Your two dogs playing tug-of-war in the corner of the living room are starting to square off, bodies are tensing and those noises you are hearing are not sounding like play growls anymore. Your resident cat, despite your gradual integration strategy, is not taking to the newcomer cat you have introduced and that occasional hiss is now turning into low and guttural yowling. Your attempts at redirection are not working, what to do next? These are definite “time out” times.
Using time outs correctly in scenarios with high arousal and high physical conflict potential can help to prevent dangerous situations from getting more so. For instance, removing the aggressor cat from the room allows for the safety of the victim cat, it also allows you to support the appropriate individual performing the appropriate behavior and to remove the potential reward or intrinsic satisfaction of intended outcome of the aggressor’s behavior. In other words, the cat who is not behaving aggressively is reinforced by the removal of the aggressor cat while the aggressor cat’s desire and intention movements to aggress the victim cat are not rewarded when the cat is moved into another area absent the victim cat.
Again and again with working with behavior you will hear that timing is integral to the process working. Timing in time outs refers not just to introducing the time out in concert with the behavior you are seeking to discourage; it also refers to an appropriate duration of time out. In order to be an effective tool or strategy the length of the time out has to be short enough (yes short enough) to be associated with the immediate antecedent behavior (what just happened that you want the cat or the dog to have in the now of their short term memory).
As much as you would like to you simply can never, ever say to a cat or a dog, “Do you know why I put you in time out?” and get the answer you would from a human. If you do ask this (and people do despite the incomprehension of the pet) you will not get an answer and the appeasement behavior you do get from a dog-looking away, lip licking, yawning, etc. is not an admission of guilt more a request for you to stop the scolding. This type of “conversation” with a cat will most probably get you whiskers back, a head pulled further back on the body and depending on your delivery, flattened ears and create a fearful cat who would like the scolding to stop as well. (Read the rest of the article at www.animalbehaviorist.us.)
The author is an animal behaviorist and trainer in New York City, for more information or to contact her visit http://www.animalbehaviorist.us