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Felix Adamo/ The Californian

Columnist Sherry Davis.

One of the traps owners fall into when dealing with the "sins" of their dogs is believing that objectionable behavior can be eliminated with the administration of punishment.

And although I'd like to think that we've reached the enlightened age of dog ownership where smacking a dog on the butt with a rolled-up newspaper or rubbing its nose in its own urine or excrement is a thing of the past, most owners still want to know: "How should I punish my dog when he does something wrong?"

Unfortunately, using punishment in retaliation for a misdeed on the presumption that it will "teach" a dog not to reoffend is not only ineffective in correcting a problem, but usually backfires by causing other behavioral or psychological problems.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a proponent of the training philosophy that asks the owner to simply ignore bad deeds, reward the dog for accidentally or spontaneously displaying a correct response and trust that in time that the dog will draw the conclusion that it should discontinue the incorrect one because he doesn't get rewarded for it. Sometimes, the reward for a dog is the act itself.

But that training strategy is still preferable to one where the owner punishes his or her dog because "he knows better," as if the dog has a personal agenda and has conspired to get even for some alleged slight.

This is ridiculous. Some of the most attractive and endearing qualities about dogs is that they lack so many of those that are uniquely human, such as the capacity to organize and carry out acts of revenge. (Although, according to Lois Henry, "cats do!") The continual repetition of an undesirable behavior is usually the result of one or multiple factors: a lack of training and/or socialization, unintentional owner reinforcement or a genetic predisposition.

But conspiracy, seriously?

It requires time, patience and a level head to properly train a dog, and although it is an owner's responsibility to follow through and block a dog's inappropriate choices, corrections should never be delivered as punishment. A correction, whether verbal or with a leash and collar, should only be given at the lowest intensity needed to get a dog's attention and indicate that a wrong choice has been made, nothing more. It must be in the moment, not after the fact and never given when the owner is in an agitated or emotional state.

Care to test this theory? The next time you find yourself yelling "what did you do?" in anger, pointing your finger in a threatening manner or grabbing your dog by the collar in frustration, look deeply into his eyes, and you'll see what he sees -- that the ONLY thing he's learning is fear.

-- Sherry Davis is a dog trainer/ owner of CSI 4 K9s. Email her at These are her opinions, not necessarily The Californian's.