a boring room or space which has no other potential rewards such as toys or food.
Why don’t we use time out to change dog behaviour?
Just like other forms of punishment, time out doesn’t work to change the dog’s behaviour as it does not address the underlying issue. It also has a high chance of increasing unwanted behaviours due to creating frustration and anxiety. Other points to consider:
1. Time out doesn’t teach our dogs what we want them to do instead
Reward the dog you want. Focus your energy on rewarding the behaviours you want in your dog and the unwanted behaviours will reduce. For example, I don’t like it when my dogs are underfoot when I am cooking in the kitchen. This is simply because I might trip on them and drop a hot pan or a knife. Instead of using time out to stop them coming into the kitchen, I reward them for being on their mat instead.
2. Change the emotion and you will change the behaviour
Often unwanted behaviours of jumping, barking or destruction occur due to emotions of anxiety or fear. Just like other forms of punishment, time out doesn’t work in addressing the underlying issue. If you have anxiety or fear underlying that behaviour, other unwanted behaviours will crop up after the initial unwanted behaviour stops. This is because the underlying emotion hasn’t been addressed. Not to mention it is a little cruel to respond to fear or anxiety with punishment.
3. Inducing stress or anxiety does not improve behaviour
Many punishment based techniques have an adverse impact on dog welfare. For most set ups of time out, the dog is moved to an area where there is nothing for them to do. No toys, no people, no food, no smells. Dogs are highly social animals, and to be removed from social contact is distressing and this can start to teach them that separation from you is punishment and therefore setting the stage for separation issues to develop.
Trainers who are not committed to modern and force free methods usually recommend time out and teach the humans to not go to the dog if they are barking, whining or crying while in time out. This teaches the dog that when they are upset, they will not be comforted. This reduces the dog’s emotional resilience, which then makes it harder to help our dogs address point 2 above.
From our experience in seeing the application of time out methods, time out causes emotional distress. Some dogs this is seen during the event and/or it is teaching our dog how to feel negatively about situations. For example we have seen many dogs that were timed out as a puppy for jumping on visitors that then develop into dogs that are fearful/reactive to visitors. Another example is a dog that licks a toddlers face and the owners responded with time out for this behaviour. This dog over time developed a fear of a toddler approaching as in their eyes toddler = punishment and discomfort.
There are far better ways to change behaviour that don’t involve stress or anxiety for your dog.
4. What if “rewarding the dog you want” is not working?
In the human world, an alternate way of applying time out is to use it as an opportunity for the child to regain control of their emotions, and this is done with the support and contact of the parent. Ideally, this type of time out is implemented before the child truly looses grip on their emotions and has a tantrum. This is an effective and kind use of time out. Instead of time out, we think of this as chill out time or time to do some dog yoga activity.
A common example of using chill out time is when we have an overtired puppy who is biting us and generally being out of control. An overtired puppy is as emotionally fragile as an overtired human toddler. This isn’t a time to train or teach tired puppies. Instead, we need to help them chill out by giving them a chew in their crate. Many pups are soothed if we are near them, so sit next to the crate and talk to them in a gentle voice while they are having a chew.
Want some help?
We are always here to help with addressing your dog’s unwanted behaviours and anxieties. Our focus is to do this in a way that is kind and effective for the dog. Get in touch with us for more information.