The Two Second Rule

Sad puppy on floor- Timing and dog trainingBy Michele L. Meyer

One of the most important rules of dog training is the two second rule. This is because dogs always live in the moment so TIMING IS EVERYTHING! Feedback must be given to your dog within two seconds of the behavior in order for him to understand what you are correcting or rewarding. Your dog has no idea what you are correcting him for if you do not catch him IN THE ACT. Even five seconds afterwards is too late!!!

This does not mean that your dog only has a two second memory or that he cannot focus for more than two seconds. Dogs will however ALWAYS associate the correction with what they are doing or what is happening in that EXACT moment such as you walking into the room. For example, you walk into a room to discover a chewed up shoe or a puddle on the floor and your dog is lying on his bed. You then try to point out what he did wrong and correct him for it. He will not understand what you are trying to communicate and he will associate the correction with either lying on his bed or with you walking into the room.

Therefore, there is much harm that can be done by correcting your dog after the fact. Correcting your dog as soon as you enter the room and see what he did while you were gone can cause your dog to develop separation anxiety. Your dog will be anxious about your return and the likelihood that he will be punished but that doesn’t mean he knows why you are upset. In addition, dogs often start to fear people that punish too late because they do not understand why they are being corrected and therefore associate the correction with the person instead of the behavior.

But you say your dog looks guilty? People often mistake a dog trying to appease as guilt. You may see what you think is “guilty” expressions or posturing from your dog. However, it is not guilt that you are witnessing. This is just your dog’s way of trying to appease you and diffuse conflict. He is just responding to your emotions or he may even have a conditioned response to automatically start this posturing when you arrive because these are times where you are frequently upset with him. In other words, our dogs do not need to know why we are upset before they “apologize”. They will show this commonly mistaken as “guilty” body language simply to try to calm us and diffuse conflict regardless of why you are upset.

Effective communication is the key to dog training and to having a harmonious relationship with your dog.  Use proper management to prevent undesirable behavior when you are not able to monitor your dog.  Dogs that are not housebroken or display other destructive behaviors when left alone should be safely crated or gated when unsupervised….however, it is important to properly introduce your dog to crating or gating so he is accepting of it and will not hurt himself trying to escape.

The most successful training programs consist of prevention and reward.  If you prevent the behaviors from happening with proper management, then there is nothing to “correct”…but if you do correct your dog, then do so only verbally without yelling and only when you catch him in the act.  Any correction should be followed with an immediate redirection of the desired behavior such as going outside to potty and then a reward for the appropriate behavior.

Please contact us if you need help introducing your dog to crating or gating or for assistance with housebreaking your dog or other destructive behaviors.