Summary and Response to What Shamu Taught Me about a Happy Marriage

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Shane Stanislowski
Joshua Fisher
Writing 121
20 January 2015

What Shamu Taught Me About
a Happy Marriage

In Amy Sutherland’s essay, titled “What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage”, Sutherland gives readers a humorous look at how she used exotic animal training techniques to change what she considers to be undesirable behaviors in her husband. Southerland loves her husband, but after 12 years of marriage, the tardiness, forgetfulness, sloppiness, and temper tantrums were beginning to cause her love for him to lose some of its shine. She tries the usual ways to change him, such as counseling and a lot of nagging, but she soon resigns herself to the fact that these tactics are not going to work. While on a trip to California to research a school for exotic animal trainers, Sutherland studied the techniques students were using, such as “approximation”: rewarding the small steps toward learning a whole new behavior, “least reinforcing syndrome”: not responding in any way to bad behavior, and “incompatible behaviors”: a behavior that makes the undesirable behavior impossible. Soon she realized that these same techniques may very well work on her husband. After two years of secretly training her husband with these techniques, she is pleased to tell readers that his behavior and their marriage are both much improved. I enjoyed reading Sutherland’s essay for the humor she uses in her writing. I particularly enjoy the way she refers to her husband as “the American husband” and “my animal”, as if he is some other species in need of training in order to make a good pet. I must admit that even though I found the humor in this read, I found the whole idea of training your husband as you would an animal to be complete nonsense. Did she write this piece as a joke? I certainly hope so, because if she meant for it to be serious and she actually tried this training on her husband, she has entirely too much time on her hands. Sutherland says “I began...
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