I have often wondered when you put a dog in a time out, what does he actually learn from it. Does he know that he is being removed from the situation because you do not want him to continue with it? Or, does he learn that when you approach him, his fun ends? The latter could result in him running away from you whenever you approach him because he does not generalise it to the activity he was busy with, but rather with you. Sure, removal from the situation/activity would be some sort of ‘punishment’. But the punishment for what exactly, if you look at it from the dog’s perspective?
What is the goal of a time out?
Unlike kids, dogs will not be mulling over their past actions whilst in a time out. For animals any type of ‘punishment’ to work, the timing must be impeccable and consistent. Us humans are everything but consistent, which is why ‘punishment’ is just a very bad idea. In my opinion, using a time out for an animal the same way as you would for a child, is pointless. There is no way for you to guarantee that your dog will learn what you want him to learn through it.
What a time out should be.
A time out should be an opportunity for relaxation and reorganizing. A dog who is anxious, reactive or defensive, should be given a break from what is upsetting them, in a positive and calming environment. Removing them from the situation, to reassure him rather than to ‘punish’ him. Giving him the opportunity and space to collect his ‘thoughts’ and calm down. Giving him the peace of mind that he is safe, and you have his back.
How can we create such a time out?
- Chewing or licking, helps a dog calm down. It releases tension in their jaws and it also serves as a pacifying activity. You can create a lick mat by spreading peanut butter or liver spread onto something with a smooth surface for the dog to lick off. A stuffed Kong, raw bone or green tripe chew will also help.
- Scavenging for treats, scents in an environment away from what was upsetting him. This will get his head down, his neck muscles to relax. This will also engage his olfactory senses and keep his mind stimulated.
- Soothing music on a low volume can be very relaxing for dogs. Through a dog’s ear is a great place to start. There are also playlists on YouTube, especially for pets.
- And the old faithful, my favorite go-to, Ttouch. Have a look here at one of our previous blogs that explain what Ttouch is. T, t, t, Ttouch me… that’s Tellington Ttouch
Dogs will not learn what we want them to learn if we remove them from the activity without replacing it with something that is more acceptable. Dogs will continue with undesired behaviors and activities if we do not remove their access to it, or teach them otherwise. Go ahead and create your dog’s safe, time out space and let us know how it goes.