'Shamu' Teaches Humans a Thing or Two In 2006, the most e-mailed story in The New York Times was an op-ed about one woman's attempt to get her husband to pick up his dirty laundry using the same techniques employed by animal trainers. Now, author Amy Sutherland has turned the op-ed into a book.
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'Shamu' Teaches Humans a Thing or Two

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Back in June 2006, The New York Times ran an op-ed piece about one woman's attempt to get her husband to pick up his dirty laundry, borrowing techniques used by exotic animal trainers. It became the newspaper's number one most e-mailed article for that entire year.

Journalist and author Amy Sutherland turned that column into a book: "What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers." She joins us in a moment.

And if you want to talk with her about - excuse me - training a spouse or an animal, our phone number is 800-989-8255. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org. You can also tell us your story on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Later on in the program, one of the best and the most entertaining quarterbacks ever decides to call a career. Brett Favre announced his retirement today. But first, "What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage," Amy Sutherland joins us here in Studio 3A.

Nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION today.

Ms. AMY SUTHERLAND (Author, "What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers"): Hi. It's great to be back, Neal.

CONAN: And what does it mean to shamu somebody?

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Well, that's a verb that my husband and I started using in our house as a sort of shorthand way to say, how would you use exotic animal training to solve this behavioral problem or puzzle you're having with somebody?

CONAN: So you can say, I just got shamued?

Ms. SUTHERLAND: You can say I got shamued. I shamued somebody. We also say that's very unshamu.


(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: A real shamu moment?

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Yeah. Right. They're shamu moments. We're really running with this.

CONAN: Yeah. And these are - for those who have not read your earlier book, these are not your standard animal trainer techniques that perhaps we might be familiar with, you know, the whip and the chair.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Right. That's actually, I mean, that's very old school. And the trainers I followed at this school and then the professional trainers I met are all what I call progressive animal trainers, and they use all reward to work with their animals. And more than that, they really use training to communicate with their animals. It's not about dominating or controlling the animal or making it do what you want it to do. It's using training as a form of communication.

CONAN: And I know also that a lot of people got upset by your use of the word training, that you're…

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Right. Yeah.

CONAN: …training people as you would an animal.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Well, that's, I think, a lot of that is that people have old-school ideas of training and they're not aware of how dramatically it's changed or how it's used. And also, people just, they sort of misunderstand - I wish I had another word to use, but they misunderstand that I'm using it in the same spirit in a sense of how to communicate with people with my behavior, not trying to control them.

CONAN: And of course, the big difference between communicating with animals and communicating with humans is - with humans, most of the time, you get to use words.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Right, right. But you know, what was really profound to me was that the exotic animal trainers I followed were able to communicate, and to get these animals to do really complicated things without one word. And that really proved to me that behavior is communication, which we know, kind of. You know, we talk about body language and stuff but I don't - we don't really use it. It's kind of like an underused muscle.

CONAN: One of the principles that you use from these exotic animal trainers that you spent a year with was, it's never the animal's fault, and this is a good principle, I think, when training animals.


CONAN: With humans, sometimes it is.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Well, that's true.

CONAN: That's (unintelligible) fault.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: That's true. And all these - the sort of way of thinking I adopted is all like a rule of thumb and it's all, you know, it's not a set, cookie-cutter approach. But what I liked about the idea is how trainers said it's never the animal's fault is that it always meant to them that if something wasn't - if an animal wasn't learning something, that they should try something else. Instead of just saying, this is a stupid animal or the animal is too tired or too bored, the trainer would look to themself and think, what else can I do?

CONAN: And that the techniques succeeds has been demonstrated by the fact that all kinds of animals that nobody ever taught were trainable ...

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Yeah. It's crazy. I mean…

CONAN: It turned out to be trainable.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Well, I mean, one of the wildest examples I saw which does not seem that dramatic but about these trainers who would train dart frogs to jump onto scales to get weights, so they would know how much these frogs weigh. You know, at the Baltimore Zoo not far from here, the Baltimore Aquarium, the tamarin monkeys are trained to give urine samples on demand - on command. So I mean, this is pretty amazing stuff, and it's really revolutionized animal care in this country.

CONAN: A lot of people think animals should be left to be wild as much as they possibly can.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Well, I think, you know, that's a case of where we're sort of being anthropomorphic because we assume, you know, once an animal is in captivity, what is best for it is probably not to be left in as wild a state as it, is it might be because it's not in a wild state to begin with. And with training, since you cannot only do all this medical care but you can also with training provide a lot of stimulation, you can provide a lot of physical exercise, and so you can really improve that animal's life.

CONAN: Entertainment, too. Animals like to be entertained.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Oh, yeah. Yeah, totally.

CONAN: And again, anthropomorphism, humans do that for a lot of animals.


CONAN: Does that still hold true, and again, you're talking about other humans?

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Well, you know, one of the rules the trainers have is or what they struggle to not do is to ever anthropomorphize the animals they're training. And they don't do that for a lot of reasons. One of which is that it could lead to a lot of bad training decisions. But what made me think, you know, this is one of these examples where I took something that's very specific to the training world and sort of ran it through the filter of my own mind and started thinking about, what does this mean for me? And what I found is that I sort of anthropomorphized the people around me in that I would project myself into sort of equations where I didn't belong. For example, like if my husband left his clothes on the floor, I thought it reflected how he felt about me.

CONAN: Uh-huh.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: But by not anthropomorphizing - you know, to use the word loosely - I realized that no, it had nothing to do with me. He was just, you know, he left his clothes there because he forgot them. It was not a statement of his love and devotion to me.

CONAN: So don't take it personally?

Ms. SUTHERLAND: That I took way too much personally.

CONAN: Yeah. Let's get some listeners in on the conversation. We're talking with Amy Sutherland about her new book, "What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage." If you'd like to ask questions about training, well, animals or spouses, give us a call, 800-989-8255. E-mail talk@npr.org. Have you ever shamued anybody? I haven't asked that question before.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's talk with Tony(ph). Tony's with us from Iowa City.

TONY (Caller): Hi. My wife saw a movie many years ago in which an older woman gave a younger woman a book on how to train a puppy in order for her learn how to help manage her husband. And my wife really liked this book - this movie and liked the whole idea and sort of incorporated it into her life. So she just sort of as a natural way of being, sort of puppy-trains everybody around her including me. And I like it.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Oh, good for you for saying that, too. What do you like about it?

TONY: Well, here's the thing, it's all about catching people in the act of doing the right thing and recognizing it. And I'm a, you know, professional manager at work. We teach this to managers all the time, but when someone says puppy training, well, it sounds all affective. But the truth is, it's the same behavior.


CONAN: Catching the right behavior at the right time is absolutely critical, as you write about in your book, Amy.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Right. And you know, people are always asking me how, I mean, aren't we a lot more complicated than animals, and we are and all that. But we are also a very distracted animal - distracted species. And so we tend to let - when people are doing things we like, go right past us without noticing them and because of that, people don't always know what they - what people want from them but they also get the feeling taken for granted. So what this really - the thinking like an animal trainer really helped me sort of notice those moments and not be so distracted.

CONAN: Tony, congratulations. Thanks very much for the call.

TONY: Thank you.

CONAN: So long.

Let's see if we can go now to Melissa(ph). Melissa is with us from Salem in Oregon.

MELISSA (Caller): Is that me, Melissa?

CONAN: That's you, Melissa.

MELISSA: Great. Hey, I have a question or a comment. I've always thought that we teach other people how we want to be treated, and so does that apply in this sense in your book - I haven't read your book - so I think it goes both ways.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Yeah. I think, I mean, this is just about basically teaching people what you want them to do or what you want from them. But the sort of twist is, is that teaching them this way through focusing and rewarding the things that you like. And as much as you can, ignoring what you don't like.

Usually, us higher primates tend to really teach people what we don't want by heaping lots of attention on that instead of really focusing on what do we want.

CONAN: Well, the example you use in your book is your husband tends to have a short temper when he loses his keys or his wallet, which he does frequently.


CONAN: And that this was ordinarily a source of friction that developed into an argument every single time.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Right. Yeah. And it wasn't that he lost his keys that bothered me that much, it was that he lost his temper over his keys, and I would always engage in this search either by being helpful or sometimes I would lose my cool and tell him that, you know, to calm down, that never works, unfortunately. But the point was is that I was always engaging. And when I started thinking like an, you know, progressive animal trainer, I realized that I was heaping tons of attention on a behavior I didn't like, which was my husband losing his temper, so I cut it out and quit responding and it improved dramatically.

CONAN: Quit responding. You just stood there at the sink and continued doing the dishes while he went storming through the house looking for the keys.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Right. Yeah. And he - so he still lost his temper a little bit but it was really fast moving, and he found his keys much faster than if I had had helped.

MELISSA: Isn't that the truth.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: I know. And I really thought to myself like, oh, my god, I've wasted the last 10 years of my life helping my husband find his keys.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SUTHERLAND: So you know, not only did he not lose his temper, but I've gained all this time in the future I'm going to have that I won't be helping him find his keys.

CONAN: Melissa…

MELISSA: (Unintelligible)

CONAN: Go ahead.

MELISSA: Thank you for putting these observations down and…

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Oh, thank you.

MELISSA: It's probably going to help lot of animal trainers, dog trainers as well as spouses…

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Yeah, I hope so.

MELISSA: …in a lot ways so it's a great philosophy.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Oh, thank you.

MELISSA: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Melissa.

And I think it's also interesting at the end of the book, you say, look, this is not made us…


CONAN: …happy or wealthy, necessarily, but it does solve some problems in life.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Right. I mean, for me what I've found that - a couple of things - is that, you know, to think like a progressive animal trainer in my life with human animals, it demanded a lot of change of me. It demanded a lot of patience and self-control, and so what I didn't realize is that is I did that in these sort individual interactions that it would have a sort of overriding some result and that I would in general become a more patient person with more self-control. So I don't know that I'd say that I'm a happier person, but I'm definitely a calmer person and in some ways I might prefer that.

CONAN: The experiences disclosed in the book called, "What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers." The author, Amy Sutherland, is with us. If you'd like to talk with her about training animals or people, give us a call at 800-989-8255. And the e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

When faced with a prickly human interaction, Amy Sutherland sometimes asks herself, what would a dolphin trainer do? We're talking with her about her new book on dealing with multiple species. It's called "What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage." You can read some of her tactics and an excerpt on our Web site at npr.org/talk.

If you're training a dog to stop going through the trash or a spouse to start taking it out, give us a call, 800-989-8255. E-mail talk@npr.org. And check out the blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

And a lot of this stems really, intriguingly, the intellectual basis of this training goes back to B.F. Skinner, the psychologist in the 1930s.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Right. And that's another thing that people don't know about training, is that it is actually based on human psychology. And the - when the people - when trainers first started working with dolphins, they had a puzzle on their hands because they could not use traditional methods with dolphins. You couldn't use reins. The dolphin didn't want to train. He could just sink to the bottom of the pool.

So these early trainers basically started using the principles of B.F. Skinner's research, behaviorism and the idea of using reward, a well-timed reward to teach an animal what you want.

CONAN: And never punishment.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: And never punishment because if they punished the dolphins, the dolphins wouldn't want to work with them. And this, you know, turned out to be such an effective means of working that has sort of traveled from marine mammal trainers into other species. And it's why we can train so many species.

CONAN: And that moment, the animal needs to be told, this is the right behavior?

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Right. I mea, that's one way that animals are very different from us is that they live so in a moment that the trainers have to like tell them instantly when they got it right. And that's how dolphin trainers use whistles to tell that the dolphin, you got it, come get your mackerel. You know, with humans, I didn't sort of literally translate that kind of timing. We don't need that kind of timing because…

CONAN: Delayed gratification is…

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Right. We're all about that.

CONAN: …mostly part of our species.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Yeah. But what it did make me think about is that, you know, we should - you should be watching for behavior in people around you that you like and rewarding it as soon as you think of it instead of sort of, you know, waiting in a couple of days or, you know, we just tend to - I don't know what we're doing most of the time but we're not paying attention, I guess, is the answer.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail we have from Steven(ph).

My 12-year-old son has autism. When he was younger, we used applied-behavior analysis, the formal version of the shamu author's methods, to dramatically improve his behaviors and capabilities. Many critics of this method suggest that using it dehumanizes the child and creates a little robot. Our experience is that our son has been empowered with myriad communication and social skills that have helped him live a more dignified life.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Yeah. That's - I'm really glad she wrote that because what people don't understand is that this - the human psychology version of this, like the animal training version of it, is a means of communication. It's communication. It's not making people into robots.

CONAN: Well, that other phrase that bothers people sometimes is behavior modification.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Right. And that got a really, you know - we could have another show about how that happened but it is - the early science has been developed a lot further along and the - people have a misperception that there was punishment involved but the real - the way to use this is with rewards.

CONAN: Let's get Sarah(ph) on the line. Sarah with us from Cleveland in Ohio.

SARAH (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi there.

SARAH: Your comment earlier struck me about the trainers realizing that when their students did not understand what was going on that they needed to try something different?


SARAH: Having had discussions with a lot of educators and spent some time in the classroom myself, this struck me as something very typical for high school students. And that all too often, teachers don't realize that if their students aren't understanding, maybe they need to try something different.


Ms. SUTHERLAND: That's a great point. I mean, my impression is that -especially - there's a lot of people who are using these ideas in their life and not realizing that it has a corollary in the animal kingdom, but especially teachers, I find, use these techniques. And what you brought out is - really, brought up is a really good point because one of the things I really like about the way the trainers worked is they know everything about their animal and they know the species, but they also know the individual. And so they applied these principles not as a cookie cutter but is always in response to the individual they're working with. So that really sort of brought home to me that, you know, to think that way about people in my personal life, too.

CONAN: Yeah.

Thanks very much for the call, Sarah.

The other point you raise in the book is, well, who is teaching who.


CONAN: In this partnership, you know, it goes back to, I guess, a query that a lot of, you know, has been thought, did mankind cultivate wheat or did wheat cultivate mankind.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Yeah. Right.

CONAN: It's an interaction between two different species.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Right. It's a two-way street. And they can use the - I mean, they can use the training back with you, the - you know, the animal trainers have lots of stories about that. There's a great story in my book about a keeper who let a chimp out into a larger yard and the chimp handed her a piece of celery.

CONAN: There's your reward. Thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Timed perfectly, I'm sure.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: The chimp probably, you know, knew that that keeper really likes celery so.

CONAN: I wonder, since you've been writing about this, have you heard from, you know, psychologists, psychiatrists about…

Ms. SUTHERLAND: I have. I mean, when the article came out, one of - I got invited almost immediately to speak to a very large convention of psychologists. But, you know, there's this - there's people using this in therapy and - especially with autistic children all throughout the country and they're sort of not very well known. But they're - you know, the animal trainers, the thing I think that animal training sort of brings to it is that they have the animals in the equation, sort of brings out the magic of it.

CONAN: Hmm. Let's get David(ph) on the line. David with us from Idaho.

DAVID (Caller): Thank you very much. I was wondering, "Beyond Freedom and Dignity," that was Skinner's book, as I remember, and did not they find out that this sort of behavior modification required a lot of reinforcement? That soon as reinforcement was stopped, it no longer worked?

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Well, the - you know, I'm not sure I can totally answer that, but I know in the world of animal training, what they do is work what they call a scheduled variable reinforcement.

CONAN: I think intermittent reinforcement…

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Right. It's another way to put it. Yeah.

CONAN: …it's called in Skinner's book.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: And what it is, is that - and they find that that's actually a very powerful way to maintain a behavior, and that's that you get reinforcement just often enough that the behavior still feels rewarded but not in a regular kind of way so it keeps up sort of person or animal or whatever sort of guessing or hungry for when it's going to have that.

DAVID: So without the reinforcement, it doesn't last, is that correct?

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Right. And that's what, trainers call that losing a behavior.

DAVID: Right.


DAVID: Thank you very much.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: You're welcome.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, David.


CONAN: The other point is, yes, reward the things that you want the animal or the person to do. At the moment, let them know exactly at the right moment if you possibly can. But the other hard part of it is to ignore the bad stuff.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Yes. Yeah, I mean, I found for the positive stuff, I had to become more observant and for the negative, to learn to ignore stuff that I don't like is where the patience and self-control came in.

But, you know, I found that that has such immediate results, like in the story about my husband with the keys, that it got easier and easier to do it every time. Because when you think about it, when people are either upset or angry, they need the energy of somebody else interacting with them to sort of push it on. And if they don't get that, it's sort of just, you know, it falls apart.

CONAN: Let's talk with Julio(ph). Julio's with us from Arizona.

JULIO (Caller): Yes. Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

JULIO: My question is, how do you correct bad behavior in human beings without punishment?

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Well, the way the animal trainers would think about it is that you correct behavior - you don't correct behavior, you encourage the behavior you want, so you really turn it 180 degrees around. So if somebody is doing something you don't want, I guess, it's what you what you try to think of is what it is you do want them to do and how you might encourage them that way.

CONAN: And one of the techniques in your book that I found really intriguing was this idea of, well, basically, distracting them.


CONAN: Give them something that is incompatible with their (unintelligible) you do, incompatible with their bad behavior.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Yeah, I really liked that. That's, I think, is a really brilliant idea that the animal trainers came up with. And that is an incompatible behavior is you get them to do something that makes the other behavior impossible.

CONAN: Now, for example, in the book, you're talking about a killer whale and if the killer whale is called over to present a pectoral fin at the pool side, the killer whale can't be busy pestering the other killer whales.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Right. And so instead of stopping him from bothering the other whales in the pool, they are having him do a calming exercise that makes that impossible. And he's getting fish for that. He's getting a reward for that.

CONAN: Yeah. And at the same time with your husband, who used to crowd you when you were cooking, you came up with another approach.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Yeah. So my husband used to crowd me all the time and no matter how many times I barked and snarled at him and huffed and puffed, he would always - he'd back off but then come back right up and crowd me at the stove again. So I came up with an incompatible behavior with him and that is to, basically, set out something he want because the incompatible behavior has to be something the person or animal wants.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

JULIO: (Unintelligible)

Ms. SUTHERLAND: So they - I set out chips or a beer or something to read or a New Yorker cartoon that I thought was funny but on the other side of the kitchen island, away from the stove, so problem solved.

CONAN: He can't do that…

Ms. SUTHERLAND: He can't do both.

CONAN: …and bug you at the same time.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Yes, just like that killer whale.

CONAN: Now, these are pattern behaviors, these are, you know, things that happen all the time.


CONAN: It's not in the order of somebody's got a drug problem or something like that?

Ms. SUTHERLAND: No, no. I mean, you know, the psychologists who use these principles, I'm sure, have the answers to how they would apply to that. I use this in my own everyday life just to sort of grease the wheels and to solve some of the kind of annoying habits or conversations that I had with people on a regular basis.


JULIO: Okay. Thank you very much.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Julio.

Here's an e-mail we got from David(ph).

Driving home with my 14-year-old, we listened to this program. His response: Great, ignore my playing "Halo" all the time and perhaps I'll stop.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: So how do you create alternative behavior through positive incentives when the behavior is not a problem to the person you want to change but a problem for you?

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Okay. So this is a good question, and I don't know that I'll have a very good answer but I want to point out that, is "Halo" a computer game?

CONAN: Yeah.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Okay. See, there's a - the hardest things to solve are what are called self-reinforcing behaviors, and that's something that by the nature of doing it, is rewarding for the person who's doing it.

CONAN: Oh, mine was sucking my thumb.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Sucking your thumb, I think, there - you know, there's all kinds of horrible habits that people have that they actually keep doing because it's fun for them but for nobody else around them.

And so then the deck is stacked much higher for you. You know, with animal trainers, if an animal is having fun playing with a ball then they're already rewarding themself for playing with the ball and not paying attention to the trainer. So that's when you have to start thinking about incompatible behaviors or, you know, you just have to really get creative.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. In other words, good luck.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Yeah, good luck. Yeah. And some of those, you're going to have to like, you know, I really learned to choose my battles in that case.

CONAN: Let's talk with Rose. And Rose is with us from Aurora, Illinois.

ROSE (Caller): Hi there.


ROSE: My husband and I used to joke that we learned how to train our kids by training our dog.


ROSE: And we found that there are rewards for certain behaviors that you don't realize that will continue someone doing something. For instance, our dog - if you jump on - if a dog jumps on somebody, they'll often get petted or their ears scratched or whatever.


ROSE: And by stopping that response, the dog stopped jumping on us. And like my kids, when my son was about 2, he got up four, five, six times a night. And he told his aunt that when you got out of bed, you got snuggled.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROSE: And I didn't even realize that he was getting out of bed and I was giving him love, and then he'd go back to bed. So when I stopped giving him love, he stopped getting out of bed.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Yeah, you were rewarding him for getting out of bed.

ROSE: Yes.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Well, that was so - to me was so epiphanal(ph) for me was to think about, you know, the animal trainers really showed me how easily, without thinking, you could reward behavior you didn't want especially with us humans when we're so busy being nice all the time. The getting - being nice sometimes gets us exactly what we don't want.

ROSE: Right.

CONAN: You also had a concept called the jackpot which was…


CONAN: …every once in a while, you can't be giving the same rewards all the time.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Right. Yeah. When animal trainers work, they use a variety of rewards. And they also use a variety of how big a reward and that they have a term called the jackpot where if an animal makes a major breakthrough or does something stunning like really does - also and does a humongous jump, that they'll give them the whole bucket of fish. Bang. You've got it.

And you know, there's times when I think that we should think about jackpots in our human behavior even for things that might seem kind of silly.

CONAN: Rose, thanks very much for the call. And we hope you get a jackpot soon.

ROSE: Well, thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We're talking with Amy Sutherland about her new book, "What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Here's an e-mail we have from Jay(ph) in Castro Valley, California.

Having bred cats for the past 10 years, I can say that training is a relative term. I tell my pet buyers, it's mutual, and the cat will train you as much as you train the cat.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Yeah. That's a thing is - the thing is, is that training is going on all the time between animals and humans, and humans and humans, and everybody's changing everybody's behavior. So to me, that's what I really liked about the animal training, was to really sort of think about it in a positive - and I hate to say - proactive way.

But you know, as far as cats, I mean, cats are hard to train, but I've seen plenty of trained cats in my time hanging out with trainers. So I know it can be done and it's just the sort of knowing how to work with that specific species.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Again, for those who are worried about the demeaning notion of being trained, here's an e-mail we have from Christina(ph). A replacement phrase for training might be working in partnership with animals, that working with someone human or animal, one can achieve common goals.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Yeah. That's a good way to put at cooperating. I've also thought maybe teaching but, yeah, it's too bad we have such a bad idea of training because we use it in lots of other ways. We do weight training and train for a marathons and…

CONAN: Let's talk with Linda(ph). Linda with us from Denver, Colorado.

LINDA (Caller): Hello.


LINDA: I'm a APHA horse trainer and I've trained world-champion horses.


LINDA: And I totally agree with everything she's saying. Everything is a partnership. It's teamwork.


LINDA: And I know, in addition to having horses, I've raised kids and I used all the same - a lot of the same training - work with my kids and horses. It's all reinforcement. And…

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Now, when did you…

LINDA: I kind of used a thing called pressure release and I've discovered, you know, you can work with a horse and you can push him and push him and push him, and that day is just not going right, so just go something different.


LINDA: Go do something new, and it works with kids. It works with animals. I mean, it works with my dogs. I managed a youth program so it was all work with kids. Now, I use the same thing with the horses and the kids.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Yeah. That's really interesting. How long did you work with the horses before you started to translate it to the kids?

LINDA: Well, I always tended to do it.


LINDA: I was always a real natural with the horses. It was very easy. And you know, I saw trainers who just browbeat their horses.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Yeah, it's bad.

LINDA: And they also would browbeat their students and their own kids.


LINDA: And yet if - you've got to make it fun, for one thing, for the horse and the riders. And so - because they're a team, essentially you're working with them in the same way.


LINDA: And you've also got to take into consideration their personalities and - I mean, the horse, whether he got up on the wrong side of the stall that day.


LINDA: And the kid could have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed, and if they're not working well that day, hey, go groom.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Yeah. That's…

LINDA: Go groom. Take that out on that coat. Don't go out and kick your horse and pull on their mouth and…


LINDA: You know, it's got to be a positive experience whether it's people or animals.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Well, I think you deserve a jackpot for that…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SUTHERLAND: …because you're doing it right.

LINDA: Yeah. The horses always got a jackpot because we always had alfalfa in their stalls when they…


LINDA: You know, when we were through, they got a bath in there and their alfalfa, and they were always happy. And the kids, we always, you know, we usually, after a day of training - I mean, I had 12 kids hanging out there and it was nothing for six of them to be spending the night with me three or four days a week.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Oh, my gosh.

CONAN: But after a day like that, I bet they went to bed pretty easily.


LINDA: You'd be surprised.


LINDA: You know, that - you know, we'd all go into town and eat. We'd do something, sometimes if a holiday was coming up, we'd go all out, just shut everything down and go do the fireworks. But there is a reward, you know, I'll tell, okay, let's get everything done really fast and let's go do something fun.

CONAN: Linda, thanks for the call. We appreciate it.

LINDA: Thank you.

CONAN: And our thanks to Amy Sutherland, who was with us here in Studio 3A today. Again her book, "What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage."

Appreciate you time.

Ms. SUTHERLAND: Oh, thank you for having me.

CONAN: Coming up, farewell to Favre. The celebrated quarterback of the Green Bay Packers has decided to retire. Next, we'll get the play-by-play from the Green Bay Packers Radio Network's Wayne Larrivee. He's been calling the Packers games for nine years now.

I'm Neal Conan. Stay with us. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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