…with a mouth…


The lesson in “Everything With A Mouth Bites” is to be careful where you step, how you place your hand and why you must delicately deal with the proximity of teeth in a yawning jaw. You can be bitten to bleed, to find an emotional wounding, or to fill a stomach.

The human learning in biting is avoiding getting bitten, refusing to bite back in distemper, and making sure your muscle and sinew remain in your belly and not inside something hungrier and quicker.

Amy Sutherland has a new book out this week called — “What Shamu Taught Me About Life Love and Marriage” — and while that is a terrible title for such a wonderful and touching book, the content of her experience is valuable and informative.

Sutherland spends much of the book relating her behavior modification learning while working with an animal training program in California. The mantra of working with animals — “Everything With A Mouth Bites” — is the title of this article and it should’ve been the title of her book! Sutherland takes the lessons of working with animals and applies them to The Human Kingdom: You reward good behavior and ignore the bad.

You focus on the needs of the one you hope to train and not your own wants. Your ego isn’t involved in the success or failure of the object of your training. When it comes to dealing with people — Sutherland’s husband in particular — we can see the great benefit in her method. Instead of provoking a defensive response when she nags her husband over his dirty clothes, Sutherland saves her emotional values to praise unexpected helpfulness — like picking up a sock on his own — and other behaviors that help the house and marriage instead of messing them up.

The object of that positive reinforcement — her husband — then learns, perhaps too slowly at times, to relish the praise and positive energy and he then begins to patternize, on his own, a behavior that confirms the goodness and predictability of everyone’s wants and needs fulfillment. Sutherland warns that people do not respond well to the idea of being “trained” to create a certain behavior or to form a predetermined outcome.

She successfully argues that we train each other every day whether we realize it or not, but mostly through negative reinforcement
— which always leads to resentment and opposite-ends results — and she compels us to accept the notion that if we are able to provide love and patience to each other, via our own behavior modification, we begin to live better as a people across genus groups, family units and social chasms that have divided us for far too long.


  1. There are a lot of lessons to be learned in the book, Anne, and it’s a fun read. Amy really cares about the animals she writes about and we are inspired by the wisdom they give her.

  2. Anne —
    Yes, but we need to get over those sorts of labels that propagate negativity.
    We train each other every day with our behavior, but we call it “conditioning” or “marriage” or “friendship” or “manners.”

  3. I suppose but don’t people like to be higher than animals so that’s why there’s resistance.

  4. Hi Gordon!
    You’re right! It’s a good book that teaches hard lessons. Getting your pets, kids, friends, lovers and mates to “behave” has nothing to do with you or with your ego. As you respond is as you train yourself to get back what you hope for — and that’s quite unique thinking! 😀

  5. It’s like training a writer to submit his monthly articles before the fifteenth of the month. 😛 Good writer! Many months of consecutive timely articles makes a happy publisher! 🙂

  6. Ha!
    Sometimes a good head-bashing is necessary! A pox on behavior training! There isn’t enough time in the world to train some human animals! 😆

  7. David, I think every little thing we do in life involve some sort of “training” other people, or we being “trained” without even realising it. At work, you must come in before 9am or you will get a love letter from employer, report deadlines for clients must be met or you will lose that account, at home you “train” your kids to pick the laundry so that you can cook their favourite meal in return. Something like that.

  8. Hi Hanie!
    Yes, you’re right! We’re training each other all day long! Sometimes we do it positively and some times negativity is required.
    Gordon reminded me there are some people who only react to negative energy and they are immune to recognizing the kind approach. You ask them to keep their word and abide the schedule they set and yet they refuse. Kindness does not work. The only way to crack the facade is with an unpleasant harshness.
    Are those people who live on negative energy “trainable?” Perhaps! But few people have the time or patience to find out.

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