How to Give Your Dog a Time-out

Learn how to use time-outs to help your dog learn better behavior.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #87

I imagine pretty much everyone’s familiar, in a general way, with the concept of a time-out. Time-outs can come in handy with dogs as well as with toddlers and hockey players. This week, how time-outs function, how to do them with your dog, and why any punishment, even one as mild as a time-out, gets a caution label.

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Should You Use Time-outs with Your Dog?

In a time-out, your dog briefly loses the opportunity to interact with people or other animals in the household. Or he briefly loses the chance to be at large in the house. Or both. In technical terms of learning theory, a time-out is a punishment--that is, it’s a consequence you apply to a behavior that makes it less likely the behavior will happen again later.

How to Give Your Dog a Time-out

Time-outs can help with training a dog who has crummy social skills. For instance, I’m working with an adolescent dog now who’s basically friendly but knows only one way to interact with people: he chews on us. We’re giving him lots of outlets for the urge to chew. We’re also making sure to play with him and give him tons of attention as long as he doesn’t put his teeth on us. And we’re teaching him manners and tricks to improve his overall behavior and tire out his brain. But every single time his teeth touch skin, his people tell him “Too bad!” and lead him to his time-out spot. They tether him there and ignore him for a few moments before letting him be with them again.

You Can Use Time-outs for a Dog Who Pesters Other Dogs

Or suppose you have an older dog who’s not assertive, and you adopt a puppy or young dog who’s full of beans and a bit of a play pest. Your newbie dog invites the older dog to play with him, and she responds by looking away or even leaving the room. In short, she says “No thanks.” But Newbie Dog follows Older Dog and paws her, or jumps on her, or barks in her face. Too bad for Newbie Dog! He gets a time-out.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).