What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, & Marriage

I am a different person than I was four years ago. I'm more optimistic, less judgmental, and have patience to spare. My secret? Not yoga or counseling or “happy” pills. No, my peace of mind comes from observing exotic animal trainers at work teaching sea lions to flip, cougars to walk on leash and baboons to skate board.

For my previous book, I immersed myself in the magical kingdom of the top school for exotic animal trainers. Some time between watching student trainers teach a big cat offer its paw for a nail clipping and a camel to shoot hoops, I had an epiphany: what if I used these training techniques with the human animals in my own life – namely my dear husband Scott. After all, homo sapiens, the highest of the primates, the top of the food chain, are members of the animal kingdom. Trainers showed me that there were universal rules of behavior that cut across species. Why should humans be any different?

So I took the trainers' lessons home. The next time my forgetful husband stomped through the house in search of his mislaid car keys, I asked myself, "What would a dolphin trainer do?" The answer was nothing. I had learned that trainers reward the behavior they want and, just as importantly, ignore the behavior they don't. Rather than appease my mate's rising temper by joining in the search, I ignored him. In short order, Scott found his keys and regained his cool. I felt like I should throw him a mackerel.

What started as a goofy experiment had such good results that I kept at it. I began using the training techniques with all the homo sapiens in my life, from my friends to the clerk at the post office. In the world of animal training, I found answers to conundrums of human behavior, such as why I hadn't been able to convince her mother to get a hearing aid. I also found that learning to have more patience and self control from fennec foxes, squirrel monkeys and Harris hawks, made self improvement, for once, engrossing, even fun.

I wrote about my successes for a Modern Love column for the New York Times in June, 2006, My fellow higher primates took note. The column became the most emailed story of the month, and then of 2006. Through the ethers, it even shot around the globe. I did interviews in Spain, Australia, Turkey, and Belgium, among others. In short order I had a book deal. Now after a year of madly writing, thinking, and revising, I hold the book in my hands.

What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage describes my Alice-in-Wonderland experience, how I stumbled into a world where cheetahs walk nicely on leashes, hyenas pirouette on command and baboons skateboard, and left a new person. My story may give you some food for thought, laughs and ways to solve some small problems that aren’t worth a visit to the shrink’s but still nag. Or my tale may change you from head to toe as well.