I believe many owners have heard of and maybe even used this form of discipline on their dogs. It is called the “time-out” corner. As smart as it sounds, it is actually not
if the owner is not taught the right way of doing it.
A few of my clients were previously taught to discipline their dog by putting them in a time-out corner or room. Time-out originates from sports such as ice hockey or basketball. In such sports, the time-out box allows the player to cool down before getting back into the game, hence a similar idea was conceived for dog training.
Every trainer or behaviourist has our own methods and philosophy to help
owners with their dog’s behaviour. However, what is often missing is the understanding and psychology of how the time-out is going to work for the dog.
I am not a firm advocator of time-out because eventually, the time-out corner becomes a punishment corner for the dog if the owner fails to follow through with rewarding the right behaviour.
A mistake I have often observed with this practice is, for example; Sam (owner) walks over to Buggy (his dog) because Buggy has been barking non-stop at Sam’s guest. Sam takes Buggy to his time-out corner which is a playpen. Sam closes the playpen and walks over to entertain his guest. At this point, Buggy has stopped barking because he is in his time-out area. After a couple of minutes, Sam walks over to Buggy’s playpen and invites Buggy to come out. The moment he comes out, Buggy runs all over the place excitedly and starts barking again. The cycle repeats and eventually, Buggy is left in the playpen until the guest leaves.
Do you think Buggy understood that he was not supposed to bark when a guest is present? Or did Buggy get to reflect long and hard enough in his time-out corner to learn that barking at guests is an inappropriate behaviour? No, Buggy did not get the message! All he got was a punishment which did not lead to a reward when he behaved. He was not rewarded for his calm behaviour before being let out of the playpen, that is supposed to be his calm and secure corner, now gets negatively associated with being punished. A follow-through with the discipline that you want to enforce is very important. After the follow through, as equally important is the reward for the right behaviour.
The right thing to do would be; use a sound to get Buggy away from the door. Lead Buggy to his resting area and reward him for staying calm. Give him a stay command. Then confidently turn and walk towards the door and attend to your guest. If Buggy gets up, repeat the process. He will soon begin to understand that he gets a fair treatment for being in the best behaviour, and he gets rewarded for it. Of course, this is just one out of several methods to help Buggy associate the right behaviour positively.
To set the perception right, I prefer to call that time-out corner as “the dog’s sanctuary” instead. Your dog should relate that “sanctuary” as an area where it finds comfort and rest, with a very positive association. Some dogs like mine, relate that area with sleeping and chilling the whole day. Other dogs relate to that area as lots of food. Once your dog is able to associate the area positively, it will be a walk
in the park asking your dog to go to that area.
For instance, with my dog Vogue; each time my wife and I reach home, Vogue will run to the kitchen (due to the layout of our house, she has a very comfortable space
in the kitchen), hop onto her bed and sit. She will then wait for us to put our stuff down before she comes out again calmly. We have helped her associate her bed as a safe and positive place to be, rather than being at the door.
It takes consistency and patience to help a dog associate a right behaviour with the right discipline. Give yourself a realistic timeline to successfully help your dog the right way, and don’t rush it. Even if it takes 2-3 months, that is still better in the long run than rushing it and doing everything wrongly.
by Ezra Koh
*No dogs was harm in the process of taking the pictures. The dog is a good actor when there’s treats 😉 (he is an obedient dog)