In 2001 my wife Maria and I drove our son and daughter Payton and Kelby to Northern Indiana to check out a litter of Jack Russell terrier puppies. The puppies lived on a picturesque farm situated on land once connected to the Grand Kankakee Marsh. Seven year old Payton and five year old Kelby had grown up watching the PBS show “Wishbone” They wanted a little Wishbone of their own. I secretly wanted one too. We made the decision to purchase a family dog that was small, athletic, cute and full of personality. When the dog breeder showed us a litter of sleepy faced eight-week old puppies, a male with a black, white and brown mask bounced out of the pack wagging his tail and up to my son. Kelby cried out, "Look Mommy and Daddy! He's going over to Payton" He was a beautiful, energetic and irresistible furry, four legged force of nature. Payton named him Macky.
After we exchanged payment, the dog breeder gave us potty training instructions. We should keep Macky in a kennel at night and first thing in the morning, walk him outside. Anticpating he would do his business out doors and not in his kennel, he would immediately receive a dog snack. The dog breeder also cautioned us if Macky were to potty indoors, we should place him near the mess, then give him a smack on the nose. When she told me that, I was taken aback somewhat. But then I thought, "Why should I doubt her expertise about potty training? She was the dog breeder." She also instructed that Macky should be taken outside in regular intervals throughout the day and rewarded after making his potty outdoors. In fact, throughout my entire life, particularly in my early life, I have been rewarded or punished for desirable or undesirable behavior. I thought to myself, “We can potty-train this puppy in no time!” Maria and I paid the dog breeder one hundred seventy five dollars and loaded up the mini-van with the kids and little Macky inside of a cardboard box.
Macky became the subject of our Family’s grand behavior modification experiment. My wife Maria and I discussed the plan with our children. Whomever was taking the dog outside would report to Mom or Dad if Macky had done his business and reward Macky with a treat from the snack bag. The words “bad boy,” and a smack on Macky’s nose adjacent to the “mess,” would be delivered by myself if he made a mess in the house. We didn’t want the children to administer that part of the training procedure because we didn’t want the dog to associate the negative experience with the children but we did want him to associate potty behavior and treats with being physically outdoors. That was the power of operant conditioning. The subject associates affect to certain stimuli and responds. We didn't want the dog to respond negatively to the children as a possible outcome. I thought our plan seemed to be a good plan, but the question remained, would there be side affects from the use of negative stimulus during the dog’s formative development as a member of our family? Despite my apprehension, the dog breeders advice was taken seriously.
Our family would duplicate as best we could, the methods and structure used in B.F. Skinner’s behavior modification experiments using both positive and negative stimuli. I had learned about B.F. Skinner, Ivan Pavlov and John Watson, pioneers in behavior modification, from my high school psychology teacher Mr. Kupfer and took educational psychology classes at Indiana University. This behavior modification procedure would be implemented. The children, my wife and I would conduct an operant conditioning experience on Macky to strengthen his behavior to potty outdoors and not potty indoors.