Time Out Protocol

An Effective and Humane Way to Change Behavior

Our training focuses primarily on teaching dogs what we want them to do. We work to place heavy value on sits, downs, stays, come when called and other behaviors we want the dog to perform reliably. There are instances where ignoring a behavior we don’t like will reduce and eliminate that behavior, especially when the behavior involves a resource we can easily control; food, toys, attention, petting, etc.

However, when the behaviors we want to reduce are self-reinforcing, meaning that it just feels good for the dog to do it (i.e. barking, digging, shredding), they become more challenging to eliminate by just ignoring them.

First: Manage the Environment or Control the Resource

Barking can be a self-reinforcing behavior – it just feels good to bark!

You cannot control the stimuli happening outside your home that is causing your dog to bark, but perhaps you can manage the environment by moving furniture or closing the door to a room to prevent the dog from having access to that window. If your dog is barking at you because she wants something like her food bowl, a treat, or for you to throw the ball, then refrain from giving her what she wants until she is quiet for a minimum of 5 seconds.

When is it time for the Time Out Protocol? When you have done everything you can to manage the environment and control the resources your dog wants, but the barking is not decreasing.

Time Out Protocol

This time-out protocol has been used effectively by us and many of our clients to reduce and eliminate barking. The protocol utilizes a simple principle; removing the dog from the environment and access to you for a short time in response to an unwanted behavior.

A well-timed Time Out provides clear information to your dog that barking is not an acceptable behavior and results in a consequence. Consistency is key!

In Operant Conditioning there is something called Negative Punishment. Yes, we said punishment. Negative in this case means the removal of something, think mathematically, not morally. Punishment, meaning you want less of a behavior, in this case we want less barking. Negative Punishment means the removal of something the dog wants in response to a behavior we want to decrease.

Steps to the Time Out:

1) You’ll need two clear verbal commands. Mine are “Quiet” and “Too Bad” for barking. Any two words will work, but you must be crystal clear and you must be consistent. You’ll need a crate or small room (bathroom or laundry room) to confine the dog for the time out. The more boring the space is the better. When you begin this procedure be sure that you are able to follow through every time.

2) As soon as your dog begins barking, say your first command “Quiet!”. Don’t expect any reaction from your dog yet. When the dog continues barking, say your second command “Too Bad!” and immediately and matter of factly take her by her collar and lead her to her crate/confinement room, and no, it will not make the crate or room a bad place, nor will she be afraid of it. (More on this below).

3) She will remain in the crate for a 30 second to 2 minute Time Out and you will only let her out of the crate once she has been quiet for about 30 seconds.

4) When she starts barking again repeat the sequence. Say your first command “Quiet!” followed by your second command “Too Bad!”, followed by crating her for at least one minute or when she has been quiet for about 30 seconds. ) After four to six repetitions, your dog will begin to recognize the cue sequence and may stop barking when she hears “Quiet!”, she may drop her head or turn to look at you. Be observant and be ready for her to stop barking. When she does stop barking, be prepared to heavily reinforce her with delicious treats, lots of toys and lots of praise, for-being-quiet! This is the moment you’ve been working for – don’t miss it!

5) Be prepared to repeat this sequence for several days until the barking has completely stopped. This approach works, but you must be consistent and clear.

In short, this protocol is providing a consequence that is negative from the dog’s perspective (loss of access to you and the environment) as the result of a behavior we want to reduce and eliminate (barking).

Won’t Using the Crate as Punishment Make it a Bad Place?

We absolutely agree that when you are first introducing your dog to a crate it is critical to keep the association with the crate happy and positive, but once your dog is acclimated to the crate, it is an incredibly effective tool to provide a Time Out.

If something scary happens to your dog while she is in the crate (i.e. you hit the side of the crate with a baseball bat – please don’t do that) then through the principles of Classical Conditioning we risk making the crate a bad and scary place, but using the crate for a simple 1-2 minute time out will not have this same effect.

The assumption here is that your dog is not having any adverse reaction to the crate to begin with. If your dog is panicky, fearful, anxious or demonstrating other questionable behaviors when it comes to the crate, then please contact us for advice on whether or not this protocol is right for your dog.

How Do I Know if It’s Working?

With most dogs, we start to see that the dog has a recognition response to the first cue, “Quiet” after 4-6 repetitions. Meaning the dog may stop barking or at least hesitate for a second or two. This is progress! Keep up the consistency and soon you may just have to use your warning cue to get the dog to stop barking. Once you have established an effective way to interrupt the behavior, you should start to see an overall decrease in the frequency of the behavior as long as you remain consistent about interrupting it.

If you have repeated the Time Out Protocol consistently over a period of time with no noticeable decrease in the behavior or recognition response to your verbal warning cue then please contact us for assistance. The purpose of punishment is to decrease behavior so if the behavior is not decreasing, we may need to make adjustments or try something else.

Don’t Ignore the Quiet!

When your dog responds to the first cue by stopping her barking, provide your dog with generous treat reinforcement to let her know that she made the RIGHT choice! This is the moment you have been working towards – don’t miss it!

The protocol will not be effective unless you reinforce your dog for making the correct choice.

At Everything Dog, we are happy to help you reduce barking, or help with any other issue you are having with your dog. Contact us with your questions and concerns and let us help!

Denise Mazzola

Denise Mazzola


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