Weather Forecast


'What Shamu Taught...' is worth reading

"What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love and Marriage" by Amy Sutherland

c.2008, Random House $18/ $21 Canada

168 pages



The Bookworm Sez

Some days, it seems like nobody listens any more.

You nag your spouse yet again to pick up clothes that have been discarded on the floor.

You holler at the kids to finish chores, but they're suddenly hard-of-hearing.

You remind your mother that she needs to make that doctor's appointment she's been putting off, and she ignores you.

Some days, it seems like the only person who listens to you is the dog.

So hold up a minute. Training worked for the dog. Why wouldn't a modified version work with people? In the new book "What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love and Marriage" by Amy Sutherland, you'll learn some lessons that you can use with two-legged animals from the people who teach four-legged ones.

When you go to the circus or to SeaWorld, you might see elephants that stand on their heads or dolphins that leap out of the water on command. Animals don't just do those kinds of things. Somebody had to teach them.

In a previous book, Amy Sutherland wrote about an exotic-animal training college in California, and the work that students do with camels, cougars, kinkajous and other critters.

Back at home and after realizing that she was nagging her husband again, Sutherland remembered the students she observed and the training they did with monkeys and tigers and others. If it worked with often-unpredictable animals, she mused, why wouldn't the same kind of "training" work with human animals? She began to utilize the methods she picked up at the school.

When her husband - who had an innate habit of losing things - ranted about his missing keys, Sutherland gave him an LRS or a Least-Reinforcing Scenario, which meant that she did nothing.

By not flying to the rescue, she cut their stress-level down to zero. She reinforced behavior she wanted and ignored that which she didn't want.

She gave rewards quickly, appropriately, and often. By using what she calls "incompatible behaviors," she made errant actions impossible. And she made her home life and her marriage much better.

Okay, let's face this first: yes, there are going to be lots of readers who will sputter about how people aren't animals and "training" is demeaning.

This book isn't for them.

I found "What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love and Marriage" to be delightful. It doesn't advocate "training", although that's what author Amy Sutherland calls it.

Instead, it teaches readers to pay attention to what they say, how they say it, and why silence is sometimes best; how body language can be misconstrued; and why (sometimes wrong) assumptions are made by human communication.

It explains how you can lower stress levels, create harmony at home, and have a better relationship with family, friends, strangers, and yes, even your pets.

What's not to love about that?

If you've got an animal in your house, either of the two-legged or the four-legged kind, you're going to want to read this wonderful, helpful book. "What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love and Marriage" is a whale of a great read.