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

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  993 ratings  ·  179 reviews
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 husb
Hardcover, 168 pages
Published February 12th 2008 by Random House (first published January 1st 2008)
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Aug 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Mar 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Asuka Nguyen
Apr 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: self-help
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 broke
Lindsy Fish
Aug 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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!
Jul 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Chung Chin
Jan 10, 2012 rated it liked it
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,
Apr 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 26, 2014 rated it liked it
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.
Rick Kubina
Feb 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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).
Jan 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This quick read made me laugh, consider, and marvel at animal behavior, particularly how humans are so similar to other animals in this world.
May 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Dec 21, 2019 rated it liked it
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
Lilia Ramirez
Dec 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
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; f ...more
May 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Stephanie by: Professor Inna Kanevsky
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 ev ...more
Anitta S. Psych 211
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 app ...more
Lisa Kuschnick
May 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
May 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: finished
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sirena Shar
Dec 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 becaus ...more
Dec 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 an ...more
Aug 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 tra ...more
May 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed reading this book. You can really feel the authors love and caring personality through her words. She wants to train her husband because she cares so much for him. I thought it was really unique in a sense that you felt like you were reading a story along with almost like a psychology text book in the sense that it was informative in a way that everyone can understand but she still used many psychological techniques that are taught in college courses on how to modify behavior. A ...more
Read the full review on my blog.

This book is such a cute book! It is such an easy read that I read it in one sitting. I liked it because I am super interested in behavior. I study behavior in humans, and I am here to tell you that a lot of the concepts are the same! The way that Amy related exotic animal training to her marriage is something that seems to be unlikely, but actually went hand in hand.

I will say there is one thing I didn’t like about this book. I think that it is just the critical
Feb 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
While the title of this book has not aged well with the captivity of killer whales being widely acknowledged as inhumane to their natures and size, this book was full of humor, insight, and practical. Her advice is for responding in conflict (which is not to respond at all), for encouraging the behavior you want more than nagging against the things you don’t like. Reading this book has given me practical and positive fresh approaches to human relationships as well as very effective approaches to ...more
Feb 18, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Dec 31, 2020 rated it it was ok
I listened to the audiobook version of What Shamu Taught Me and was turned off by the voice. I probably should have read the printed version to give it a chance.

As it is, I cannot recall, other than the voice, any reason that I disliked it. There wasn't going to be anything profound. Just the memoir of someone who's life is either not interesting or not interestingly told.

I should give it another try, but there is a reason I did not return to it. I should go with my first instinct.
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Why not focus on some serious family drama? Not yours, of course, but a fictional family whose story you can follow through the generations of...
190 likes · 67 comments
“[My husband] can beat most anyone in Trivial Pursuit, but only because the game does not include questions like "Where is your wallet?” 4 likes
“Any interaction is training. Translation: Every time you have any kind of contact with an animal—when you leave food on the floor, talk to it, pass its enclosure—you are teaching it something whether you mean to or not.” 0 likes
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