Players of organized sports suffer penalties for misbehavior. Penalty yards in football, ejection in hockey and being sidelined in basketball are all examples of ‘removal’ as punishment. Isolation as a penalty works as well for dogs as for people. A timeout is a social isolation for a short period that serves as an actual penalty, unlike simply saying “NO”, a timeout IS a penalty, a loss of access or freedom that curbs misbehavior without the side effects of ‘scary’ aversive punishments that frighten dogs into freezing and avoidance.
Traditionally behaviors you are looking to suppress respond well to timeouts. Things such as; jumping up, begging at tables/plates, nipping at ankles and hands, and demand barking can all be curbed using timeouts.
The following steps should be followed to train with timeouts.
The best way to begin using timeouts is to do them in the context of a setup. For example don’t try to train a dog to leave you alone when you are eating by trying to practice it when you are hungry and trying to eat. Instead, produce a situation that looks just like dinner, but in reality is a training scenario where you are not hungry and the goal is not “to eat”, but to train the dog.
DEFINE YOUR CRITERIA
Decide ahead of time which behaviors will earn the dog a timeout. For example, if you wish to curb begging at the table, decide WHAT exactly constitutes begging. BE SPECIFIC-some examples would be; paws on human, nose on human, paws or nose on table or within 1 foot of table and barking. Once you have done that, you have given yourself a mental picture of what you are going to be watching for, it will be easier to mark it and give your timeout.
LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION!
How and Where you deliver your timeout is important. Leash your dog before beginning-If your dog is leashed, you won’t have to play “greased pig” trying to grab him to move him to the timeout area. Secondly, if he is leashed, you can give a timeout by slipping his leash loop end onto any doorknob in the house. Your timeout area should be sufficiently away from the action, to get the point across, but close enough to facilitate easy execution of the exercise. Don’t plan on sending the dog to the yard, or kennel if it takes more than 10 seconds to get there.
“SORRY, TOO BAD, BUH BYE”
You’ll need to pick a word or phrase to use to mark the behavior that earns your dog the penalty. Don’t use simply “no”. Your marker word need not be emotional, the WORD isn’t the punishment, the social isolation that follows it is. The Timing of the word as the behavior happens, helps the dog to have the ‘light bulb’ moment of realizing what brought on the successive penalty.
Good penalty words can be “sorry”, “too bad”, “yucky”, or “Buh Bye!”
Each timeout should be only about a minute, and repeated numerous times in succession until the dog self inhibits the behavior. Remember to mark the behavior with your timeout word and deliver the timeout ASAP!. Typically 3-12 timeouts might be necessary.
Michele Herman is a Dog Trainer who teaches progressive, non-violent dog training. She is the creator of