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

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While observing exotic animal trainers for her acclaimed book Kicked, Bitten, and Scratched, journalist Amy Sutherland had an epiphany: What if she used these training techniques with the human animals in her own life–namely her dear husband, Scott? In this lively and perceptive book, Sutherland tells how she took the trainers’ lessons home.

The next time her forgetful husband stomped through the house in search of his mislaid car keys, she asked herself, “What would a dolphin trainer do?” The answer was: nothing. Trainers reward the behavior they want and, just as important, ignore the behavior they don’t. Rather than appease her mate’s rising temper by joining in the search, or fuel his temper by nagging him to keep better track of his things in the first place, Sutherland kept her mouth shut and her eyes on the dishes she was washing. In short order, Scott found his keys and regained his cool. “I felt like I should throw him a mackerel,” she writes. In time, as she put more training principles into action, she noticed that she became more optimistic and less judgmental, and their twelve-year marriage was better than ever.

What started as a goofy experiment had such good results that Sutherland began using the training techniques with all the people in her life, including her mother, her friends, her students, even the clerk at the post office. In the end, the biggest lesson she learned is that the only animal you can truly change is yourself.

Full of fun facts, fascinating insights, hilarious anecdotes, and practical tips, What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage describes Sutherland’s Alice-in-Wonderland experience of stumbling into a world where cheetahs walk nicely on leashes and elephants paint with watercolors, and of leaving a new, improved Homo sapiens.

168 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2008

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Amy Sutherland

12 books29 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 195 reviews
Profile Image for Heather.
241 reviews4 followers
July 23, 2009
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 church!". Come to think of it, I was required to take psychology classes for my education degree that talked about B.F. Skinner's experiments, but no one gave such great examples of applying his conclusions to exotic animals or to the people around us. It is making me seriously consider my children's behavior as well as my own. What exactly, is the best way to help whining go extinct in a seven year old? How should I get my teenagers to clean their room? (Or is that even a battle I'd like to fight?) And how can I reward my nine year old for not pushing her brother into a tailspin when he has low blood sugar? The things I think I hadn't considered before are how important timing is, how little negative reinforcement works (and just what that is for the animals in my life), and how I often need to slow down and teach behaviors I'd like in stages instead of expecting the whole enchilada right now.
Profile Image for Judith.
1,538 reviews76 followers
August 16, 2010
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 behavior; reward good behavior.

the book is full of information that is helpful both in training your dogs and training your spouse and i am going to practice my newly learned skills on same.

10 reviews
March 4, 2008
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.
Profile Image for Cj.
56 reviews4 followers
March 22, 2008
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, instead of demanding compliance from the trainee-- is a very interesting way to look at moment to moment interactions. Her excitement and love of all the animals in her life makes her attempts at trying to understand and work with them very thought provoking.
Profile Image for Chung Chin.
107 reviews7 followers
March 23, 2012
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, but certain sections had me nodding in agreement or stopped to think bout its truthfulness.

Would still recommend it as most people can probably pick up a thing or two on how to improve their relationship.

At the end of the day, one important lesson is - take responsibility. If you think the problem is out there, that's the problem. Because if you're dealing with an exotic animal with that kind of thought, you might pay with your life.
Profile Image for Ariel.
12 reviews
August 18, 2009
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 to the sting of the punishment, and then there is nothing to do except to raise the severity, which is how well-meaning parents end up beating their children.
Profile Image for Anna.
238 reviews21 followers
April 20, 2014
It is an interesting concept. But I was disappointed with the book. She seemed to be trying to stretch an article into a book. A lot of it seemed pretty thin.
Profile Image for Asuka Nguyen.
124 reviews13 followers
April 28, 2020
3.5 🌟 in general and 4 🌟 for the last chapter - Life after Shamu.

First of all, I'm happy to know that nowadays animals are trained in modern progressive ways in which entices are applied, and skilled trainers try to understand thier behaviors to act accordingly rather than give any punishments:
"With traditional training, the goal is to have an animal do as it is told, to break it, show it who’s boss. This mind-set alone is enough to give people a negative idea of training. Who wants to be broken?"
"Working with rewards, trainers have also been able to teach species and behaviors previously thought to be untrainable."

The gist of this book:
If you ever expect to change others (which you will never stand a chance), just remember to "reward the behaviors you want and ignore the behaviors you don't". Not just in marriage but also in familial and social contexts. In other words, *train* yourself how to *train* them, your homo sapiens. Because: "Where there’s a problem, there’s a behavioral solution.”

Just put yourself in the position of a progressive trainer and bear in mind: "Training is communication rather than tame!"

- Is there anyway you can Shamu it?
- I just had a profoundly unshamu moment!
- That's not veeery Shamu.
These would be the lines I'm gonna converse to myself, not throwing up hands or reacting at the drop of a hat, when people act incompatible. At least, not anymore. In fact, I kinda tried it out right away with my little puppies.

Key takeaways:
- Training should only happen when both trainer and trainee are in good physical conditions and right states of mind only.
- Know your species - "its natural history, feeding habits, anatomy, social structure, and native habitat."
- Timing is crucial: one second late or early can sabotage all your efforts.
- Variable schedule of reinforcement helps maintain behaviors.
- Always take one baby step at a time, never expected gigantic leap.
- Acknowledge the 'tank syndrome' and best to have a contingency plan ready.
- Apply 'Least Reinforcing Scenario' because "a behavior provokes no reactions, it typically dies away."
- Take good advantage of 'Incompatible Behavior' which means training the subject to do something desirable rather than stop them from their current undesirable behavior cuz "it takes more energy to stop a moving object than to change its direction"
- Practice reading the cues: be one step ahead of your subjects to prevent catastrophic results in case you overlook what called 'Displaced Aggression.'

The last chapter telling the heart-wrenching story of Dixie just simply speaks volumes about the love they had for this babie. It makes you cry big time, and more to the point, proves your reading the whole book all worthwhile.
Profile Image for Lindsy Fish.
18 reviews5 followers
August 14, 2019
Love this book! It made me think much differently about how I interact with not only people, but with pets as well. This has also made a difference in how I treat myself and how I motivate myself. I have PTSD, Major Depressive Disorder, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, so how to deal with myself is a big deal. I highly recommend you read this if you have any kind of mood or anxiety disorder!
Profile Image for Debbi.
516 reviews16 followers
September 22, 2016
This took me far too long to read, mostly because I didn't like it. Another better title would be "How to manipulate people and treat them like animals to get what I want." The chapter that did me in was "The Least Reinforcing Scenario" in which we are encouraged to ignore and/or not react to unwanted behavior. Perhaps if I'm trying to train my puppy not to play too rough, this would work, but I fail to see how this would teach a wayward toddler. Her example was even more annoying. She relates how her husband would get more and more angry when he was looking for his lost keys, so she decided to ignore him. Perhaps it worked the first time, but I can't help but wonder if another message she is sending to her husband is, "I don't could care less about what's is important to you." Personally, I've tried to ignore my husband's habit of leaving one dirty fork on the counter. I've ignored it for 30 years and he still hasn't gotten the message. The rest of the examples from this chapter explain her experience with strangers; the rude aggressive driver, the grumpy sales lady. It is often best to ignore those people, but I doubt they're being taught any lessons from one stranger's interaction (or lack thereof).

It wasn't a total loss. I was reminded again and again that positive re-enforcement goes a long way to encouraging positive behavior or interactions. As the old Proverb says; "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."
Profile Image for Carole.
85 reviews
July 2, 2009
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 trainers focus on is that every interaction is training. Which is to say, the way you respond to an animal in any situation teaches it something about how to behave - or how to get a desired reaction from you.

The author posits that the same thing applies to humans. Like it or not, people tend to repeat behavior that gets rewarded and abandon behaviors that do not. So we should at least try to be cognizant of which behaviors we're rewarding and try extra hard to reward the behaviors we like.

This book is a pretty quick read with some very good ideas. It reminded me of when my sister said she had heard about some of the methods used to teach birds to talk and she was going to use them to teach her kid to talk. People are animals too.
Profile Image for Joe.
14 reviews2 followers
April 15, 2010
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 outline the broad concepts of animal training and what makes it effective. She then loosely applies those concepts to people in general. I went in looking for a lot of specific examples, and mostly got generalities.

Much of the content of this book that feels relevant can be found online in interviews of Sutherland, or in her articles for various magazines, and the book doesn't add a whole lot to the equation that you can't get from better animal training books from people like Karen Pryor.
Profile Image for Nick Gorski.
10 reviews1 follower
February 5, 2014
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 unlikable. I'm hoping that she played up the naïveté in an attempt at a literary device, but either way, it's awful.

"People ask me what the most important lesson I learned from the trainers and their animals. *To consider what you are reinforcing*, I answer." There you have it: her MOST IMPORTANT lesson was to think about the effects of your actions.

This book was a waste of time, money, and space. It will be the first book I've ever recycled, ever.

One last thing: I don't know who the hell edited this, but someone should have caught the numerous logical errors in the book.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
Author 2 books6 followers
May 9, 2008
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 I have definitely learned some things here to help me to become a better person and would gladly recommend it to others.
Profile Image for Dan.
Author 14 books36 followers
February 18, 2018
I don't particularly care for pop psych books and this one did nothing to change my mind. The author falls into tired gender roles, repeatedly calling herself a nag and referring to other women as bitches. She complains about her husband and his inability to comply with reasonable requests. I don't know if this tone was adjusted for the anticipated audience of the book, but since this was an assigned reading in a graduate course, it really fell flat for me.
21 reviews1 follower
November 16, 2017
Just read the NYT column and you've got everything you need to know about the author's experience.

There are better books on animal training and behaviorism. There are better books about effective communication with humans.

This book is light and entertaining, but manages to be neither of those things especially well.
Profile Image for Rick Kubina.
50 reviews19 followers
February 14, 2015
A great way to see the humanity of behavior analysis and how it can help engineer a better world (especially with those who mean the most to us).
Profile Image for Michelle.
4 reviews
January 10, 2020
This quick read made me laugh, consider, and marvel at animal behavior, particularly how humans are so similar to other animals in this world.
5 reviews
May 25, 2017
After reading What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage by Amy Sutherland for my Psychology 211 class, it really made me think about people and how we interact with each other, and think about each other. We all sort of expect everyone else to know what we’re thinking and wanting from them but they don’t know. We all punish each other and our pets when they don’t do what we want but we don’t reinforce or encourage what we do want. We all disregard when they do something right because they did one little thing wrong while doing it. This book really puts into perspective how we do certain things, and maybe thinking like an animal trainer is the way to fix it because we are animals too and our behavior sometimes resembles that of animals.
One part that I really liked about Sutherland’s book was the section on One Baby Step at a Time because it was about how we tend to emphasize what our exact criterion is when asking something of someone and that causes them to do something we don’t exactly want. Sometimes we ask for too much at a time instead of being grateful for doing one thing right at the least. For example, if someone gets you a birthday present and it’s not really something that you want you shouldn’t say thanks for getting me a present but I really wanted this. We should just say thanks for the present because that was the criterion we asked for. If we do things this way then people will be more likely to do things for us and be more likely to do what we really want.
I also really liked the section right after this about New Tank Syndrome. It explains a lot about human behavior. Sutherland compared how dolphins experience temporary amnesia with their learned skills when placed into a new tank, because they’re looking at everything new and not worried about their tricks and how with humans on sports teams they have home field advantage. That was like a mind-blowing thing for me because I never really thought about why teams have a home field advantage other than just being in their own field and they always play there. Well, it’s exactly that, they know how to play there already, they’re used to it and there’s nothing new for them so they don’t get distracted. There’s nothing you can really do about this besides give it some time to get used to the new surroundings.
After reading this, I started thinking about how I could try and use this too but on my dog. There’s always the common way of punishment to teach a dog, but if you really want the dog to do things for you, according to animal training, you must teach it one small step at a time and only reinforce their behavior when they do exactly what you want. The frequent problem of teaching pets, is humans are too slow to reinforce good behavior. They sometimes reinforce what they don’t want to reinforce because by the time they do, the animal has already moved on to a new behavior and now thinks that behavior is what we want. When I get my own dog, I think I will get a clicker and try and teach it tricks in this way.
During this semester, we learned about positive reinforcement and how it is the best way to teach something. We also learned about punishment and how it should only be used in necessity. We also learned about reinforcement schedules and which works best for reinforcing behavior. This book compares animal training to human training and during our class we learned about animal experiments and did our own human involved experiments. This book was a great addition to our lessons, and gave a more in depth description of reinforcement and conditioning.
Overall, I thought this book was good, and an interesting read. I never would of thought of using animal training on humans. Sutherland’s writing is factual and informative but also humorous. While you learn about how animal trainers teach animals, you’re also learning about how Sutherland and her husband torture each other daily, to keep you interested. I’m glad I read this book because it opened my eyes to a new way of thinking and reminded me to be more reinforcing with other people and not so negative.
Profile Image for Davida.
472 reviews
December 28, 2019
p. 69
"Second, because whenever you use discipline, no matter how judicious, you draw down the trust account. And third, because punishment may provoke nasty side effects: apathy, fear, and aggression. None of those are conducive to learning. A scared or anxious animal doesn't make a good student. An apathetic dolphin at the bottom of the tank can't be taught a thing. A raging buffalo is in no mood for instruction."

The above quote made me think about how giving grades in the classroom affects my relationship with my students.

p. 76
"We fear that if we spare the rod, all of humanity will go to pot. It may be our DNA, but certainly by the fifth grade most of us have learned that punishment makes the higher primate world go around. We are so convinced that discipline is the answer, that when it obviously isn't working, our instinct is, oddly, to lay it on thicker, yell louder, ground the kid for longer, don't talk to the husband for a week or two or three, dock the employee's pay."

More on how punishment isn't effective but is what we are naturally inclined to use.

Don't Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training - a book that Sutherland refers to that I may want to check out...

p. 84

On habits, superstitions, and associations:

"Then there are the little bits of behavior, habits, we accidentally train ourselves. I cannot sit down at my computer in the morning without a cup of coffee. I've taught myself I can't start typing without caffeine. Of course I can. When my mother cut back on cigarettes, she had to face a long list of activities that she thought were impossible without a lit butt in her hand. How would she, she wondered, talk on the phone without a cigarette? Or go grocery shopping? Or drink coffee?

Superstitious behaviors are accidentally reinforced behaviors. The term, to me, underscored how easy it is to teach something you didn't mean to, to yourself or someone else. If a behavior seems to produce a good result, whether it actually did or didn't, that behavior is going to stick."

About being responsive:

p. 87

"Humans, of course, don't need the immediacy animals do. We are accustomed to getting a payoff down the road; still, the sooner the better, especially when learning something new. Sooner is tough to do because human animals do things you like when you're not around. You can't help rewarding them after the fact. My policy became to reward behavior I wanted the very first chance I got. To do this, I had to give up some of my natural dithering. I RSVP to dinner invitations ASAP. If someone emails me a compliment about my work, I email back a thank you note right away instead of letting it languish in my inbox. If a present arrives in the mail, I open it up and then phone the giver. And when given the rare chance to reinforce someone in the moment, I jump on it."

This is a good argument against procrastination and seems to be a habit that can be strengthened over time.

p. 100
"The idea of approximations is nothing new to humans"
This animals training idea is a lot like Vygotsky's scaffolding theory in pedagogy.

p. 103
"The trial-by-fire approach is not only an unreasonable approximation, but an awfully lazy way to teach."
I have to admit that I have been guilty of doing this in the classroom, and it usually doesn't work. For people who aren't teachers, this is often brought up as a straightforward teaching approach. Here's the stuff. Learn the stuff. It just doesn't work like that. That is the art of teaching, or parenting, or animal training.

I liked the ideas in this book and the connections she made between her personal life with her friends and family and the techniques that animal trainers use. I didn't give it a higher rating because it was too repetitive at times, and I didn't always appreciate her tone. On the other hand, I did appreciate how she was honest about her own behavior and her motivation to change.
December 17, 2018
Amy Sutherland’s novel, “What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage” comes with fun anecdotes yet insightful results on what started as a simple interest through her dog’s training that ended up being one of the best paths she had taken in life. I definitely recommend this book, two of my psychology professors this semester recommended it to me but that does not mean the reader necessarily has to be a psychology major to enjoy this memoir which itself is a self-guide to an open mind; filled with humor, emotion, and understanding of ones daily life it reminds the audience that when it comes to modifications of those around you one must take the time to put into question their own behavior. With bringing the reader into her twelve-year-old marriage filled with plenty of arguments she showed that this “experiment” in training her husband while herself stepping into an animal trainers shoes was not for the sole purpose of changing an individual but to find improvements in not just marriage but in every relationship we may have and that all began with an evaluation of her own actions that could lead to a chain reaction in other’s responsive behaviors.

It amazed me to see how she managed to use psychological terminology in the way she did as she managed to incorporate her positive punishments and involved her techniques that involved the people around her, even with the mentioning of her failures at the start of it all. As she mentioned that we tend to train those around us without realizing it has really gotten me to be cautious of how I behave or treat others because I would not want anyone to get any wrong ideas or bad impressions for that matter. Overall it was great to see that she expanded her horizons past her marriage she also managed to trespass her optimism to whoever the reader may be to realize that a reaction is not always needed which makes me a little more confident in our future when it comes to the treatment of one another.

Sutherland illustrates to the reader the procedures of which an exotic animal trainer must take in order to engage with them and applies that to our own human species. This novel brings forth the importance of ones own behavior and reminds us that communication does not just come from from words, because like animals we ourselves can be trained with behaviors which should begin to be acknowledged as communication in itself.
1 review
May 25, 2017
In “What Shamu taught me about life, love and marriage” by Amy Sutherland, Sutherland speaks on her experiences involving animals and their training. Sutherland spent time at a college where she watched students perform new trainings towards animals and started taking the lessons she saw and started to apply them to her personal life. One of the people she “trained” and applied her new learning and understanding involving behavior was her husband, Scott. Sutherland starting changing her own behavior in what she said, how she thought, and how she acted. “My outlook is more optimistic. I’m less judgmental. I have vastly more patience and self-control. I’m a better observer. I get along better with people, especially my husband. I have a peace of mind that comes from the world making so much more sense to me.” One of her key findings relating to animal training which she started to apply towards her husband was how she reinforced the behavior she wanted such as: clear communication, calmness, favors she asked completed, etc. by rewarding it. Sutherland would also ignore the behaviors she did not want such as: arguments, high voices, miscommunication, etc. This negative behavior was not rewarded in hopes of the behavior decreasing. Sutherland mentions B.F. Skinner and his studies on operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is the main platform animal trainer’s use due to their high practice involving positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is more effective to teach animal’s new tricks and to train them in whatever the trainer has in mind to do. Animal training is no easy task but it can be done through lots of practice, repetition, and operant conditioning-especially through positive reinforcement. Sutherland was able to apply her new understanding revolving the world of animal training to her our relationships with her husband, mother, bosses, coworkers and friends. Sutherland was not handing them buckets of fish, pieces of meat or loads of bananas like trainers would hand the animals treats when they finished a successful session but she would reward them in different ways. Sutherland showed that by slightly altering our own behaviors and communication skills, those changes can go a long way to alter and create better relationships with our own family and friends.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
1 review
May 14, 2017
Amy Sutherland describes how she turned her time spent with exotic animal trainers into her most valued life lesson and how she used it to better her marriage with her beloved, Scott. She began with the basics of training and how they are used on animals and then went into some more sophisticated aspects and how to translate these concepts to people. Sutherland did a great job at making this book not only a fun read, but also user-friendly. She made the application of psychological ideas into everyday life seem perfectly feasible and exciting through her use of personal examples.

Some of the basics of training she discussed were the trainers’ use of progressive, positive techniques, how any kind of contact with an animal is training, and training “language” such as A-to-Bs and targeting. Teaching an animal A to Bs, or how to get from one behavior to another, is essentially a simple explanation of operant conditioning. The trainers’ progressive techniques demonstrate how effective positive reinforcement is. Sutherland goes over some more slightly difficult notions as well. For example, she talks about schedules of reinforcement and how variable reinforcement schedule is the most effective.

Amy Sutherland described a method called, “the Least Reinforcing Scenario” or LRS and how this became a huge part in her behavior shaping. Using this method means to ignore the behaviors that you do not like and wish to completely avoid reinforcing. She explained how this helped to keep her from nagging at her husband and largely avoid conflict with people.

I really appreciated how nicely this book flowed and how terms were put into more casual language. Sutherland used many personal examples that helped to put what she wrote into perspective. Her use of humor gave the book an undertone of light-heartedness and made her easy to relate to. Overall, I would definitely recommend this book. It made me extremely motivated to begin practicing animal training ideas with people. The concepts, such as positive reinforcement, are great tools and they help to prevent any type of relationship from becoming toxic or full of hostility.

Such a great read! Easy to understand.

Samantha Andrews
December 13, 2017
Dr. Kanevsky, our psych prof., gave the class the option to read this book for extra credit. As a student, I am all for doing extra credit. Who doesn’t? I decided to read this book via audiobooks app since I jog every day and I thought I could save time listening to it while I do my morning jog. The book is very descriptive, very vivid that characters almost come to life, like watching a movie. After spending years observing animal trainers and learning animal behaviors, she realized she can apply it to human behaviors. What I like the most was how she emphasized the concept of different types reinforcement and how it led her to understand herself, her husband’s and her family’s behavior. She mentioned Skinner’s Operant Conditioning, counterconditioning, punishments and reinforcements. She observed that trainers successfully incorporate positive reinforcement to train animals and believed it can be very effective to humans as well. She used specific details from her own life such as her fear of heights and needles. She said that if she is given peanuts with melted caramel every time she steps higher and higher above the ground, her fear of heights eventually be desensitized (counterconditioning). Also, if she is given a pair of earrings (she loves earrings) everytime she gets a needle shot, her fear of shots will gradually disappear. The author and her husband apparently labeled the practice of using the training techniques on each other as "shamuing" as "Did you just shamu me?". She also mentioned the Reinforcing Scenario in which we are encouraged to ignore or not react to unwanted behavior, which I happened to agree on and was also covered in our psych 211 class. One funny part of the book I like was she categorized her family into different species and subspecies. Why only 3 stars? Although the book is humorous, interesting and practical, she talks way too much about animals than humans. I got lost in the midst of the animal kingdom and got so bored. It's likely because I am not an animal lover. However, if you love animals and need to work on your relationship, then this is a must book to read for you.
May 23, 2017
This book was an outstanding additional resource to assist with my educational experience in a Learning class that focuses on concepts encompassed by both classical and operant conditioning. I love the educational components of this book, where Amy describes in detail the various aspects of behavior modification applied to both animal as well as human experiences most of us can relate to. She emphasizes that although you cannot change who a person is and what makes them tick, you can change your own behavior to reinforce behaviors you want and ignore the one's you do not. This is so important because we often may not think that the way we behave around others has the magnitude of effect on their behavior towards us that it does. She simplistically outlines this for us. Her witty yet brilliant "rules" are excellent guidelines to how we can make our own lives better by understanding what and why people do what they do. Through reflecting upon and writing about her experiences working with animal trainers, she repeatedly shows her readers that we are much more similar to them then we would think. And much more understandable. Overall, it is a wonderful piece that if someone takes the lessons she is teaching can have more satisfied relationships and can even recognize and change the things about themselves they did not think possible. I will say that I was not prepared for the emotional experience Amy shares with us at the end, but she shows that when good things end something good can always follow it. This book is both entertaining and interesting. Most importantly, though, it is extremely enlightening for those of us that can put ourselves in her shoes and identify relatable problems in our own lives. I'm grateful to Amy, her friends, colleagues, and family for her sharing her story.
1 review
December 12, 2017
This book was very effective with understanding some different terms I learned in my psych 211 class. It showed me different ways the things I learned in class can be applied to real life in a different setting. Mostly because it is used in training, I loved how something so simple like training an animal can shine so much positive light in someone’s life. I also enjoyed reading about how training is a positive thing for animals as well. The book talks about how it is good for the animals because it provides exercise for the animal and provides mental stimulation. During this book the author mentions how important using positive reinforcement is better than punishment. The reason behind this is because through positive reinforcement the animal comes to trust you and becomes more engaged and motivated. You are teaching the animal the behavior you want it to do, as opposed to teaching it what it should not do. Something to know about the punishment is that we can become desensitized to the unpleasant experience, so the punisher may increase the punishment creating fear towards the punisher. Something else that is important is that the only way to keep the behavior you want you must reinforce enough which can be done through a schedule of reinforcement. Overall, I loved this book and it actually gave me a few tips on how to keep my relationships strong. While I was reading this I read things I already knew but didn’t actually think about or used. I am so excited to try applying some of these things into my everyday relationships. After reading this book, I would definitely recommend it, since it's easy to understand and helpful to apply in our own lives in order to have more satisfied interactions.
1 review
December 15, 2017
This book was optional to read for my Psyc 211 class. Judging from the title of the book I assumed it was going to be one of those cliché inspirational books, but it was far from that. Who knew there would be such a strong correlation between animal training and improving a marriage. Amy starts off with how her husband had annoying habits such as leaving tissues around and it didn't matter if she approached the situation neutral, nagged, or yelled because it would end up back firing everytime and her husband wouldn't change his bad habits. With great wisdom from animal trainers she surprisingly found the patience, control, and knowledge of how to not take things so personal. Using animal training tactics sounds ridiculous and irrational but Amy definitely proved that it can work. It was very impressive to read how she used positive reinforcemnt on her husband to change his behavior. I had no idea that positive reinforcement was even used for animal training to reinforce a desired behavior. This perfectly explains why I wasn't capable of training my dog, I assumed that my dog was just very stubborn. I wasn't even using any of the tactics Amy discussed in her book such as rewarding good behavior. I think what's really interesting is how ignoring an undesired behavior can do so much more than you thought it would have. Overall, I'd say this was a very entertaining book to read and I'll forsure be using these tactics on my dog and other people who have habits that annoy me.
Profile Image for Mary.
121 reviews
August 6, 2019
I love this book! It really puts a lot into perspective and shows us how silly the human animal really is.

Some might misunderstand the concept of "training" your spouse. It's not so much training, but showing you how you can get the results you want by using a less aggressive approach than many of us currently use--yelling and nagging. The book explains about positive reinforcement training that is used by animal trainers, especially marine mammal trainers. Using gentle techniques to encourage a wanted behavior and ignore unwanted behaviors is key. Another important key is trying to deprogram human tendencies when applying these training techniques to humans--such as punishing unwanted behaviors. We are our own worst enemy at times, which can hinder getting the results we want (i.e. clothing picked up off the floor).

This is a great book for anyone who is interested in animal training as well as becoming a better communicator with people. It shows that these training techniques can be used on any animal, including the human animal!

I cannot wait to read her other book, 'Kicked, Bitten, and Scratched', and I will most likely read this book again. I especially liked reading about the trainers in training school, and the things they trained certain animals to do. And I found myself laughing several times because of these stories.

This review is also posted on the LibraryThing website.
Profile Image for Brenn.
14 reviews6 followers
December 13, 2017
I found this book really entertaining. I thought she found a really great approach to a tough subject, who wants to say that they trained their husband to pick up their stinky clothes from the bathroom floor right? But in way of comparison, for every step of teaching her husband or her mom or even her friends, I liked that she was able to find an animal training story to go along with it. It did make me question if the animal training stories were in chronological order along with her family training, or if she just connected them so well. I definitely see this book as a great instructional manual for learning to control my own impulses that may be training those around me to push on my pet-peeves.
That is another thing I greatly liked about this book, she isn't only training those around her, she's training herself to react accordingly as well, which is great advice for anyone reading this book, that training, or behavior control isn't something that only one person needs to adjust. Even talking about relationships, it's an effort by both parties, not just one person.
In summary, I would really recommend this book for anyone having difficulties with their partners, or children. This book really helps aide not only behavior changes, but lifestyle changes.
Profile Image for Rachel.
88 reviews14 followers
February 4, 2022
As a dog behavior specialist and healthy, respectful communicator in my human relationships, I have lots of thoughts about this book that missed so many marks.

The biggest disconnect with this book is that Sutherland is comparing two very different communication/learning styles and trying to make them work interchangeably between two/many different species. There's no way that's going to work. Sutherland confuses fair domestication of wild animals (in a way animals comprehend) with manipulating humans into doing what you want them to do, at their expense, for your own benefit, and by what *you* think motivates them. Not only does this line of thinking lead to failure with what you're trying to do, it's extremely damaging to all the people you are interacting with.

She uses very educated buzz words, but because she doesn't understand the science behind what she's talking about, she loses all credibility with people who actually do work with animal behavior science and/or healthy communication between humans.

If you're having trouble communicating with a fellow human, please seek out help from a professional communicator/therapist/"habit building" psychologist instead of reading this unorganized book about animal training used on complex, unique, unpredictable humans.
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