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Felix Adamo/ The Californian

Columnist Sherry Davis.

Correction. Many dog owners think of it as a word synonymous with punishment. While punishment has no place whatsoever in training dogs, a well-executed correction can be a very valuable tool when it is used as a signal to a dog that it has made a wrong choice, followed by encouragement to try again.

Unfortunately, if owners cross the line that separates correction from punishment, they may find themselves faced with a perplexing conundrum: in the process of getting rid of one problem, they've created another one in its place.

That is exactly what happened in the case of DJ, a very soft and impressionable young dog.

I first met Kathy and her dog DJ when they took one of my classes last fall. Your typical adolescent golden retriever, DJ arrived the first night of class like a fiery ball of stubborn and unfocused energy, which belied the marshmallow soft sensitivity and gentleness beneath the surface. But as the weeks went by and Kathy honed her handling skills and learned how to direct DJ's energy into more positive behaviors, his real personality emerged and he became, hands-down, the most improved dog in the class.

That is why I was surprised when Kathy called last week and said she was having a very serious problem with DJ.

According to Kathy, DJ has blossomed into a wonderful and obedient dog with impeccable housetraining manners. But they had never stopped to consider, as they applauded his puppy potty training efforts months prior that they would eventually end up with a yellow polka-dotted lawn. So hoping to return their lawn to its former green condition, they had been trying to encourage him to eliminate in the bushes and hosing off the lawn thinking he would no longer smell his urine. Those efforts produced dismal results.

But that was not what Kathy was calling about. Their problem started after Kathy's husband, reacting out of anger and frustration, yelled at DJ for urinating on the lawn right in front of him instead of going to the new area they'd chosen. The outburst absolutely crushed the sensitive young golden, and just like that, he ceased using his backyard to eliminate at all.

Three days passed before Kathy called me during which the only way she could get DJ to urinate or defecate was to take him out on the street on leash where he would hurry to relieve himself. He would hold it all night yet refuse to eliminate when let out in the yard in the morning, and because he was eating and drinking normally she knew he needed to go.

She was fearful that he would get a bladder infection from holding his urine too long and he had started throwing up bile from his upset stomach. She even resorted to sending him to the dog sitter's house one day just to get him to eliminate. She was worried for his health and even more upset that they were the cause of their dear dog's confusion and distress.

Was it DJ's owner's intent to confuse or scare his dog? Of course not, but like so many owners he assumed that his dog could understand the subtleties of human reasoning and that the introduction to the new potty area was meant as an "instead of" versus an "as well as" directive.

And when DJ did return to eliminate where he'd been previously allowed (and praised for going!), his owner simply reacted emotionally to this presumed disobedience.

Happily, training DJ to a new potty area will no longer be an issue. After giving Kathy some specific instructions to get him back to eliminating in his yard, I got an ecstatic text from her saying that DJ is back to normal, playing, peeing and pooping again,

She says she doesn't care where he goes or what color her grass is; all that matters is that DJ is happy and that her husband won't be scolding him again.


HALT (Helping Animals Live Tomorrow) Rescue 5th Annual 5/10K Fun Run for all ages and levels takes place at 8 a.m. June 7 at Yokuts Park.

Pre-registration is online at Kern Event Registration or on the HALT Rescue website, or at 6 a.m. the day of the race.

For more information, email

You are encouraged to participate with your canine pal with consideration to the weather and your pet's health.

Sherry Davis is a dog trainer/owner of CSI 4 K9s. Email her at csi4k9s@ These are her opinions, not necessarily The Californian's.