Time Outs; Why They Work on Your Dog

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Dog In Living RoomTime outs!

Who hasn’t used this parental trick on your kids after they have misbehaved?

I remember having a hard time becoming “potential new step mom” and walking the line between lenient and an ogre and finding that time outs work well on angry, disrespectful 6 year olds.

I would probably never put my hands on my own kids (I don’t have any genetically related) but I would NEVER, ever, ever put my hands on someone else’s kids but I was certainly tested when I entered this new relationship.

I learned to not use my hands (not really my default anyway, even though I got many a beating as a child) and to find the things that meant the most to them.

The same is true of your dog.

You know, I have a love hate relationship with calling dogs children and referring to them as such.

Dogs are dogs and they have a very different set of rules and a very different way of learning.

Yet, I find that most people can’t understand a dog’s behavior until you anthropomorphize it and put it in human or child terms.

If I can explain it to you like your dog is a 5 year old, then most people have that ah HA! moment and can finally understand.

But some things are just standard.

If you are trying to negate or punish a child, adult, or animal; find out what means the most to them and use that as a bargaining chip.

My step daughter, for her it is the computer.

My 16 year old step son, for him it is his video games.

And my oldest step son (when he was at home) for him it was his friends.

For My Dogs

It's always the wet dogs that want to jump!

It’s always the wet dogs that want to jump!

For my dogs it is being with me and engaging and interacting with me.

My dogs love to train, and learn, and play but occasionally they make mistakes.

And, when they were young they made even more mistakes.

When teeth would come out, or they thought they could pounce all over me on the sofa, I taught them that that naughty behavior (I considered that naughty but it all depends on what you want in a dog) = a time out.

They would go outside, or in a crate, or even just in another room (like my bedroom) for a few minutes.

What did they want?

They wanted me to play with them!

In essence their teeth on my skin and their feet rebounding off my kidneys was a way to get me to play with them.  They weren’t trying to eat me alive or hurt me.

Because if I was a dog (remember dogs are dogs and have different ideas of what is okay and standard) nipping, biting, and jumping on me would be the way that they would communicate to me that they wanted to play!  This is how dogs play with each other!  Ever watched dogs play at the dog park, running, running away, play bowing, pouncing, nipping and biting and running is all a way for dogs to play with each other.

And, if I yell, or chase them, or try to grab or hit at them… it might sincerely look to them like I am indeed accepting their invitation to play!

But if I immediately remove them from my presence and put them somewhere, where they are alone; they learn very quickly that the nipping and the jumping doesn’t get them what they want.  In fact they learn that their behavior equals the opposite of what they want.

And, it doesn’t take long!

For kids time outs seem like an eternity with crying and fit throwing and testing.

But for dogs, just a minute or less can be effective.

That is not to say that there are not dogs out there that throw fits!  Some of THE best fits in the history of fits I have seen come from a dog!  But for the most part dogs are more simple and less apt to throw a fit!

In essence you just need to change their mindset and make them feel like they have lost something they wanted.

I still use this technique if I take a dog out to train and he/she doesn’t listen… they come back inside for a time out.

The Exception

Puppies, especially need exercise and mental stimulation!!

Puppies, especially need exercise and mental stimulation!!

The exception to this rule is if you haven’t met your dog’s exercise, physical, and mental needs.

If your dog is wound up tight and you haven’t had a chance to train with him and play with him all day, and especially if he is young chances are a “time out” isn’t going to work miracles!

You are going to bring him out of the room and he is still going to want to force you to play, even if that means being really naughty.  Any way he can to get you to engage with him, even if it means you are chasing and swearing at him!

I honestly ask myself “Did I do everything today to make sure his needs were met?”

And, if I can answer honestly, yes, then I don’t worry about my time out.

If I have to admit I haven’t exercised him (maybe it was cold, or I was sick) then directly after he earns his time out (he should still get a time out for bad behavior), I do whatever I have to to make sure that his exercise and mental needs are met.

So, I take him for a walk, or a run, or play a game of retrieve with him, climb agility obstacles until he is exhausted.

An exhausted dog is much less likely to jump up and bite you, than one that is full of energy.

I also got in the habit of telling myself every time my dog did something naughty, he was truly yearning for some obedience.

So I would work on obedience and tricks, and after a few short weeks I had a very well behaved dog that I could divert with a command (instead of a time out) or a trick to keep the bad behavior from showing up.

The truth is

The truth is if you make time for your dog, for exercise and training then he is less likely to misbehave.

Surely you should be able to devote 20 minute or more to exercise and training each day (some may need a few times a day).

And, when he does misbehave if you take away the thing that he wants the most (YOU) then he will learn more respectful behavior.

But as with anything training and dog ownership takes time, consistency and commitment!

There are 35 Comments

  1. Pamela Frame says:

    It is so true the last sentence of your blog. Most dog owners don’t have or don’t want to spend the time with their dog and wonder why they misbehave. Consistency is the key to training – when I got my Dobe puppy I gave her a few days to settle in and then we went to work with training. We trained several times a day and we still reinforce those commands everyday-hence comes in commitment. Dog ownership is a lifetime commitment and it could last 15-20 years! It is well worth the time you put into it.

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    Pat France Reply:

    Pamela: SOOO TRUE! Unfortunately, people get a dog and all they do is scold them, feed then, walk them and never think of training or playing with them. Fifteen minutes a day of playing is soooo important to you and to the dog. You need the play time too! Training is something people don’t know how to do. Nor do they learn how. So scolding is their way of training. I have a Doggie Bed and Breakfast. I take one dog at a time. They come here with many different levels of training. I am so surprised when dogs never play at home so when them come here, they love it! I have them a relatively short period of time, however, every dog is happy to return to me because we PLAY every day!

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    Minette Reply:

    Thank you :) I appreciate anyone who enjoys what I write and you are correct, it is a lifetime commitment for me as well!

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  2. Jeannie says:

    One of the gifts of having a pack of dogs (rather than just one or two), is getting to watch how they interact. If the established dogs are decently trained, they also help train the newbies. When a dog oversteps, say barking and nipping too enthusiastically, even the smallest dogs in our pack respond by stepping toward, standing still and giving a couple of distinct, sharp barks. It’s neither playful or aggressive.i use this technique too, saying “no, no, no!” as I move toward them, stand over them and stand still. That’s it, then we’re done. This seems to work well.

    I crate train for house training, which is essentially a kind of time out – once they’ve pottied outside they can stay out of the crate and play. They’ve all been pretty easy to train this way (although it doesn’t seem easy in the moment!).

    As far as dogs being different from humans – yes, of course they are, but on the other hand, behavioral principles apply to everything from a lab rat to an adult human consistently. It’s good not to confuse a dog with a human child, but a lot of what dogs have taught me does apply just as much to humans. It probably isn’t the worst mistake you could make.

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    Minette Reply:

    Agreed! I often compare dogs to people or children even… although they are intrinsically different, the same ideals apply.

    And, I have found writing this blog that people have a hard time understanding dogs; but once I compare a dog to a toddler… they have that AH HA moment that they need in order to better understand and be kind to their dog.

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  3. Kim Reilly says:

    Love the time out! I have successfully used this method with my adopted Aussie to the point that all I have to do is say ‘Time out….GO!” and point in the direction of the bathroom. He walks himself into the bathroom, usually grumbling all the way there, but is a better dog when he comes out a minute or two later.

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  4. Melissa Lemler says:

    I have a foster I’ve had for more than 4 months now and sounds like it’ll still be a few months :( I will be honest – he’s a good dog, especially when I take time to work on his obedience, but I simply do not like him. Main reason being, he is too peopley and cuddly. He wants to be with me all the time. I’m constantly tripping over him and stepping on him as he follows me all over the house. I had to make the bathroom off limits for my “sanity’s” sake. When I first got him he was an avid, non-stop licker, which I did not put up with, so he’s so much better now. I do use time out on him (usually a laydown, stay) and yes, he uses the rejected, hurt puppy eyes (which does not melt me), and being shut in the garage by himself is another method that seems effective. Everything about this dog is compulsive – no happy medium. If I pet him, as soon as I take my hand away, he demands more so I hafta tell him “no” or “get”, and that’s annoying, so I generally avoiding petting him…to sum it up, I have this dog that is crazy about people, attention, licking is well under control now (whew!), sitting under me, on my feet, leaning on me, staring at me, following me everywhere, extremely social, even with dogs…I just don’t like his personality or that extreme adoration. Do I just hafta put up with him for the next few months, or am I doing something wrong. (I did rescue him from living alone in kennel with concrete floor which he did for his whole life as far as I understand.)

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    Minette Reply:

    Return him to the organization and find another foster rescue.

    Many of us would LOVE to have a dog that is cuddly and he will be easy to place with someone who wants that kind of relationship.

    I think there are many more people who want an affectionate dog than those who want an aloof dog, so return this one and find one that suits your needs to foster.

    But to me this is not a behavior problem and should not be seen as something that needs “fixed”; he should be embraced for who he is just as much as a dog that doesn’t like snuggling should be forced to be hugged and snuggled.

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    Petra Reply:

    Minette. What you have written actually makes my heart hurt. Eventually this sweet guy will feel less abandoned and starved for ANY attention. I so hope that someone embraces him for who he has become as a result of outside unfortunate circumstances. A little more work but there are so many ways to blend setting your boundaries with his precious enthusiasm. You are a lucky human to have experienced his adoration at all.

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    Minette Reply:

    I think you are meaning to address Melissa… I was the one who said many people would love to have this dog! :) and it should be with someone who loves and appreciates him

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    Jess Reply:

    Oh dear, you are so lucky to have him. I simply do not see anything wrong with this fur baby. I have 3 poodles and all of them love to follow us anywhere we go. They will lay down by our side while we were busy doing some paper work or some washing in the kitchen. They will also follow us to the bathroom but when we commanded them to stay, they will just stay or move around the area outside the bathroom. They love to lay down right at our foot. Perhaps they do lick us too especially when we are back from shopping. Isn’t this a way to tell you he loves you or rather miss you? I may be wrong but I personally feel my fur babies are lovely. Since you said you had rescued him from living alone in the kennel, that tells you he is so afraid to be alone. Give him time to adapt to his new home, time to allow him to understand he will never be left alone again and you are there for him. They are dogs, they do not understand our language, they need time to understand you, to have confident on you.

    My only problem is I still did not manage to potty train one of my girl that have been with us for a year now. Sometimes she will do it right but many times she will just poo on the floor. This is a headache for me actually.

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  5. Dodie Schaub says:

    I so needed this today!I am really struggling with my 9 month old Mountain Mastiff. I will try the Time Out, Thanks!

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  6. jackiewhite says:

    i have a boxer pit mix,boxer mastiff mix 8 and 10 months old rescue dogs,the mastiff mix does not do anything he doesn’t want to do verry stubborn.how do i control that behavior.

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    Minette Reply:

    Read this http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/deny-dog-life/

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  7. Debbie Carlson says:

    Dodie – LOL!! In September I rescued an American Bulldog/ Rottweiler mix and the lady at the shelter called her a “mastiff-type”, so I know what you mean about “struggling.” She’s a two-year old 80-pound bundle of love and energy and was getting into the habit of running up to me and barking loudly in my face to demand outside time. I adopted the timeout method instinctively and said “timeout!” and pointed the way to her crate and off she goes. Because this is the only thing her crate is used for anymore, it’s dedicated to timeout and she’s adopting methods other than face-barking for getting us to let her out. Hang in there!

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  8. Jo Ann Granger says:

    This was so inspiring for me this morning. I have a over the top Aussi Shepard who is insane for water and mud etc. She also digs all over and is destroying my yard. This dog was brought up in the City, living her whole 1st year in a crate, alone all day in a small confining house and a very small space to be able to go out in. She was loved, but is so active that when we got her she has now has 15 acres to run on, but a very small house which is not conducive to water and mud. This has given me some hope and ideas to use. If there are any other suggestions I would love them. This is a very loving, sweet dog who is now into her 3rd year. Extremely active, and very smart, w/some basic training. The water/mud thing is not fun. Thanks for all the tips.

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    Minette Reply:

    I would try the flirt pole with your dog as well. Read this and it has a brief description of flirt poles and I am going to add another as well; since 3 of you mention prey drive :)

    http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/exercise-dragon-oops-puppy/

    http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/teasing-bad-lesson-building-excitement/

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    Irene Reply:

    Muddi feet
    My son wipes the feet of his dogs as they come in the house with a damp rag. It is delight to see the dogs lift all fours one by one to get wiped

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    Minette Reply:

    Read this 😉 http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/muddy-paw-syndrome-teaching-dog-wipe-paws/

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  9. Maria Rosa says:

    Thanks Minette;

    I have such admiration for you and the knowledge you share. Training my 11 month old German Shep. puppy has been a real challenge with nipping, jumping, and tantrums. Your way of reasoning with us helps us to understand that sometimes he is communicating lets go play. You’re correct concerning time out; we’ve used baby gates for a territorial chair, beds where our cat is allowed while he is learning to be easy or gentle. Also, I tell him if he is ready to use his good manners he can come back in. We realize all the time outdoors playing, training, running, walking are what he likes and needs to do. So if he gets over excited inside you’re right, access why he may be behaving as such.

    Your blog has given me ideas that keep me remembering as a teacher to listen to your student, watch his/her behavior, and do what I always say to my puppy dog, “Be patient.” Time out for just a few minutes is important. I find when we go into his pen when playing fetch, he really wants to play or go for a walk. Digging, for example, may happen without achieving distraction. I have found myself saying, “do you want to go inside?” If he still wants to play he will pick up a ball. If he hasn’t exercised enough I may tell him if he is good I will take him for a walk. Either way he is realizing that he makes the decision to “misbehave” or not outside.

    Also, if I am not paying attention when getting fresh water for outside play or looking at a hawk, I may get jumped or tugged on. Assessing the reason he is acting like a dog helps me to realize all the more just how important it is to make sure we are taking care of the needs of our loved ones. Thanks again for all you are giving to help us both be the best we can be!

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Awww! Thank you Maria!!! I am so glad I can help. Sometimes when I sit down to write I wonder if what I am doing makes a difference and this tells me it is!

    I have high drive dogs as well and I use a flirt pole, often, to wear them out, not to mention obedience for a ball throw :)

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  10. Great article, I can really relate to how people just sometimes can’t wrap their heads around a behavior until you compare it to something a child would do..I think your article would have been a little more well rounded if you talked a little about the importance of emotional exercise for your dogs and pups..when you engage their prey drive it helps to not only build a strong foundation with your dog it drains them emotionally, which I think is more important that physical exercise..again great writing and thanks for allowing me to voice my opinion. All the best.

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    Minette Reply:

    I’m hoping you mean mentally exhausting… emotionally exhausting things usually aren’t things we strive for, at least in the way I think of emotionally draining (like losing a loved one is emotionally draining).

    I do have a whole article on mental stimulation here http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/mental-exercise-tires-dog-physically-physical-exercise/

    I tend to try and keep my articles short sometimes because people lack time, although I always hope I am not missing something 😉

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  11. Fiona says:

    Awesome! Our new pup really benefitted from this reminder today. Hungry, overstimulated from a busy day yesterday, I thought she just needed to rest. Breakfast and a little romp toy-play stopped the mouthing ( at me) and snapping at our other GD(Vic) Dog.
    Great reminder! Thanks

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  12. I am so glad that i found your site as it has been a long time since we have had a puppy and even longer since we had a large puppy and i find myself getting upset with him as i subconciously expect more from him, forgetting he is just six weeks old..( even though he looks like he is three months old) so i have to take a step back and remind myself he is just a baby relax.. with that being said i use the kennel which he took to way better then i expected , when he comes and sits between my feet on the floor and begins to chew on my hands. i take him to his crate for about five minutes then i let him out and sit on the floor with him and introduce his toy. so far so good he has instead brought me his toy and goes to the point in the room where i sit and waits for me then we play.. so thank you potty training well i think we have a ways to go still …he is very stubborn.
    .

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  13. How I love this Blog, our mix St. Bernard, who you helped me with during a training session that I had enrolled, is really getting to be a handful. His exercise time has been limited due to my increased work hours and harsh winter. At least I now feel most of his barking is his way of saying where is our time together.I have visited the site regarding barking dogs and hope to use the techniques you suggested. I give him as much time as possible but even I need more then 5hrs of sleep. May will see and end to this crazy schedule and I hope to the end of a hyper dog.

    You do a great job in helping us! Thank you!

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Try the flirt pole method and teaching him to retrieve will be helpful. Even when it is cold, I can take my dogs out for 20 minutes of hard play and retrieve training. We bundle up and hit the grass and I can even play when it is dark. 20 minutes of retrieve training AND basic training together is exhausting for my dogs and then I can get things done.

    Even if you can only find 5 minutes at a time (while you watch commercials) if you train or play you will notice a difference.

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  14. Thank you for the info, had to laugh re 5 minutes, while watching commercials, don’t have tv service, can’t seem to work tv into my day. He loves the snow, so am taking him out for romps since school is cancelled, he is getting more time with me, at the moment I have a tired dog, asleep and apparently happy. Will work on the retrieve training. Love that I can continue to ask for help and receive an answer so quickly. We are truly lucky to have someone like you in the corner for our dogs/fur babies.

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  15. Hilda M Dawson says:

    I recently adopted a beautiful Golden retriever who was about five months old. I have had her now for five months and she is not the cuddly type, but she is constantly biting or nipping my husband, nothing I do stops it. She jumps up on both of us and sometimes listens but more often not. I have trained her to sit, laydown and stay with a clicker. If she plays in the house with a toy she gets frantic, she still is chewing everything she can get in her mouth. I have to give her bones constantly to help with this. I am almost at my wits end. I love her dearly and she is a beautiful dog but at almost 100 pounds now, its difficult to control her. My husband is 80 and I am 73 so we are worried about her unintentinally imjuring us. I will not return her to the pound, since they don’t take very good care of them. I have quite a bit of money invested in her with spaying, shots etc. ny advice would be helpful Thanks.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    She is telling you she needs more. More real exercise, more real training and more time.

    Hook her to a scooter and run her, teach her as many tricks as you can, take a training class, take her to doggy day care. All of those will work.

    And, although doggy day care is more expensive, she will get worn out without you having to do anything but drop her off and let her play.

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    Hilda M. Dawson Reply:

    We don’t have a doggy care center here, nor training class’s. we also have a lot of snow so the scooter is not an option at present. Would another dog to play with help? I’m afraid if I don’t get her under control soon, my husband is going to insist I give her to another home. My vet says she is a full blooded golden retriever/no papers. A beautiful dog which I love very much. Thanks.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    You need to find a way to meet your dog’s exercise needs; another dog, training, physical activity or whatever it takes

  16. David Barnes says:

    We have two pitbulls one is a female 3 years old the other is a 13 week old male.the Problem we are having is that every time they’re together they want to play rough the puppy is always biting at her neck and she allows this until she has had too much and then she will scold him, the other problem is when the older dog has a bone or a toy he wants it even if he has a toy of his own,but he can’t stand the older dog to have anything, so he will go over to the older dog and sit there and bark at her face for ever or until we put him in his crate, and then we will let him out after 5 or 10 minutes, then the same thing happens all over again,please tell us how do we stop this behavior thank you.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    I put my puppies on a leash and don’t allow them to abuse my older animals.

    I also make sure they are tired so they don’t have the desire to do naughty things.

    Puppies have to do something with their time, either you are working to make sure your dog is tired or they are trying to find ways to entertain themselves.

    Your puppy is saying he needs more one on one time with you for training and he needs more exercise!

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  17. jackson says:

    Hope this works but if it dosent stil thanks!!!

    [Reply]

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