Think of a time out as an opportunity. It's an opportunity for you to cool off if you're frustrated with your dog's behavior. It's an opportunity for your dog to calm down, get some self control, and move themselves to a state of being that's below threshold for reactivity or over-excitement. For puppies, a time out is often an opportunity to take a much needed nap.
Time outs are not punishment. The only way a time out would be punishing is if you make it that way! If you swat your dog, grab him roughly, or shove him/drag him as part of the time out, then yes, that time out qualifies as punishment. If, however, you simply sigh, roll your eyes (maybe that's just me) and guide your dog to their crate with a matter of fact statement "Time out!" then no, that's not punishment. And, yes, it's fine to use their crate for a time out. I like to give an example from my kids' experience growing up in a home where their mom was an animal behaviorist. The number of times my daughter reminded me that she's not a dog....well, I'll save that for another day. Anyway, when my kids were little and in need of a time out, they had to sit in the dining room, in one of the chairs. They were to remain there, quietly, until I told them the time out was over. If they fussed, the time out was extended. Mostly, they needed to stay there until I no longer wanted to trade them in for another dog. Those same children who did time outs in the dining room still rolled up for dinner in that same dining room, in those same chairs, and with joy. You see, it wasn't the room or the chairs that was important, nor was that space negative or associated with punishment. It was the act of the time out. It gave them a chance to get it together and think about what they had done that had me so worked up. Not punishment, but a chance for the child to calm down, get below their threshold, and get some self control. Sound familiar?
Once again, time outs can absolutely be in your dog's crate. They can also be in an exercise pen, on a porch, in a bathroom, in your laundry room, or in your spare bedroom. They can be anywhere you choose as long as that place is safe for them to be, doesn't have anything else for them to do while they are there, and you can get them to that spot for their time out in a reasonably quick fashion. If your dog's crate has toys in it (it shouldn't though as that's for sleeping, not playing) or you're confining to a bathroom where there are rugs to chew on and toilet paper to unfurl, then you will need to make those spaces more efficient for time outs. Be prepared in advance. Have a dedicated crate or exercise pen in an easily accessed area of your home and have it contain nothing but something to sit or lay down on. That's it. You can rest easy knowing you can now walk away and your pet is safely doing the time out thing.
Time outs only need to be 2-3 minutes in length to be effective. Leave your dog there longer, however, if *you* need more time to cool off. If you need more time to clean up the mess that necessitated the time out. If your dog falls asleep during the time out, don't wake them up, let them rest. Definitely leave them there longer if they are throwing a tantrum, bouncing off of the walls/crate door, barking, incessantly whining, or otherwise being dramatic. Just as you don't let a dog bark its way out of crate to greet you, you won't let your dog out of their time out if they are still in a state of heightened arousal. Wait for them to calm down, then let them out, and let them out with zero fanfare, meaning you don't need to discuss the matter further with them or make them feel better when they exit. The time out is over, they've calmed down, and you are ready to move on with your lives.
Finally, don't worry if it seems like your dog spends more time in time out than she does having free time. This is developmentally important. While puppies earn a lot of time outs, adolescent dogs also get their share of time outs. I've often said that if an adolescent dog isn't in time out at least a couple of times each day, minimum, then he's either perfect (ha ha ha) or you're letting him get away with too much. Adolescent dogs are boundary testers by design. Boundary testing dogs (and kids!) need reminders that those boundaries are there for a reason.
I guess I should also mention that time outs are incredibly valuable for anxious dogs as well. Anxious dogs need a place where they can go (either on their own or with your help and encouragement) to decompress, get below threshold, and feel safe. Their time out area should be all of those things for them.
Circling back to my new blog follower: I told her all of this and she realized she'd had the complete wrong idea about what a time out was. She also asked if time outs would work on her husband. This woman definitely gets my sense of humor! But no, I don't profess to know how to get a husband's behavior under control. Just dogs.
As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.
As you may have guessed, Ozzie spent a great deal of time in time out as a puppy and adolescent. He was born to boundary test, both at home and at his babysitter's house. Here he was at 6.5 months of age in yet another time out and one in which he fell asleep. Yes, there were toys there, but only serving as pillows, as you can clearly see. The babysitter felt bad with him in time out all the time with nothing to do. He was certainly lucky to have such an indulgent babysitter.
His time outs at home were definitely toy-free.