How To Implement Puppy Time Outs
Updated: Apr 6
If you’ve got a toddler, or even experienced being around one, you know how important timeout can be in behaviour management. A lot of people don’t realise this, but it’s exactly the same with dogs. Timeouts are a very effective method which can be utilised to suppress behaviour in your dog that you’d rather they not have. Some studies from clearly messed up scientists have shown that, when used correctly, timeouts are just as effective as electric shock in suppressing undesirable behaviour in dogs. We’d much rather you use time outs. Even if you don’t do the timeouts, please don’t electrocute your dog. Science is sometimes messed up. Anyway...
This is due to several factors, the first being that dogs are social creatures and hold in high regard things like social contact with humans, other animals and familiar places. Being removed from these even for just a brief period can cause mild distress to the dog and they’ll work really hard to avoid this.
Often when they’re trying to get our attention and wanting to play, dogs will trample all over social boundaries and start biting, jumping up, pawing at you and barking in an effort to grab your attention because they crave it. By giving time outs it allows the humans to set up and enforce these social boundaries where any violation of them result in a complete loss of the social privileges for a small time. The dog then learns that these annoying behaviours aren’t wanted and that they’d instead have the opposite effect of being put in isolation. They learn to find more productive ways to get your attention.
When your dog is in time out, it’ll be removed from anything that they might find reinforcing to these bad behaviours such as human contact, affection, play, treats or training. This includes accidental reinforcement by humans. For example even so much as looking at a barking dog who’s looking for attention is enough for them to think that barking gets you to interact with them.
Having a time out allows your dog to learn the consequences of its own actions. For example if you're using timeouts to counteract a behaviour such as barking, each and every time your dog barks he is placed in time out. When he’s allowed back into the group he gets all his freedom, cuddles, strokes and treats back for as long as he remains calm and quiet - further barking episodes result in another time out.
Now in order for time outs to be effective there are several factors that have to come into play and be considered. The first is that you need to mark the behaviour. This means that you need to help your dog identify exactly which behaviour it is that has earned them the time out. This can be achieved by using a word or phrase, such as “Time out” or “Enough” at the exact moment your dog creates the undesirable behaviour. After this immediately grab their collar or lead and place the dog in their time out. The use of this marker signal helps your dog connect the unpleasant time out to the behaviour that put him there in the first place.
It’s important to use the marker correctly, if not then it will confuse your dog and may cause unwanted side effects. For example if you walk downstairs to find your favourite shoes chewed up on the mat, it’s completely futile to start the time out then as your dog might have done it a while before you noticed, so it won't be able to connect the dots at all. It has to be during the bad behaviour that you give the time out so that it understands very plainly which behaviour resulted in the time out.
Dogs learn through repeated behaviour, so time outs are absolutely no exception to this rule. If your dog has firm behaviours, such as if they’re a few years old before you start giving time outs, then this may take a while. Several repetitions of time outs may be required to dislodge the bad behaviour and make your dog get the message. Consistency is key with these time outs and if a particular behaviour is punished with a time out sometimes and other times rewarded with affection such as cuddles or strokes then your dog will be confused and your efforts will be wasted. It’s unreasonable to expect your dog to learn what they did wrong in one or two repetitions.
Duration is key and timeouts should not last more than 3 minutes, typically one or two minutes is fine. You can also wait until your dog has been calm and quiet for a small period, around 15 to 30 seconds. In the first instances it’s not unusual for it to take a while for your dog to calm down, however if you don’t wait until this happens then it’ll only reinforce the idea in your dogs head that this behaviour will get them out of time out. Do not allow your dog out of time out until they stop barking, whining, scratching, jumping up or otherwise acting up. Reinforce the good behaviour and this will guarantee future occurrences.
Time out should take place in an undesirable location; away from anything your dog
may find reinforcing. Simply placing your dog outside provides an opportunity for them to engage in the outdoor environment with things such as chasing some birds, digging holes or running around and chewing on things.
Some of the best venues for time out include toilets, bathrooms and laundries. To
further reinforce the loss of privileges you might also close the dog’s lead in the
doorjamb, allowing enough room to sit and stand but not wander around the room.
If you must use outdoors for a time out venue then the dog should be tethered to a
post or heavy object somewhere boring (such as a sideway) with nothing close by
that he could find reinforcing.
Occasionally you may find yourself in a situation where you cannot time your dog out
in the usual manner because a small boring room may not be available, for example
when you are out on a walk. In these circumstances you can still deliver a very
effective time out if the need arises. Simply give your dog the usual time out cue (Too
Bad, Time Out or Enough) and give your dog the cold shoulder. Do not look at your
dog, talk to your dog or touch your dog for approximately 1-2 minutes. If your dog
solicits your attention turn your head away, fold your arms across your chest and snub
Assuming it is safe to do so, you could tether your dog somewhere boring away from
you. Alternatively, you could also step in his lead whilst ignoring him to prevent him
from engaging in the environment and gaining inadvertent reinforcement.
For time outs to be effective, your dog needs to lose some social benefits. For example if you frequently shout at, scold or punish your dog when he’s not in a time out then the time out itself becomes a good thing to get away from your own negative behaviour, or what they see as negative behaviour. Due to this, time out has to be THE punishment. Any time your dog isn’t in time out needs to be filled with rewarding experiences. It needs to be an environment that they want to be in, otherwise the punishment becomes a break, or a safe zone so even if you have loud young children running around, that can be chaotic for your dog so you should try to limit this environment, otherwise the time out will become a moment of peace.
Remember, dogs learn through repetition! Reinforcing the correct behaviour also means that while your dog is doing the right things that you reward him for it. Many people pay the most attention to the worst behaviours and totally ignore the good stuff! When you catch him lying quietly reward him, this will make lying quietly more likely to happen again. If timeout is not working for you then the chances are that you are not doing it right since this method has been scientifically proven to suppress unwanted behaviour. When used correctly this method of punishment is far more effective than any other method.