The handsome gentleman you see at right is the newest addition to the Senik household. Beauregard the French Bulldog (his call name, "Beau", is already atrophying due to constant inquiries from the unenlightened as to whether he was named after President Obama's dog) is about three months old and, in accordance with the trials of that age, is currently being housebroken (it remains an open question whether he or the house will be broken first).
As the son of a professional dog trainer, this is not exactly new territory for me (my first job was three years spent working in the family kennel, a resume entry I would wager is unique amongst the ranks of former White House speechwriters). The drill is pretty simple operant conditioning: positive reinforcement when the puppy does what you want him to, positive punishment when he doesn't.
One of the ways this plays out, of course, is the time-honored tradition of giving the pup a treat when he relieves himself somewhere other than on an heirloom rug. Beauregard doesn't lack for brainpower and he picked up the rules with impressive speed.
Then something interesting began to happen. He started using his designated rest area with such frequency that I was beginning to worry about his health. It turns out, upon further inspection, that my fears were misbegotten. He had simply come up with an elaborate routine in which he would literally "go through the motions" without doing anything, knowing there would be a reward waiting for him.
Yes, you read that right. I have subsidized into existence a market for fake bathroom breaks.
I always knew this dog was smart. But I didn't anticipate him teaching me about perverse incentives and the welfare state before so much as losing his baby teeth.