Teaching your puppy what is and isn't appropriate behaviour is not always
easy. With the use of timeouts the process can be made easier.
The way in which dogs learn is through association and repetition.
Association - associations are made every single day and are what shape
the behaviour of your four legged friend in different situations.
A nice example of an association being developed is the sit command.
Your dog will make the association that if they pop their bum onto the
floor, you say that funny word and then give them cuddles or a treat.
This is a nice positive association to the action and the word being said
along with it.
Another example could be your dog barking for attention. Your dog may
well sit in front of you and bark when bored, hopefully you will respond
to this by ignoring the behaviour, as your dog received nothing in return
when barking, they will make the association that barking doesn't get
Repetition - by repeating the behaviours or receiving the same response
tied to these associations, your dog will learn whether the behaviour is
worth performing again or not.
The more they do something the more it is reinforced. For example, the
more they hear the word 'sit' as their bum is on the ground, the stronger
the association that these two things are linked will be made.
So how does this fit in with the timeout technique?
As most naughty behaviours are performed in order to get attention, we
need to make sure that these behaviours are associated with getting no
attention or the loss of that attention.
Timeouts are basically the 'naughty step'. With the use of a 'trail line'
you should walk your puppy to a doorway such as the kitchen or hallway
and put them on the other side. Once on the other side they should remain
there for 5-10 seconds, this will only be made longer if they are barking,
crying or scratching on the other side of the door, in which case we need
to wait until they are calm before letting them in. This is to prevent
them learning that these behaviours make the door open again.
Timeouts need to happen as soon as the naughty behaviour occurs. We reward
the good, ignore the bad and if it is too much to ignore then we use
With the repetition of timeouts, your dog will associate that naughty
behaviour with losing out on the attention and therefore this will reduce
the amount they choose to perform the behaviour to begin with.
For anymore information or troubleshooting on this technique, please
George Rooke - Head Behaviour Counsellor