Charlotte Peltz Living with Your Dog "Time Out" brought to you by Joy Beckner Artist/ Bronze Sculptor

Living with Your Dog

Time Out

By Charlotte Peltz

When working with animals, in this case our family dogs, it is always most effective to work within the guidelines of animal behavior. Animals behave in very predictable ways and when we take the time to learn about those ways, we can teach in the most humane and effective fashion.

For example, since dogs are social animals there is a very simple training technique called "time-out" (TO) that can be extremely useful, and most especially when attempting to change behaviors such as attention-seeking and competitive play. J. P. Scott, famous for his studies of canine behavior, said, "In dogs there is an ever-present desire for the company of familiar places and animals, whether human or canine. A dog will work very hard and undergo much inconvenience and discomfort in order to obtain this goal…." So -- let's put that social neediness to work for us.

Frequently I am asked about the oh-so-common behavior of dogs behaving like "whirling dervishes" once or twice daily and most often in the late afternoon. When all efforts to wear out the pup with directed play, exercise, etc. fail, it is valuable to consider TO. This does NOT mean putting the dog as far away as possible and leaving her for an hour!

TO is completely dependent on a few things. There must be a direct connection between the behavior and the TO. This is accomplished by immediately following the behavior with something like "Enough -- Time-out!" Firmly seize the leash and haul Pushy Penny to the place of choice. The amount of time, interestingly enough, is all of one to two minutes. Return to the situation that was taking place before the TO, and start over, being prepared to repeat the procedure until the desirable behavior is achieved.

Now -- here is the tricky part and where most people will fall down on the job. There MUST be positive reinforcement for behavior that IS appropriate. Positive attention tends to promote harmonious interaction and negative attention is likely to promote disruptive behavior.

For example: Pushy Penny has been resisting all efforts to get her to quit her rather frantic mouthiness. She will not accept a toy in exchange for your pants leg as you walk. She will not accept a bone instead of your hand as you try to brush her. She is into mouthy mode and that is it. This is the perfect time to use TO, and when she returns have a mountain of tasty treats available for any -- yes, ANY -- acceptable behavior. "TO from a reward-dense situation will have a stronger effect over the unwanted target behavior than TO from a punishment-dense situation" (Solnick et al., 1977) Pushy Penny learns that mouthiness results in isolation while keeping her pearly whites in their proper place - with toys and bones - means she gets to be part of the family scene.

For the dog that objects to the separation with a lot of noise, scratching at the door, whining and such, it is imperative to wait for a few seconds of quiet, release the dog and begin again. Dogs that have been accustomed to getting a lot of attention for their inappropriate behavior are most likely to perform such antics and -- they are the most in need of the program.

For those who are now suggesting that a harsh method will work I have to say that when people tell me of the methods they are using and I ask -- "Does it work?" I usually get a reply such as -- "Well, some of the time. Then she does it again just to spite me." But -- I guess, being ever hopeful, regardless of poor results, folks just keep going at it instead of trying a different approach. In addition to punitive methods not working all that well, there are some other drawbacks. One is that one behavior may disappear only to be replaced by something even less desirable because the dog did not learn what TO DO -- only what NOT to do. Also, because people who punish usually start off with something mild in the way of punishment -- such as hollering -- and then gradually increase the force of the corrections, the animal learns to deal with ever-increasing punishment, but still hasn't learned what to do instead of X. Frustrating for all concerned.

And, there is another idea that has proved useful for behaviors that are not totally rowdy but still bothersome. When the behavior begins, you start doing something the dog doesn't particularly like. For example, Pelota Pedro is pushing the ball at you as you are working at the computer, and you neither have time nor interest in playing ball at the moment. He does not respond to a suggestion to go lie down. Well -- devious person that I am -- I could get out the nail clippers. Or, if my dog doesn't like to be bothered with brushing -- out comes the brush. Maybe it would be suggesting a bath? What would work for your dog?

Happy training!

"One can measure the size and moral progress of a nation to how she treats her animals." Mahatma Gandhi.

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