Book Review–What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers by Amy Sutherland

< A version of this article was published in the January 2020 issue of Downeast Dog News>

< Updated 29DEC19 >

< A short link for this page – >

In my December column, I encouraged you to give your pet the gifts of patience, knowledge, and an attitude that emphasizes frequently rewarding behavior we like rather than fixating on our pets when they do something we do not like.

About a week after I completed my column, Kate and I recorded a Woof Meow Show on the same topic. We discussed books I had recommended where people could acquire knowledge and help them understand the importance of patience and rewards. It was then that Kate reminded me of a book that we had both read that greatly influenced us, not only in the way we work with dogs but with the people in our lives. That book is What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers. By Amy Sutherland, the book is not a dog training book but is a reflection on how writing a book about exotic animal trainers (Kicked, Bitten, and Scratched: Life and Lessons at the World’s Premier School for Exotic Animal Trainers) dramatically changed the author’s life, for the better. The book eloquently presents the case for patience, knowledge, and a positive outlook.

In the books Introduction Sutherland notes:

I’m an altogether different person than I was three years ago. …My friends and family may not have noticed, but I am almost unrecognizable to myself at times. 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.”

Wow! To me, that is quite a life change and all from writing a book about animal trainers. The discussion Kate and I had about “Shamu” convinced me to reread the book and to give it a proper review.

In her book, Sutherland discusses how she applied what she learned about animal training to people in her life, such as her husband, mother, and friends. Below I have highlighted some of my favorite snippets from, hoping to entice you to borrow or buy a copy and read it in its entirety.

Based on her experiences while training her dog Dixie, Sutherland became increasingly interested in animal training and started researching a book on animal trainers and the Moorpark College’s Exotic Animal Training and Management Program. There she learned the following:

Training with force and coercion is unnecessary and counterproductive. – “Train every animal as if it’s a killer whale” meant to work with every animal as if you could neither forcibly move it nor dominate it.

We are the human with the allegedly more powerful brain, so we need to take reasonability for our dog’s success. – “It’s never the animal’s fault” is pretty much what it says: If an animal flounders in training, it’s the trainer’s fault.”

Both dog and human trainer must be one hundred percent engaged with one another while training. – “When they train, that is all they are doing. They aren’t answering the phone, looking for a yogurt in the fridge, or paying bills while checking to see if a dolphin correctly slapped the water with its pectoral flipper.”

Sutherland also learned that trainers must attend to their own behavior – “Students [Student Trainers] can’t lose their temper during a training session, ideally not even sigh, because that might undo all they have accomplished to that point…

Most importantly, Sutherland learned to resist the human instinct to focus on the negative and instead to focus on the behavior we want. – “Progressive animal trainers reward the behavior they want and, equally importantly, ignore the behavior they don’t.”

Progressive trainers want nothing less than zest, spark, joie de vivre.”

The trick is that ignoring unwanted behavior is only half the equation. The other half is noticing and rewarding what you want. The two go hand in hand.”

Every year I give each member of the Green Acres Kennel Shop team a book at Christmas time and often share the same title with the local veterinarians and their staff. This book was my gift choice for 2019.

If you are not a hermit living a solitary and isolated existence, but instead interact with other living things, I am confident that you will learn something from What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers. While not a classic “how to train your dog” book, I have added it to my recommended reading list for anyone with a pet or who works in the pet care service industry. The foundation it provides for changing your behavior, as well as the behavior of your dog, parent, friends, children, mother, or anyone, is invaluable.

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog
( )

A Recommended Reading and Listening List for Pet Care Professionals –

Recommended Resources for People with Pets

Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( ) in Bangor, ME, where he has been helping people with their pets since 1995. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC), and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). Don is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) and is committed to PPG’s Guiding Principles and the Pain-Free, Force-Free, and Fear-Free training, management, and care of all pets. Don produces and co-hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show, that airs on Z62 Retro Radio WZON (AM620) and WKIT 103.3-HD3 and is streamed at every Saturday at 9 AM. Podcasts of the show are available at, the Apple Podcast app, and at Don’s blog:  The opinions in this post are those of Don Hanson.


©29DEC20, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved
< Click for Copyright and Use Policy >

Animal Training – The Best Animal Trainers – Ever!, Memories from FaceBook – 16SEP12

Don at "Chicken Camp" with Marian and Bob Bailey
Don at “Chicken Camp” with Marian and Bob Bailey

This morning FaceBook reminded of a series of blog posts from Dr. Sophia Yin that I shared four years ago.  If you are an animal trainer or aspire to be one, if you are interested in training or psychology, or if you are a science history geek, I believe you will find these four articles enlightening.

These four links are to two blog articles on Dr. Sophia Yin’s blog page where she has published her interview with Bob and Marian Bailey about the best animal trainers in history. I was very fortunate to have attended the same seminar that Dr. Yin did and heard some of this important history firsthand and had an opportunity to learn from two of the best animal trainers in history; Marian and Bob Bailey. Thank you to Dr. Yin for publishing this interview and Thank you to Marian and Bob Bailey for all that you taught me..

The Best Animal Trainers in History: Interview with Bob and Marian Bailey, Part 1 –

The Best Animal Trainers in History: Interview with Bob and Marian Bailey, Part 2 –

The next two articles discuss some of the training accomplishments of Animal Behavior Enterprises where Keller Breland, and Marian and Bob Bailey did much of their pioneering training work with animals.

Keller and Marian Breland Create the Field of Applied Animal Psychology

How Technology from 30 Years Ago is Helping Military Dogs Perform Better Now


How I Trained A Chicken –

©16SEP16, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Dog Training – What Is Clicker Training?

clickerClicker Training uses an event marker or signal paired with positive reinforcement to train the dog each desired individual behavior. The reinforcement may be food, play, or even freedom; whatever is most motivating to the dog and applicable for that specific training session. The marker signal, in this case a “click”, is used to precisely indicate the instant the dog performs the desired behavior. For example, if I’m training a dog to sit, I click at the exact instant the dogs butt touches the floor and then reward them with a small treat. There is nothing magic about the clicker it is just a signal. Marine mammal trainers typically use a whistle as their signal or event marker. The clicker is used as a training tool only, and once the dog has been trained the behavior the clicker is no longer used for that behavior.

Clicker Training is not a novel new approach to training for dogs. It is a form of Operant Conditioning first outlined by behavioral scientist B.F. Skinner. It has been used since the 1940’s for training a wide variety of animals and has been increasing in popularity for training dogs since the 1990’s. It is also used at marine mammal parks like Sea World as well as at many zoos throughout the world.

Clicker Training at the Shedd Aquarium – These videos from NBC News describes how the Shedd Aquarium uses clicker training with everything from whales to dogs. –

If you want to learn more about the power and versatility of clicker training, check out these articles:

Clicker Training: A Dog’s Point of View

The CIA’s Most Highly-Trained Spies Weren’t Even Human-Smithsonian – This link from the October 2013 issue of the Smithsonian discusses how clicker training/operant conditioning was used to train animals for intelligence gathering. It illustrates the power and versatility of this training technique. –



©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>