What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers
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What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers

3.55 of 5 stars 3.55  ·  rating details  ·  461 ratings  ·  113 reviews
While observing trainers of exotic animals, journalist Amy Sutherland had an epiphany: What if she used their techniques with the human animals in her own life–specifically her dear husband, Scott? As Sutherland put training principles into action, she noticed that not only did her twelve-year-old marriage improve, but she herself became more optimistic and less judgmental...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published April 14th 2009 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published January 1st 2008)
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Cj
I think the title would have been much better if the word "marriage" had been left out. If I hadn't heard an interview with the author on the Today Show I probably would have passed it by thinking it was some sort of peculiar self-help book on fixing romantic entanglements. I am very glad I gave it a look. The idea of treating homo sapiens using the same techniques that have worked the most effectively on training other animals-- patience, kindness, and adjusting the trainers expectations, inste...more
Nan
I really enjoyed this book! In many ways it was a light, fun, fast read, but it also packed a punch. Life is a series of relationships with animals (human and non), and this clever book helps you understand their intersections just a little bit better.
Heather
I decided to take my entertainment into my own hands and listen to What Shamu Taught me About Life, Love and Marriage by Amy Sutherland. The first bit was unconvincing, but the more I listened the more I decided it was fun and useful. The author spent a year shadowing people who were learning to be dolphin trainers, and the more she heard what they were learning, the more she decided that this would work on her husband. As I listen, I'm thinking, "Yes! And on children! And the young women at chu...more
Judith
this is an interesting little book which i was happy to learn was not written by an animal trainer, but by a journalist observing animal trainers. i think the author's personality really shaped the message because she is sharp and funny and doesn't take herself too seriously. at the same time, i did learn (or reinforce things i had previously learned) about the similarity between animal training and people training. so much of it is common sense but seemingly impossible to learn, ie. ignore bad...more
Carole
This book is an extended version of a column that Ms. Sutherland wrote for the New York Times a couple years ago. I picked up the book after reading the column.

I liked it. While writing a book about the animal training program at Moorpark College (the local CC where I grew up that's apparently a world-renowned facility for animal trainers. Who knew?), the author realized that a lot of the principles of animal training can be applied to human interaction.

One thing that progressive animal trainer...more
Ariel
Probably the best parenting book I've read (that isn't a parenting book)! Sutherland describes the training methods used in modern exotic animal training and applies them to her personal relationships with great success. The methods described here are the modern, positive-only methods advocated by psychs such as BF Skinner- I have started moving towards this with my own kids with great success. As she says in the book, the problem with a punitive model is that eventually the "animal" gets used t...more
Jennifer
May 08, 2008 Jennifer rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in learning
This is a great book about perspective and self. I love the way the author takes what she learned about exotic animal training and applies it to how we interact with each other. The other great thing about this book is that it applies across the board: it's not a man-bashing text on how to train your husband or anything like that. Manipulation is not her point, which I thought was great. This book really got me thinking about how I act and react and why, about how I treat others and why. I'd say...more
Nick Gorski
I had purchased this years ago when there was an nytimes piece on it. Fantastic concept: apply lessons from animal trainers to your relationships in everyday life, to change habits and encourage new behaviors!

Unfortunately the book is a total waste of time. A super quick 160 pages (I think the paperback is triple-spaced) could have been boiled down to a two page summary and been more useful and interesting.

The worst part was that it was written in the first person, and the author is so unlikabl...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
I should have taken notes while I read this book.

Sutherland is sent to write a newspaper article about exotic animal trainers. In the process of writing the article, she realizes that the training techniques of the animal trainers are the same ones we humans use, albeit unconsciously and not very well, on our spouses, our friends, and our children.

This book is Sutherland’s attempt to show how she was able to take the methods of the trainers and purposefully apply them to change situations in h...more
Jennie
About 5 years ago, at my first internship, my supervisor handed me an article from The New Yorker called "What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage." It was about a journalist who studied animal training at Moorpark College in order to write about it for an article - and in the process learned a lot about how to deal with people, especially her husband.

It was an adorable article, and it lived in the back of my brain until a couple of years ago when Borders was having a going-out-of-bus...more
Adele Stratton
A reporter who did a magazine piece on large animal training and had it affect her life. Some good stuff, including this: “Walking the Walk” – Why not just be direct, as some people put it to me, and tell people what you want or don’t? First, why speech is automatically considered a more direct means of communication than behavior is a mystery to me. Second, talk isn’t all it’s cracked up to be: “We humans love language to a fault. We blab on about how speech makes us superior communicators to a...more
John
I felt like it was quite, useful. It provided some kind of sensibility that i feel is very based in realism. Unfortunately, for such a ... romantic person such as myself i don't know if i'll ever remember these suggestions.

Ah well. I felt like there is a ton of people that SHOULD read this book though.

I can't remember exactly what I learned from it... something like his

1. Use positive reinforcement and ignore what you don't like

2. All behaviour is a form of teaching unlike its explicitely netura...more
Joe
Amy Sutherland has an interesting premise for this book: People are animals, and they should respond to animal training.

Turns out they do. But this book feels awkwardly split between how training applies to people, and how it works in the animal world. For a book that is titled "Lessons for people" there are surprisingly few anecdotes about Sutherlands actually training efforts on the people in her life. The felt far more focused on animals.

This is partially because Sutherland is trying to outli...more
Chung Chin
This is a book that's in the same genre as The Year Living Biblically or The Happiness Project. All of these are more or less a memoir of the author's experiments.
For this particular book, it's about Amy Sutherland using animal training techniques on people in her life.

I started this book with an expectation of it as a "how-to" book. So of course I was disappointed when I realized it's more of a memoir.

Nonetheless it is an interesting book. There are parts where I don't agree or don't buy it,...more
Heather the Hillbilly Banjo Queen
I loved this book. It was an easy and pleasant read and the information contained therein was awesome and completely useful. This book focuses on how animal trainers get their animals to perform and behave and how she took those principles and applied them to her family and people she worked with. She even applied them to cashiers at the store and fellow shoppers and found she felt happier and less stressed when she ran across unseemly behavior. Sadly, she has no children and has no practical ex...more
Carlie
Heard the author on npr, she was telling a story of when her husband looses his keys. He frantically is looking everywhere and she always joins to look for them, giving what she thinks is helpful advice/assistance, but in the end is only escalating the stress of the situation. So after absorbing techniques from the top animal training school in the US she learned to not do anything. She avoided him when he was upset and only was involved to congratulate him on finding his keys, thereby reinforci...more
Shira
So for those of you who have always wondered what learning processes and behavior analysis really means... or for those of you who have wondered how we can study animals and apply it to humans... well this book takes you through it in layman's terms. Not all of the scientific facts presented are perfectly accurate (though most are), but the book provides a general overview of behavior modification, and the idea that we are all manipulating behavior all the time, and ways in which the author beca...more
Stephanie
I could see how some of these animal training lessons could be applied to training human animals, but like my husband said, that only works if the human animal doesn't know you're trying to train them. Also I wanted to know more about what you could do if the animal training methods DON'T work - with both animals or humans. For example, if I ignore my cat when he scratches the carpet, he won't know that this is my way of telling him that's a behavior I don't like. On the other hand, if I try to...more
Rebecca Schley
This book was definitely interesting and food for thought. But I don't know if I'll end up trying any of these techniques on people in my life. I actually found the animal side of it more interesting even though I went into it hoping to gain a few tips for people in my own life. Some of the techniques used on humans just seemed like a lot of work. Having to know so many details of a person before deciding how to "train" them. I also didn't think some of the training "techniques" were anything ne...more
Cecilee
As a current psychology major, I not only understood this book on a fun level but also on an academic one. I would recommend it to anyone - simply because it has so many good points - my favorite of which is "not everybody's bad attitude is because of something you did - some days are just bad and our attitudes are adjusted accordingly" (more or less). And also I appreciate the concept of positive reinforcement as opposed to punishment - if I hear one more family member scream at another at a re...more
Stephanie
The principles Sutherland describes in this book will be familiar to anyone who has read a parenting book from the past decade -- focus on the positive, ignore the behavior you don't want, people will do almost anything for a small reward -- and as any parent knows, much harder to do on a regular basis when it's not your full-time job![return][return]An entertaining read, but the article from the NYT that started the whole craze is probably just as sufficient. Don't have children, forgot what it...more
Michael Czeiszperger
As a long time horse owner the positive reinforcement concepts are very familiar, and I've long told friends that reward based animal training techniques work well with children. While I like the message, I found the tone of the writing to be self-important and annoying, and skipped over large portions of it.

The real magic here is she found a philosophy that allowed her to give up her obsession with making her world perfect, and notice the good things done by her love ones.

So.... I really loved...more
Natalie
Although the basic concepts of positive reinforcement training are not new material for most readers, whether your background is in animal training or in relationship negotiation, this quick read has some interesting tidbits and reminders. The examples taken from exotic animal trainers are engaging. And her point (taken from a top exotic trainer) about how humans tend to over-correct (their dogs or their spouses) partially because of primate dominance tendencies is a really good one. Stand back...more
Kelly Barth
Sutherland is on to something here. Between listens to the new k.d. lang CD, this book kept me completely engaged during a 900-mile drive from Lawrence, KS, to Slippery Rock, PA, just in time for a visit to the in-laws. Sutherland learned how to improve her relationships with humanoids from extensive visits with animals and their trainers. If you're a biped, you're instinctively going to try to manipulate people. Why not use reward-based rather than punishmen-based strategies. They work better,...more
Bridgid
I love this book! Great storytelling. I found some interesting tidbits to apply to my work with preschoolers....
Jen
Excellent book. It's not about manipulation others to do what you want them to do, it's about altering your behavior in a positive way to elicit positive responses. It's all about perspective. :) I disagree with the LSR technique, as when it is used on me, I get absurdly angry. I don't like being ignored. It could just be used on me inappropriately. Maybe the pause is too long, I'm not sure. Either way, I'm not overly fond of that technique. Good book, well written. Made me want to go to the ani...more
Rachel
Mar 16, 2009 Rachel rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: mothers of young children
I didn't expect to give this book 5 stars, as I sometimes skipped ahead when I became bored from a lengthy example of Amy's, but i do believe it deserves them. In simple language, Amy is able to clearly help me become a better mother. I bought it to help teach my husband how to put his laundry in the hamper, but instead, I got some real life lessons on patience and how to teach. While none of the advice is earth-shattering, it's presented in a manner I could quickly read and comprehend and begin...more
Emily
A fun and easy read.
- Some interesting insights into the world of exotic animal training
- Some humorous bits about marriage, as well as a fresh perspective on the subject
- If you have ever loved a pet/animal like it was your only friend/child, you will probably appreciate this book (especially the end)
- Narrated with an honest and intimate (if sometimes catty) voice

The only drawback was that the 'lessons' were pretty obvious and reiterated over and over - it could have used more substance.
Tia
this book is based on a tremendously popular article in the New York Times. The idea? You can train the people around you to be less annoying, to whine less, not trail their dirty socks around the house, wait their turn, etc., using the same techniques animal trainers use. While the premise is intriguing, it's not really a how-to book, and the story-line drags after a while. I'm sure it was fabulous for Sutherland to hang out with tiger and seal trainers, but it's less fabulous for her audience....more
Katie
I am admittedly a huge fan of self-helpy memoirs. I gobble them up. But this one fell flat. Sutherland was quite repetitive (even in such a short text) and wasn't very concrete about how readers can use the animal training lessons she learned in their own lives. I loved her article in the NYT and I truly love the concept, but I didn't feel like she made an impact with this book. Every "life lesson" I got from this book I got from "The Happiness Project," and in a much more impactful way.
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