Time Out

All punishment is mischief; all punishment in itself is evil.

Jeremy Bentham

Brittany Graham Photography
Brittany Graham Photography

So you’ve just caught your new puppy chewing on something in appropriate.  Or perhaps you’ve just cleaned up yet another mess on the floor that your Dachshund has left for you.  Maybe your Beagle won’t stop barking.  Whatever the behavior, I’m noticing a trend among how to handle the situation, and I hate it.

Put the dog in a time out.

You are punishing your dog by putting them “jail”.  For a crime they don’t even realize they committed!  Remember, you are asking your dog to be a human.  To insinuate themselves in a human world with human things and behaviors.  And you are punishing them for failing to be human.  

Is it symbolic?
Is it symbolic?

Ask yourself why you’re putting your dog in a time-out.  Is it so they know what they did was bad?  But was it?

Dogs are incapable of being bad.  There is no such thing.  They know love, devotion and happiness.  They know fear, hunger and pain.  However, they have no concept of bad.  Something is either accepted or it isn’t. It’s an unemotional answer to an unemotional question.  So rather than punish your dog for asking a question, such as “Can I chew on this?”, why not just answer their question?  And then be done with it.

For example, the puppy who is chewing on something inappropriate, simply use your body language to “claim” whatever it is they are engaged with, (as in, “No, you may not have that”).  Once they accept the answer, you are done  Now, in the case of a puppy, they will probably go right back to the thing that is verboten.  Puppies have the attention span of a Bartlett pear – that’s why they’re called “puppies” instead of “adult dogs”.  Answer their question again using the body language. Once they accept the answer, immediately remove the item.  Take your G.I. Joes and go home, in other words. You’ve now removed their opportunity to ask the question again, which would force you to answer the question.  Again.  Ad nauseam.

Your puppy is still going to want to have something to do, so let’s give them something appropriate.  This is a great opportunity to show them exactly what will earn them some positive attention.  Pick a toy and engage them with it for a bit (ie, play with it), and then let them have it.  If they start chewing on it, reward them with some positive attention.

Engage with your pup
Engage with your pup to get them interest in a more appropriate item
Allow them to play on their own
Give them a chance to go it alone.

 

Now for some positive
Give positive reinforcement for their ability to occupy themselves with an appropriate toy.

Tip: when I have a dog under 12 months in the house, I only keep 1/3 of all toys out for them.  The rest are kept away.  I then rotate the toys every 3-4 hours.  Result – everything old is new again, and nothing inappropriate gets chewed. 

Now, that’s not to say I have never locked my dogs up.  Sparta gets sent to her mudroom.  But it’s not to punish her.  It’s so I don’t punish her.  Remember that part where you take your G.I. Joes and go home?  Well, if Sparta is barking out the window (let’s face it, the weather has warmed up and there is a lot of activity outside for the first time in a while), then I will answer her question (“Can I bark?”) using my body language.  Once she accepts the answer, I take my G.I. Joes and go home.  In this instance, I know Sparta’s limitations – that’s why I’m her Pilot.  Rather than giving her negative body language for every threat person who walks by our house, I simply remove her from the situation. I let her calm down a bit so I don’t have to give her negatives.

That’s different than simply sending her there because she’s barking. I answered her question before putting her in her mudroom, rather than avoiding the question she’s asking.  In a little bit, I’m going to let her back out.  When I’m prepared to answer her questions again.  I’ve controlled the situation before adding more stimulation, as outlined here. If I simply try to blunder my way through it, continuously answering her questions without a break, I’m going to lose my temper.

Yeah...you realize nobody likes you when you're angry.
Yeah…you realize nobody likes you when you’re angry.

So instead of Hulking it out, I’m going to give myself a time out by removing Sparta from the situation.

...and that it's okay to take a break!
…and that it’s okay to take a break!

While we’re both chilling in separate areas from the house, I’ll give her something to do. Maybe a bone.  Maybe a Kong.  After a bit, I’m calmed down, and she isn’t as focused on the people outside.  She may eventually ask again about the people outside, but I’m in a better frame of mind to answer her questions unemotionally, which leads to a better experience for all of us.

Which is more my cup of  tea
Which is more my cup of tea

So before you send your dog to time-out, ask yourself a few questions:

1) Am I doing it to punish?  If so, rethink.  Dogs don’t need punishment.  They need answers.

2) Have I answered my dog’s question?  If you’ve already answered your dog’s question, and are removing them from the situation to prevent Hulking out on them, you have my blessing.

Bear in mind the more often you answer your dog’s questions unemotionally, the less likely they are to ask them again. We Pilot our dogs by infusing them with our own calm.   Now when someone is walking in front of our house, Sparta merely whines a little.  That’s it.  No, it didn’t happen overnight, but it definitely didn’t take a Hulk to make it happen.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

3 thoughts on “Time Out

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