Tuesday, February 3, 2009


There's an old movie whose premise has long fascinated me. For the life of me, I can't remember the title, or the actors, but I clearly remember the message.

Set in the 60's, it involved a French-born mother whose only daughter was preparing for her upcoming nuptials. Recognizing that her parents have what seems to be the perfect marriage, the bride-to-be asks her mother to share the secret of her success. Reluctantly, the mother reveals the Holy Grail of marital bliss. It is a book. And not any book. Certainly not a book you'd expect. It's title? "How To Train Your Dog".

Interestingly enough, the irreverent topic comes full circle. Amy Sutherland, renowned animal trainer, behaviorist and author, had a 2008 release of a book titled, What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers. In it, Sutherland explains how she used animal training techniques to improve her marriage and modify her husband's behavior.

As demeaning as the idea may sound on the surface, there are some great lessons to be harvested from this field, and both the movie and the book hit the point solidly. It is positive reinforcement that creates the desired change in a pet, and Sutherland notes that similar rewards of kindness, patience and affection improved her marriage.

Think about it. Compare the enthusiasm with which most people greet their pets at the end of a day to the anemic welcome home greeting most spouses receive. Now consider the appreciation poured out upon a pet for performing a task versus the attaboys our mates get when they complete an item on our honey-do lists? Do we rub their ears and wrap our arms around their neck before telling them how wonderful they are in that mushy voice reserved for Fido? Are we cringing yet?

If the topic seems ludicrous or disrespectful, well, it is. And that makes the point even more critical. Because no matter how uncomfortable it makes us to admit it, too often in too many homes, our pets are getting better treatment than we're giving our husbands or wives.

So the next time our husband replaces a light bulb, or after the next well-prepared meal your wife prepares, (or vice versa for that matter), share the puppy-love. A lot of spouses might consider the dog's treatment a step up.

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