Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How To Train Your Husband Like A Dog!

How to train your husband like a dog! Hilarious book reveals that you can keep him on a tight leash

By Amy Sutherland

My husband Scott is well read, adventurous and makes me laugh: I love him. But he's also forgetful, untidy and a terrible time keeper. He suffers from serious bouts of spousal deafness, but never fails to hear me when I curse him under my breath from afar.

Some years ago we took possession of Dixie, an eight-week-old excitable puppy that I took to obedience class.

Over six weeks, I watched her transform and marvelled at how I had managed to change and control another species. I wrote in my diary: 'Try on husband.' I did - and it worked. Here's how:


Nagging and shouting doesn't work. I'd done it for years and Scott was still messy, forgetful and always late. We humans assume that pointing out what we don't want makes clear what we do desire. Animal trainers don't nag and, most of the time, they don't even correct bad behaviour - they have an approach called 'gentling' or 'affection training' which means rewarding the behaviour they like and disregarding what they don't like.


My species is territorial when it comes to the remote control and bass settings on the stereo, he cannot hear high-pitched noises, enjoys a carnivorous diet and is prone to long periods of hibernation.

Man and woman argue over TV remote (posed by models)

Territorial: Amy's husband likes to control the TV remote - but she has learned to understand and accept that

In the end it's always better to play to a species' strong suit. Scott, for example, is nocturnal - so early morning flights or early morning anything are a trial - so I avoid them.


Forget arguing about the mess your partner makes every time he cooks, or the way he leaves his smelly socks strewn around the bedroom.

Perhaps the most important lesson I learnt from the animal trainers I met is that, rather than punish or draw attention to behaviour you don't like, you should simply ignore it.


Just as ignoring your partner's irritating habits will help to wean him off them, rewarding the things he does right - just as an animal trainer would - will also reinforce good behaviour.

Whether it's cleaning the car, putting the bins out or mowing the lawn, make a real point of thanking your partner as soon as he does something you like.


Luring is a way of saying: 'You will get this, but only if you do that'. A reward is promised for performing a task. Trainers have used it for centuries. A common way to teach a dog to sit is to hold a tasty morsel right over its head which prompts him to put his bottom on the floor.

Now, some trainers aren't keen on luring, as they think it gives the animal a chance to decide in advance whether the treat is big enough or not. The gamble is that the animal may hold out on you.

I am all for luring husbands, but you must judge if yours will think the prize is worth the bother.

Ikea Swedish meatballs

Tasty treat: Amy lured Scott to Ikea with the promise of a plateful of Swedish meatballs at the end

I once lured Scott to Ikea on a Saturday with the promise of a plateful of their Swedish meatballs in the restaurant afterwards. It only worked once - he decided the scrum of shoppers wasn't worth the tasty treat.


To get an animal, and therefore your partner, to perform a particular task, you need to break the task down into baby steps and focus on the most important part of it.

Overcomplicated and confused messages about what's required will get you nowhere.

For example, if I wanted Scott to be dressed and ready on time for a dinner party, I shouldn't also expect him to have drinks poured.


As humans, we tend to project all kinds of human characteristics, motivations and talents on to animals. We assume the dog chewed our new pair of Ugg boots out of spite. He didn't.

Projecting human feelings and characteristics on to an animal can lead to bad training decisions - so if you're going to think like an animal trainer, you need to keep a cool head and not take the other people's actions so personally.

Labrador puppy chewing women's shoes

Nothing personal: Dogs don't chew your best high-heels out of spite - apply the same theory to husbands

Previously, I'd see yet another pile of Scott's sweaty cycling clothes left on the bathroom floor as an affront to me, a symbol of how he didn't care enough about my feelings. Now, in animal trainer mode, I considered Scott's behaviour with a cooler head.


We, like other members of the animal kingdom, push to see who's the boss. We primates are big on hierarchy. We want others to know who is in charge.

I, like so many wives, unwittingly skirmished to win control of my marriage by thrusting 'my way' on Scott. He had to take my route to the shops, and I thought I was being helpful when I showed him how to cut vegetables how I did them.

But all I was doing was planting my flag and claiming my territory. When Scott stubbornly resisted I snarled.

Dog trainers warn students to guard against their deep instinct to boss another creature around, as it does not encourage a positive relationship with your pet.

Instead, you have a relationship built on fear and resentment rather than one centred around trust and love.


Trainers never try to teach an animal when it's having an off day.

Unfortunately, when it comes to relationships, we often pick the worst moment, say, when someone is frantic over a lost wallet or pay cheque to drive home a point - 'If you just used a lead, kept track of your stuff or deposited the cheque like I told you, this wouldn't have happened!'

Or we try to tackle a problem when we've got PMS or are feeling stressed about something.

We may mean well, but a point made in this way will typically fall on deaf ears and may even provoke an angry swipe.

People, like animals, aren't wired to learn or teach lessons when they're out of sorts.

Instead, be sure to choose a time to 'train' your partner when you are both feeling calm and in a good mood.


An animal trainer cannot let his or her attention wander - ever. A missed cue, even from a small animal can have big consequences.

Trainers can't stand around hoping that the glaring big cat won't pounce or that the agitated dog won't bite.

They need to be able to read the signals their animals give them so they can anticipate their every move and act quickly.

This technique works well with human animals, too.

Most nights, my husband beats me to the bathroom. He likes to take a book or magazine with him, which means it's always a good half hour before I can finally get in there.

I had tried rapping on the door and getting angry but nothing worked - until I realised I needed to look for cues - and stop the behaviour before it started.

Now if he wanders towards the staircase with a magazine in hand or casually asks me if I've seen his bike catalogue at the end of the evening - I make a dash for it, calling 'all I need is a minute'.

This way, I can scrub, floss and brush and settle down to watch a bit of television in bed until he joins me.

• Extracted from What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love And Marriage: Lessons For People From Animals And Their Trainers, by Amy Sutherland, published by Marshall Cavendish on April 8 at £9.99.

Amy Sutherland explains how you can bring your useless man to  heel

Puppy lessons: Amy Sutherland explains how you can bring your useless man to heel

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