Penny for the Potty

Kia Dog on Potty SeatToilet training of cats, dogs and children is an essential educational experience. It makes life more pleasant for both the parent and the child. The key is getting the idea across, having a good reward and then fading out with a scalloping so the behavior becomes firmly internalized. When Hope turned two she decided she wanted to wear underwear instead of diapers. All pretty well but her bladder control was not quite up to par yet. Still, I wanted to encourage her. The sooner she gets it fully potty trained the better for all concerned.

Hope earns money by saving returnable bottles that drivers on our road so thoughtfully throw out the window. These she takes down to the general store to get her nickel about once or twice a week. With that money she buys a penny candy. One for herself and recently one for each of her brothers. The rest she likes to save in her piggy bank.

Once the idea of money was firmly established as an appetitive I was able to introduce the next idea: Pee or poop in the potty and get paid a penny. This went over very well. Hope was quite excited to have a new way to earn money. Her toilet training instantly went from good to excellent with only rare accidents. She even figured out the trick of peeing a little, being all done and going back a few minutes to pee more. A great bladder control exercise. Believe me, this was worth a few pennies.

Once we had the system firmly established I added Hope paying me a penny when she had an ‘accident’. She thought that was fair and faithfully brings me a penny with a sheepish grin the few times accidents happen. Failure has negative consequences – just like in the real world.

The next stage of training is to fade and scallop the reward. Initially the student gets an appetitive reward every time they perform the action properly. Once the appropriate behavior is well established then you can start doing occasions where there is delay to the reward. e.g., We are at church, Hope goes pee on the potty and then she gets her penny when we get home. After that is established the reward gets scalloped further by not always getting a penny. Sometimes it just gets forgotten and the action itself is a reward. Note that random scalloping works better than fixed interval scalloping. This is why the Lotto works so well as a tax on the masses. They even do variable reward scalloping to get maximum addiction.

Some might argue scalloping is counter productive to training her to become a good capitalist but my real goal at this point is for her to internalize the process. It may seem like changing the rules, and it is, but the fact is the world does not always reward us and it is important to learn that. This actually strengthens the behavior over the long run. There is lots of scientific research to back this up and it is also my experience with training animals over the decades.

In the end I will fade out completely – she will no longer need me to reward her for a behavior she wants for herself. Her older brothers no longer get a reward for peeing in the potty. The act and the fact that their pants aren’t smelly and wet is enough reward in and of itself for them. The same goes with the dogs learning to guard the livestock. When they are young there is a temptation to wander off and go for a walk-about. As they mature and the training sinks in they spend more time off by themselves without my supervision until eventually they are free roaming guardians who protect their charges and drive off predators and pests. Even Killer Kita was able to learn this lesson. Someday I’ll tell her story.

Another important aspect of training is catching them when they are good. If they’re about to do the right behavior, give the command and reward it. This is a great way of getting the behavior started.

One other thing we use with potty training is stars on the calendar. We have a large month by month calendar hanging in the kitchen. Each day that is wet pants free and diaper free means a red start written on the calendar. This helps the child keep track of how they are doing.

If all of this feels too much like B. F. Skinner to you then don’t worry – Of course you don’t need to do training. But I would rather live with livestock that stays inside its pastures and come when I call. Dogs that do their work and don’t pee or poop in the house. Cats that stay down on the floor and do not get on the tables or counters. Children that are thoughtful, respectful, well behaved and happy. It makes life more pleasant for all of us. Behavioral modification training is very effective. I use it on myself, my spouse, our children, our dogs and even our livestock. A big part of training is setting up the rules so they are understood by everyone. All species like to have a framework that defines what are the proper ways of behaving. A lack of structure produces misbehavior. Misbehave enough and the universe will punish you well and good – it may even kill you. Living in a world where you don’t understand the rules and pianos appear to randomly drop on your head. That is far more stressful than learning how to behave properly.

When it comes to government, less is enough.

Thursday: 15°F/-1°F, 1″ Snow, Partly Sunny
Friday: 8°F/-5°F, Sunny
Saturday: 10°F/-9°F, Sunny


About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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9 Responses to Penny for the Potty

  1. Urban Agrarian says:

    Oh, what a great picture! How did you ever get Kia do that? In years to come Hope will be soooo thankful that Kia stood (or sat) in for her for the picture.

    Your system reminds me of our kids potty trainging years ago. We used M&Ms; (candy) though as the reward for using the potty. Your idea of coins for candy reminds me of clicker training for dogs. The coin is like the click.

  2. *grin* Aye, I though of Hope and figured that in ten or twelve years she might really appreciate my not having used her for that photo! :)

    Kia on the other hand was very cooperative. She is already highly trained so it was fairly easy to get the shot. I had her sit there and then told her to to stay. After about two minutes she was very relaxed and looking around with her ears up and I was able to get that shot. Total time about three minutes. I wish all models were so good at their job! :)

    I do use clicker training although I just use a double tongue click instead of a commercial clicker since I dont’ want to have to carry around an extra thing. The reason for the double is a lot of dog language is repeated in sets if you listen to how they talk. The click marks the correct behavior target for things like this. The food or attention are the reward although the click takes on a mental anticipation of reward. Later once the behavior is solid I no longer click it.

  3. ranch101 says:

    I’m going to have to bookmark that picture. Katie (also 2 y.o.) keeps asking to see it!

  4. threecollie says:

    With three border collie, I share your belief in well trained dogs. If you don’t train them they will think up things to do all by themselves. These are rarely good things. Great picture of the pup on the potty!

  5. threecollie says:

    With three border collie, I share your belief in well trained dogs. If you don’t train them they will think up things to do all by themselves. These are rarely good things. Great picture of the pup on the potty!

  6. Evelyn says:

    That is a great photo!
    W/ my kids, I used sweet tarts or skittles as potty chair candy. They're in their teens & older now, but they still remember which candy they got! I was actually talking w/ my 14 yr old about it yesterday!
    My son started collecting soda bottles for the return when he was 3 yrs old. He'd take his wagon around the neighborhood (dead end street, no traffic.) He's go around 2x a week & people would leave their bottles on the porch for him. I'd be in our front yard, gardening or reading & watching. Then, I'd charge him 5% of his haul to drive him to the store where he's take the wagon (he was too small to push the carts) and deal w/ the manager for the returns. One 'manager' tried to short him once. He told the guy to take the money out of the pocket he'd put it in & give it back to him!
    That year, he asked Santa for 2 things. A tricycle & a bigger wagon! He bought all the Christmas presents he gave out as well. He's been an entrepreneur ever since!
    That type of thing teaches so many important lessons & a great work ethic!

  7. Julia says:

    I should have known you’d be a clicker trainer. I learned about clicker training in 1998, after my new dog (who was likely part coyote and rather resembled your dogs) didn’t do so well with the choke-chain snapping obedience class I’d taken her to. She would comply, but with such eye rolling (metaphorically speaking) and obvious distaste that I knew I needed to find something better.

    I was lucky enough to take a chicken training class with Bill Bailey, who taught cats to be living microphones for spying inside the Soviet Union. He also taught crows to take photos of top secret documents–he said crows were the smartest creatures he worked with, more than cats, dogs or dolphins. They could be taught longish if/then behavior programs. For example: open the top drawer of the file cabinet and IF there is a red folder, pull out that folder and dump it on the desk. Then activate the little camera strapped to your chest. . .

  8. Alex says:

    It is really fascinating when a dog or a cat has undergone potty training.

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