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Time out!

October 04, 2012 at 4:35 PM

Time-outs can be a great training tool to control unwanted behavior. They work especially well for behaviors motivated by desire for social contact (such as nipping or jumping up) and for self-reinforcing behaviors (like barking and or chasing the cat). In order for time-outs to work, they must be applied each and every time a behavior occurs.

Leroy jumping upTo institute a time-out policy for one of your dog’s behaviors, first have everyone in the household agree exactly what earns your pup her time-out. You want your dog to stop jumping up on you and your guests, but do you count a no-contact jump as a jump? What about a half-jump? Do you want to teach your dog not to jump in your presence at all, or just not to jump on you? Make sure everyone is on the same page so that you can be consistent.

Once you’ve agreed what the punishable behavior looks like, you’ll need to decide on the time-out location. A small uninteresting room like a bathroom or laundry room work well, as does your dog’s crate. Make sure there’s nothing in the time-out area that your pup could amuse herself with during her time-out, like toilet paper rolls or an easily accessible trash can. After you’ve identified your puppy’s lock-down area, you can get started.

The very next time your dog jumps up, say “Time-out” in a firm, matter-of-fact (but not angry) voice, and escort your canine cad to jail. Close the door and wait 30 seconds. If your dog is quiet after 30 seconds, let him out and go back to doing whatever you were doing when he jumped up. The very best thing that could happen to you is that he jumps up again. You, fortified with the success of your last time-out, will calmly say “Time-out” and guide Rover back to lock-down. As with all dog training, learning happens with repetition. Many, many repetitions.

If your dog barks, whines, scratches at the door or otherwise communicates her unhappiness during her time-out, do not let her out of jail until she’s been quiet for 30 seconds. This step can be difficult for owners with vocal pups and soft hearts (or impatient neighbors), but it is absolutely vital. If you let your dog out of time-out while she is barking, she’ll learn that the way to get out of time-out is to bark. You must not reinforce (by letting her out) behavior that you don’t like (barking). It may take 5 or 10 or 30 minutes for your pup to calm down. However long it takes (it will seem like an eternity), trust in the power of extinction. When barking doesn’t work, barking will cease. Wait until your pup has been quiet for 30 seconds (sing the Alphabet Song in your head), and then let her out. Go about your business as usual.

Be prepared to give many, many time-outs the first day you institute your new rule. Revel in the knowledge that each time your dog makes a mistake, he’s learning part of a lesson. You might give 10 or 15 time-outs the first day, but you’ll be giving significantly fewer in the days that follow, eventually you’ll only be timing-out your dog every once in a while for his transgression.

As your dog starts to learn his lesson, the first connection he’ll make is between the words “Time-out” and going to jail. You’ll know your dog is getting this when he starts heading for the hills as soon as you say those magic words. For this reason, it’s useful to preemptively keep a drag-line (a light weight 4 or 6 foot leash attached to your dog’s collar that he drags behind him) on your dog when you are together. (Don’t keep the drag-line on your dog if you aren’t around to supervise him, as he could get tangled up and hurt himself.) That way, when your pup jumps up you can grab or step on the drag line before you say “Time-out” and prevent his escape, or catch him more quickly if he gets away from you anyway. (If your dog is a leash-chewer, try spraying the leash with Bitter Apple once a day for a few days.)

Once your dog is trying to escape when he hears the time-out cue, it’s only a few more repetitions before he makes the connection between the jumping, the time-out cue, and the resulting time-out. You’ll start to see a marked decrease in his jumping up behavior.

As you celebrate your discipline and consistency in giving your dog a time-out each and every time she jumps up, make sure you also give her an alternative. Originally, she was jumping up on you to greet you, to get close to your face, to smell where you’ve been. Teach her the right way to say hello and get your attention. Be on the look-out for any appropriate greetings so you can reward them when they happen. What constitutes an appropriate greeting is up to you. I think it’s charming when my dogs sit and look at me adoringly while their tails wag with barely-contained euphoria, so when they do that, I give them lots of cuddles and love and praise. You might be happy with a dog that approaches you with all four paws on the floor, and choose to reward that behavior. Be discriminating with your attention.

Finally, don’t become so enthralled with the power of the time-out that you use it for everything. Time-outs should be used for one specific behavior at a time.

Tags: positive reinforcement jumping up negative punishment polite greetings
Category: How to