Don’t Potty Train your Toddler or Dog—Potty Train Yourself.

Via Neil Sattin
on Jun 8, 2010
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Potties for Father and Son

Insights On Potty Training Puppies…and Humans…at 3 a.m.

The voice of Mother Nature sounds something like this:  “Daddy, I have to pee!”

So, last night (or this morning, depending on whether you’re a glass half-full or half-empty kind of person), I was awake with my 3-year-old son, Dash, in the bathroom. We’re “potty training”—which means being available whenever nature calls.  So while I was sitting there next to him on the cold bathroom floor, bleary-eyed, I started thinking about the last time that I had to potty train anything, which was 13 years ago, when I had to teach my dog Nola how to do her business outside.

My son had no interest in the potty until we introduced…The Sticker Chart. The way it works is fairly simple and low-tech—he gets a sticker for every successful use of the toilet, and every five stickers he gets to pick a surprise from the stuff-we-picked-up-from-the-free-bin-at-the-yard-sale basket—I mean, the prize basket. And it’s working really well. Even at three in the morning.

Back to my dog, Nola. She learned housetraining (btw—shouldn’t it be called “yardtraining?”) the easy way—which was essentially by taking her out every hour or so, waiting for her to do her thing, and then bringing her back in. Somehow she just “got it,” without any sticker chart necessary.

Why was it so much easier with Nola?

That’s when I suddenly realized: the sticker chart is for me.

If I zealously transported Dash to his potty every hour or so, it probably wouldn’t take him long to get the hang of the experience. So why didn’t I do that with Dash, just like I had done with Nola so many years before? The answer is simple: incentive. In order to change my son Dash’s behavior, I needed something to help me change my behavior.

Let’s face it, if I had just left doggie Nola to her own devices, it would have created a lot of pain for me—mess after mess in the house to clean up.  That would definitely not have been conducive to the vibe a 22-year-old bachelor was trying to convey in his apartment. So it was worth it for me to get up and take her out, hour after hour, until she got it right.

But diapers are so easy

On the other hand, with my son in diapers, the opposite was true. For the most part, diapers are pretty easy to deal with. You can just focus on playing, going on walks, having a picnic, digging in the dirt—without having to worry about bodily functions, except for a cleanup now and again. Quite easy.

In fact, I’d probably be fine to just keep on keeping on with the diapers and the status quo (minus the nagging and disparaging remarks from my grandmother).

That sticker chart, it gives both of us something to strive for. Because not only does it give Dash incentive (collect and stick cool stickers, get cool prizes), but it gives me something important: I get to help my son succeed. The sticker chart is motivating me to get with the program, because now it’s not just “potty time”—it’s a way for me to bring joy to my son’s life.

And ultimately, isn’t that what having other people, other beings in your life is all about?

Dash And His (My) Potty Training Sticker Chart


About Neil Sattin

Neil Sattin is a father, husband, educator, dog trainer, coach, musician, friend and physical comedian. Neil is also one of the nation's leading experts in Natural Dog Training, a method that utilizes a dog's emotional awareness of the world to resolve problem behaviors and elicit obedience. He is the author and creator of the Natural Dog Blog. In 2009 he released a 2 DVD set, Natural Dog Training: The Fundmentals. Neil also recently published the online course "How to Speak So Your Dog Will Listen" in partnership with DailyOM. A member of the founding coaching certification class of the Robbins-Madanes Center for Strategic Intervention, he also coaches and writes about relationships and personal development at his eponymous site.


7 Responses to “Don’t Potty Train your Toddler or Dog—Potty Train Yourself.”

  1. Neil Sattin says:

    My first official post here – just wanted to let you know that I'm excited and honored to be a part of the Elephant Journal community. 🙂

  2. Isn’t this the truth!

  3. Janet says:

    Like this article. It nearly touches on Elimination Communication. Our society will do it for our pets, but not so much for our kids. Diapers are more ‘convenient’ for us, but we are essentially training our kids to be comfortable sitting in their own waste, and then we have to re-train them to do something different, which can be really hard (hence, diapers for six-year-olds!). With Elimination Communication (EC), our kids are going in a toilet or somesuch similar receptacle from birth, as with pets. Look it up. It’s pretty great. All three of my babies are diaper free babes!

  4. neilsattin says:

    Yes, we looked into that (and have some friends who are doing that with their kids). I have to admit that having the discipline to do that from birth would have probably required more than a sticker chart for me! But I celebrate you for pulling it off! It's definitely worth checking into for anyone with chitlins (and it is, pretty much, the easiest thing to do with puppies – although take them outside, not to the toilet. As amusing as that would be for you).

  5. neilsattin says:

    oops – should have replied directly – see comment below! The retraining that you mention certainly mars the "convenience" of diapers…later on.

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