Book Review: What Shamu Taught Me About Love, Life and Marriage – Amy Sutherland

This book was something I figured I would get around to reading eventually. It was on my list, it was about behaviour, but within a different application than the one I am used to, and I think I have just been on a roll with reading books this year, so, I read it 🙂

The author is a journalist who was writing about animal training methods at aquatic parks and the like. She became quite invested in what she was learning and attempted to apply it to her life and relationships, with quite good success!

The book discusses various techniques she learned while observing the training, and while they have different names, it was clear to see how it linked in to what I know and do.

It was also interesting to see how she started to think about the world and her interactions with others. Thinking about everyone around her’s behaviour, as well as her own, and what could she do to try and prevent the undesirable/challenging/frustrating behaviour from occurring.

It made me think about how I do try to think about that in my daily interactions, however for slightly different reasons. It did make me think about how I could try and think about the ways in which I could implement more antecedent strategies with some people in my life, and think I may have come to a reasonable understanding about that (for myself).

In regards to the animal part of the book, she has two lovely dogs, who you can tell her, and her husband, love dearly. She discusses the training aspect and how she implemented some strategies with her puppies, even though they were older. Spoiler alert (highlight the text)if you love dogs, just be warned there is a little bit of a sad bit towards the end (sorry!)

It also reminded me of when I visited Universal Studios a few years ago and saw the Animal Training show. I felt that it all made a lot of sense then, and it was very interesting reading this book and getting to know more about the process and different strategies they use when training lions, elephants, dolphins, birds… etc

I also was a little bit concerned that there was going to be no mention of behaviourism or Skinner, but about halfway through the book, there was a nice link to Skinner and his contributions to what the animal trainers were teaching.

Again, one of those books that I think as a behaviour analyst, you probably want to read, but I think I know a few people I could recommend it to, as an interesting read. It is quite an easy and short read, and provides a good understanding of the general principles, and use, of ABA.


Sutherland, A. (2009). What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage.

Universal’s Animal Actors

Book Review: What Shamu Taught Me About Love, Life and Marriage – Amy Sutherland

How did I get here?

Occasionally, I stop and think on how I got to what I am doing, and why. I sort of know the origins of my interest in behaviour and ABA, but it really hasn’t been something I can recall from a young age.

I remember doing Ed Psych at uni, (EDUC105!) and learning about all the different developmental theories out there. Skinner’s theory resonated well with me. I am not exactly sure why. I think I liked the positive reinforcement aspect, and I definitely didn’t understand it in its purest, behavioural form just then, but I knew I liked it.

A friend of mine started doing Intensive ABA therapy, and she said she could really see me doing it. I then went on exchange to North Carolina and did an early intervention subject and a literacy in elementary education subject. I actually used my exchange period to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

Anyway, as I said, the two subjects helped me realise what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to do primary teaching, I wanted to do early childhood, but it was too late to change. I remember having a conversation with my Mum on the phone one afternoon saying I didn’t know which path I wanted to take! Literacy or Autism? (/ABA). And this was before I had any experience in either! I have always said, I should have picked one over the other, and while I don’t regret continuing down both paths, it definitely has made things a little more difficult, and perhaps slower than if I had focused on one or the other. But I honestly couldn’t pick one over the other now!

When I got home from my exchange period, I found a family who needed an ABA therapist / school shadow and it was a perfect position for me. I got to be in the classroom with his two teachers, who were amazing at what they did! And I got to practice ABA. This family is one of my families I am still in touch with today 🙂 I am so grateful to have been given that opportunity.

I then also started working on the literacy side of things at the same time, tutoring using specific programs.

Its all funny how it works out. An aside memory I have, which has nothing to do with my choices of study or work, but it was interesting as it was said to me, was when I was working at BBQ Galore (one of my many, many, casual jobs!) A man who was buying a BBQ asked what I was doing (other than working there!) I told him I was studying primary teaching. He sort of laughed it off and said I should do special education. Not necessarily at Macquarie, but anywhere, as there is always a need for more special ed teachers. Obviously, it was a passing comment, and from a teacher, who knew what it was like, but I think its funny that I ended up in this field.

I’m so glad that I did end up in this area. I think innately, I have skills that are beneficial, but I know I have had to develop skills that are crucial for my work. And I’m not even talking technical skills. These are personal skills that allow me to do this work. Empathy, understanding, concern, persistence, perseverance. There is a fine line between being completely empathetic and understanding of a family’s concerns, and being too empathetic which can lead into being condescending. I feel as if I do a good job of “being on the family’s side” without losing professional (ABA) integrity, and being too empathetic. It is difficult to juggle.

I still know I have a lot more to learn. I know I continually will be learning. I am trying to read as much as possible, connect with different people around the world, and definitely continue to study. I am very motivated to work towards my BCBA for 2016. I think it will make things so much more concrete for me, and even now, re-reading things on verbal behaviour, or learning about different applications of ABA, or revisiting operant conditioning, or transfer procedures, or CMO-T’s … 😛 it is all making more sense.

I’m so glad I have figured out what I want to do, and am able to do it. There have been some ups and downs (some pretty down downs), but I am very content where I am now, and where I am headed. I know I am lucky to work in a job I love, and in particular at a place of work that I really enjoy. Not everyone can do that.

It is a very rewarding job, and I know my friends can take it lightly when I tell them I went to the beach for the afternoon with one of my kids, but I know they know how hard I work and that when things are bad, they can be pretty bad. And in that situation, as a family member, its hard to put aside emotion and deal with it. Its hard enough for me to do so, but I know how to work through it. And that comes with experience and practice, and is what I am there to do!

Anyway, I had this originally titled as “Blast from the past” because I was going through old uni folders. I am very embarrased by some of my earlier essays. And astounded at my dedication to study! I used to write up notes for each week’s lectures! And even scan in parts of my textbook! Ahh the early days of uni! Behaviourism – in its earliest form, via me.

I also now have a much clearer purpose of what I want to achieve. Some of it is within Australia, some of it is outside of Australia. I definitely want people to understand what I do, and how what I do can be applied – ABA is not just for kids who have Autism! It’s not even just for educational purposes! I know that there is a big push from a lot of behaviourists who want to do this, and make it more understood. There have been a few social media campaigns recently that have helped with this, in particular, The Skybound Therapy video on a very successful ABA program. But that is all for another blog post another day 🙂

I always like hearing how people ended up in this field. It never seems to be a straight forward, “Oh I wanted to be a behaviour analyst when I was a little kid…”

How did I get here?

Book Review: Walden Two – B.F. Skinner

The week between Christmas and New Years, I had a “staycation”. Which basically means, because I have done so much travelling this year, I wanted to stay home over the Christmas period, and do nothing. Well, lie on the beach, read, and watch cricket and movies. Which I did! (And I didn’t even get that burnt!)

I had about 6 books to read, and I read 5 over the week, which is pretty good. A whole mix of things – non-fiction (Murder in Mississippi by John Safran), fiction (The Escape by David Baldacci), one of my faves (High Society by Ben Elton), a random (Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk), and one that was recommended to me by someone who is as big a fan of ABA as me 🙂 (Walden Two by B.F. Skinner.)

I feel like it is one of those books you just have to read if you want to call yourself a behaviourist. I actually didn’t mind it, it was quite dry, and basically a conversation about the application of the principles of ABA to a real world setting, but a conversation between a few people, over the span of a few days, including discussions, arguments and realisations.

Throughout the book, I felt like different characters at different times. I feel like Skinner was trying to do that, trying to cover all possible angles and points that people might have, and addressing them with a solution.I felt I most related to the character narrating the story, but I don’t think I would have ended up in the same position as him.

Basically Walden Two is a community where people live and work, and it is completely structured and created around applying the principles of ABA to any situation, to make things easier and “better” for everyone involved. A place where like-minded people can live and everything is sorted and easy.

There are six visitors to the Walden Two community, and it is their experience of the place that we observe through the narration. They visit for about a week, and make up their own minds about whether or not it is the life for them.

There were some interesting points, and some things that seemed a bit far fetched. I felt as though sometimes the ‘creator’ of Walden Two, who was accompanying the visitors on most of their trip, seemed to have an answer for everything. I find that hard to believe, particularly as one of the attitudes of science is philosophic doubt […to continually question the truthfulness of what is regarded as fact. Cooper, J., Heron, E., & Heward, W. (2007).] And yes, while he seemed to have been experimenting with a range of things over a few years, and yes, he seemed to share this viewpoint, it just seems a hard concept to grasp.

I may be ignorant to say this, particularly as I am an avid believer of being able to apply the principles of applied behaviour analysis to any situation where there is observable behaviour, and it is of social significance or importance to the individual/s concerned, and be able to come up with a solution. Also, particularly as this is what I do, and what I believe. But I just found it hard to see this working so harmoniously and perfectly.

I know, I know, it is a work of fiction (and an old work at that – they were discussing the idea of negative reinforcement being punishment, and, based on a 1975 paper I read recently, they were confused about that initially until they conducted more experiments and realised negative reinforcement strengthened behaviour), but it started to get annoying! Every query, seemed to have an answer. I may just be a hugely cynical person (I don’t think I am!) but it all just seemed “too good to be true” – which I guess is the case with any utopian society.

It made me think about a few things. The first being, how much I apply the principles of ABA to my everyday life. I am always looking at every situation and figuring out what the function of a behaviour is at any given time. What is reinforcing me to do this again and again? I think I could be a bit more analytical about this in 2015. And really begin to live and breathe ABA 😀 (As a side note, there is a very good hashtag on twitter for this now – #everdayABA 😀 )

I also thought about the whole dissemination of ABA and how much this has not necessarily been done too well. I don’t think the book could be used as a way to promote the ideas of applying ABA to society’s issues necessarily, but in the way that I know ABA has many applications and uses, and could be beneficial in many areas of society – government, health, judicial systems… it did get me thinking about ways to share information without coming across as too judgy or ‘full on’ (which I do have a tendency to do!)

I guess I shouldn’t jump the gun and worry about how to make the whole world want to get on board the ABA train, particularly when the people I am working with (teachers, support staff – even some parents) find it hard to implement, but hey, dream big.

On the whole, I think if you work within a behavioural framework, it would be worth a read, at least to see the applications of ABA in everyday life. I also think people who are interested in socialism and ‘living off the earth’ (i.e. my Dad) would find it interesting, but it is quite a droll read (seriously, it is basically a transcript of their conversations over the week!) Any other suggested readings for behaviour analysts?

B.F. Skinner, (1948). Walden Two.

Cooper, J., Heron, E., & Heward, W. (2007). Applied Behaviour Analysis Second Edition

Michael, J. (2004)Positive and Negative Reinforcement, A Distinction That Is No Longer Necessary; Or a Better Way to Talk About Bad Things. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 24:1-2, 207-222.

Book Review: Walden Two – B.F. Skinner