Monday, April 18, 2016


Training has been a topic this week in a couple of different places, so I though I might write down my views on it.

I come from a perspective of dog training.  To me, everything relates to that.  It is my worldview, and it has absolutely nothing to do with denigrating people or treating them like dogs.  The fact is, people are animals, dogs are animals, and while we think and function at a different level than they do, there are still a lot of similarities in learning.  Because there are similarities in ability to learn, there are similarities in trainablity. 

When I am training a sheepdog, I don't just train for three years and then consider them trained, finished and work them with no polishing up.  I continue training them until they retire, which might be another 7-10 years depending on their health.  The training isn't intensive or focused, it is what you might call on the job training.  While they are working I still keep an eye out for any major slips or disobedience, where I might have to make a correction, or even go back and do some foundation work.  And often I find new things to teach them, new challenges just to keep things interesting (for myself- herding sheep is always interesting for them).

But then I have to consider that what I call training may not be the same as what others mean.  In a very broad sense, every interaction you have is training something.  Every piece of feedback you give them is teaching them something, because they never stop learning, even if you think you are done "training".  

And just the same, every interaction Master has with me is training something.  He may not mean to be doing it, and I might not be consciously aware of it, but I am quite sure that it happens all the time whether we do it intentionally or not. The more times a pattern is repeated the more ingrained it becomes.  You may learn nothing from a brief one-off interaction, or if it is heavily emotionally weighted you may come away with a very strong memory, either good or bad.   As soon as he makes it intentional, that is when he can be sure he is reinforcing the things he wants to see more of, and not the things he doesn't like. 

Before doing any training, you have to determine what actually is rewarding or reinforcing.  It isn't up the trainer to tell the trainee what the reinforcement will be, it really just isn't.  It is up to the trainer to see what the trainee likes and use that.  

For many slaves, merely being appreciated is a huge reward.  Something external, like a present or food, may not be as rewarding as a Master thinks because it may come with emotional "bad stuff" for some slaves (ie. I shouldn't need that. Or conversely, what does he think I am, a trick pony?).  But a smile and a "good girl" is a simple thing that is just appreciation, valuing service, and can be a great reward.  Again, not for all.  Some prefer not to be noticed in their service, and see the lack of correction as a reward. Every slave is going to have different likes and dislikes.   Some prefer a slap on the ass.

Also, bribery is not the same thing as reinforcement.  Most of the time bribery will fail in the long run, though it works fine in the short term limited situation.  Hold out hope for getting some goodie "If you do xyz" and you will undermine whatever the dynamic is.   It also doesn't work well for children or dogs because as soon as the goodie is obtained, they go right back to doing whatever they wanted to do.  If you have ever had a dog that would only obey if you were holding food, this is the bribery dynamic in play.   I do train dogs with food, but I make sure I sometimes don't give them a treat when I have food in hand, and sometimes do give them a treat when I don't have food in hand (run to the fridge to get some- it is as simple as that).   

That brings up the point that research and practice have proved that variable reinforcement is the strongest in making permanent changes, much better than consistent reinforcement.  

So if Master smiles and says thank you every single time I bring his tea, it is not as effective as if he smiles and says thank you 75% of the time, or 50 %, or 25 %.  It's also not as effective to always use the same reward.  Sometimes he smiles, sometime he slaps my ass, sometimes he does nothing.  It is all training/reinforcing me, whether or not he's actually planned it out in his mind.   
Shaping is reinforcing only the best or closest efforts, and ignoring the less-perfect responses.  It is an extraordinarily powerful tool when used correctly, but it also requires incredible focus and discipline for the trainer that most people just cannot do except for short periods.   

Another example:  using the word "Master".   Sometimes it is a difficult habit to get into, and there can be mental blocks where it just doesn't feel right to a new slave to always say "Master".   But if he reinforces that behavior over time, it will grow stronger.  The slave says "Yes, Master" and he nods at her.  That little nod is an acknowledgement that she did the right thing.

  If you add in a reminder/punishment for failure to say it, it can very quickly be made a habit.  In this case, punishment does not mean "You didn't say 'Master', now I will beat you".  It can be something as simple as a significant look, clearing of his throat, or if that doesn't work "What do you call me?"  

Another tricky thing is that for some slaves ANY show of dominance is a reinforcement.  It fails as a punishment if it is actually a reinforcement, right?  A slap on the ass, hair pulling, face slapping, choking, a verbal reminder of her place... these are things some Masters try to use as punishment, but if they actually make the slave feel good inside "Yes! I am slave!" then they are working against his training program, doing the opposite of his intention.   

So, to make this work, he really needs to be inside her head and really SEE what are likes and what are dislikes, not just go off of his own feelings of what "should be."  

Anyway, this is the long version of why I feel that training never stops.  It permeates everything we do, and can be use to strengthen the dynamic or to make it break down over time.


  1. yes! this all made total sense to me.

    1. Thank you! I was hoping it did, to others besides me.


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