A journalist named Amy Sutherland spent a year observing trainers who work with exotic animals and wondered if she could apply the same training principles to her husband.
I mentioned the idea to my husband and he said he had no interest in moving to SeaWorld or learning how to bounce a rubber ball on the tip of his nose.
He was, however, not completely disinterested in learning how to spring from the bottom of a pool and shoot 30 feet into the air. It doesn't matter if you are a dolphin or a homo sapien, that one is always a big crowd pleaser.
Some of Sutherland's discoveries, which she writes about in "What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage," are very practical: reward good behavior immediately, do not reward bad behavior and completely ignore behaviors which will never change.
When my animal, I mean husband, was home for dinner, he turned on the television searching for a particular news story while we were eating (something we agreed not to do years ago). I responded with what trainers call the Least Reinforcing Technique where the trainer renders herself emotionless from head to toe so as not to reinforce a bad behavior. I froze over my dinner plate.
After two, three, eventually 10 minutes, the husband finally noticed I was motionless asked if I was feeling all right.
"Fine," I said, still trying to remain perfectly still and talk without parting my lips.
"Good," he said turning back to the tube and changing the channel to C-Span.
I waited five more minutes, giving the training technique time to work, then broke my statuesque pose and offered him a banana in exchange for the remote.
I realized our problem. Progressive training is used on baboons, capuchin monkeys, chimps, cougars, elephants, whales and dolphins. Those are exotic animals and we are not. We do not have fins, tusks or tails, just a little extra padding around the middle.
The husband and I are common creatures. In the morning we are a humming bird and a turtle. The hummingbird awakes full speed, darts about, throws open windows, chatters endlessly while showering, doing her hair and unloading the dishwasher.
The turtle pokes his head out, takes a reading on the wing beat per second speed of the crazed humming bird and pulls back into his shell until that second cup of coffee.
By evening, the hummingbird has morphed into a sloth and hangs upside down from the sofa while the turtle turns into a busy beaver, gnawing away at the mail, bills and on-line banking.
In our worst moments, we have been known to do fine impressions of a badger and a porcupine. Trainers don't work with those sorts of animals. They release them into the wild or a 30 year marriage.
In the end, Sutherland found the animal behavior she was best able to change was her own. She lightened up, stopped nagging and quit taking so many of her husband's behaviors personally.
Isn't that the way it goes? A woman has high hopes of transforming her wild thing into something sleek and sophisticated and finds out that the animal who needs the most training is herself.
Great. So now what am I going to do with this big bucket of little fish?