Sunday, February 7, 2010

Review: Animals Make Us Human, by Temple Grandin

I enjoyed reading the new book by Temple Grandin (and Catherine Johnson), Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals. She starts out (page 1) with the 5 freedoms all animals should have:

Freedom from hunger and thirst
Freedom from discomfort
Freedom from pain, injury, or disease
Freedom to express normal behavior
Freedom from fear and distress

As Temple Grandin points out, much of our industrialized approach to producing meat, milk and eggs falls woefully short on most of these counts, sometimes in ways that are truly appalling, and even in the case of pets, or pleasure animals like horses, things we do with or to them may fall short as well. She also points out that avoiding animal abuses by workers in farms, feedlots and slaughterhouses isn't just a matter of training workers to use non-abusive practices, it's also a question of how the workers are treated on the job and it's the responsibility of management to set and enforce standards - to manage. Serious abuses happen when management lets "bad become normal".

A couple of quotes to set the stage:

I believe that the best way to create good living conditions for any animal, whether it's a captive animal living in a zoo, a farm animal, or a pet, is to base animal welfare programs on the core emotion systems in the brain. My theory is that the environment animals live in should activate their positive emotions as much as possible, and not activate their negative emotions any more than necessary. If we get the animal's emotions right, we will have fewer problem behaviors. (p. 3)

. . . usually . . . the more freedom you give an animal to act naturally, the better, because normal behaviors evolved to satisfy the core emotions . . . . But if you can't give the animal the freedom to act naturally, then you should think about how to satisfy the emotion that motivates the behavior by giving the animal other things to do. Focus on the emotion, not the behavior. (pp. 3-4)

She then sets out the basic emotions - and yes, there's no doubt in her mind that animals, all animals, feel all these emotions:

Positive - lust (reproduction), care (maternal and caretaking), and most importantly for animal welfare, play, and seeking (starting with the orienting response [you know - when your horse stops and stares and decides whether to explore further or bolt]), and including searching and investigating the environment.

Negative - rage (to escape a perceived predator or entrapment; frustration is a milder form of rage due to physical constraint), fear, and panic (when social attachment is disrupted - think herd-boundness or barn-sour behaviors in horses).

She states that 18.4% of horses exhibit some sort of stereotypic behavior, and since they're grazing animals, these behaviors are often oral - think cribbing, wood chewing, mouthing objects - and are sometimes movement-related - weaving or pacing in the stall or along a fence line. She says that these behaviors indicate that the animal is suffering some sort of distress right now, has suffered in the past and the brain developed in a way that the stereotypic behavior persists (there is certainly a genetic component), or the animal is using the behavior as a way to cope with the stresses of the environment. I found this very interesting, as we have had several horses come to our barn with stereotypic behaviors, and the behaviors have become less or disappeared entirely.

Her basic rule to create good mental welfare for animals:

Don't stimulate rage, fear and panic if you can help it, and do stimulate seeking and also play. Provide environments that will keep the animal occupied and prevent the development of stereotypies. (p. 23)

She has a substantial section on horses. She debunks the theory that we often find in the horse-training world that horses cannot transfer information from one eye, and one side of the brain, to the other. They do transfer information and have the neurological structures to do it - the reason a horse may spook when encountering an object from the other side is that the object looks different, and horses don't generalize all that well - they respond to the specifics of the object, and we all know about how horses react to something, even something very small, that is out of place or slightly different from what it has been. (For example, sometimes late in summer the milkweed plants get heavy and bend down over the trails - my Maisie finds this very alarming!)

She says that fear memories in horses have two main causes - an abusive experience, or having a new thing or situation introduced too quickly. She also has an interesting insight into why some horses may tend to buck at the transition from the trot to the canter - it's because the saddle moves differently on their bodies, and they find the change alarming!

Since horses are high-fear, high-flight animals, yelling at them will almost always be a problem. And she thinks people are often not very clued in to what is motivating certain behaviors:

A common mistake people make is mixing up fear and aggression. Most behavior problems that occur during handling, veterinary procedures, loading and riding are caused by fear or pain - not aggression. The worst thing that can be done to a frightened horse is to punish him by hitting or yelling. Frightening or painful punishment makes fear worse. (p. 115)

Punishment can also shut down the horse's innate ability to solve problems that are presented to it.

She has some positive things to say about the use of clicker training - it turns on the positive seeking and problem-solving system, teaches emotional self-control and in fact it's not the reward itself but the anticipation of the reward - the interval between the click and the reward - that is the most pleasurable part for the horse.

She has some good insights on how to present new objects and situations to horses:

When you're working with animals, novelty can be attractive or scary depending on how it is presented. The single most important factor determining whether a new thing is more interesting than scary is whether the animal has control over whether to approach the object. Animals are terrified by forced novelty. (p. 147)

And there are sections on cats, dogs, cow, pigs, chickens and zoo animals - it's all fascinating stuff. Her perspectives on animal behavior and animal emotions are full of insights, and she credits part of this to her autism, where pictures and details are much more important than language. This is a valuable book, and has many useful insights for all who have or work with animals, including horses.


  1. I hear this, but yet, I can't find this place (not getting intense when my horse melts down) with Cibolo. Just regaining his attention seems to require the horse equivalent of grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him.

    Sigh. I have a loooong way to go.

    Temple is just amazing. She's a gift to animals everywhere.

  2. Verrrrrry interesting. And I do tend to think much bad behavior on horses's parts is related to pain. Whenever I see a horse with a training issue, the first thing I want to do is try to elminate any possible physical reason.

    Again, I tout the concept of the treeless saddle because it tends to eliminate a lot of tree issues, such as pinching, or jamming into the spine when the horse starts to move. BUT I've met a few horses that don't like the treeless saddles because there is too much flexibility and they, apparently, prefer more stable pressures.

    Then, of course you have ulcers, teeth issues, hoof issues, muscle soreness, and joint pains, all of which may not show up during a cursory exam.

    It is indeed a complex issue and truly intriguing.

  3. Temple's books are always a fascinating and captivating read.

  4. She is an amazing woman and her insights are wonderful. I've got to get this book. I've found over the years that everything stated here in her quotes is indeed very true. I believe I read somewhere recently that there is either a documentary coming up about her or a movie.

  5. Interesting woman. Thanks for the review.

  6. Just a random observation, but I think it's also important to consider that some horses buck at the transition to the canter out of pleasure. Horses love to buck at the canter when they are running on their own -- I don't think it's a stretch to think that they might forget their manners for a moment and do the same while they are being ridden. The only time I've ever seen Panama buck while my trainer was riding him was exactly for that reason -- he was excited to canter.

    Fantastic review, and great timing. I just put this book on my own reading list after seeing multiple mentions of the new movie -- I'll be picking it up from the library soon.

  7. Temple is amazing, her autism really gives her a unique insight into things. Though I have always seen the five freedoms given as "in so much as it is possible" because sometimes animals will suffer pain due to injury or such so it is impossible for them to be completely free of pain or stress etc.

  8. This is interesting! I had to post a link to this on Funder's blog cuz it reminded me of her training philosophy (on spooking).

    Thanks for posting those quotes - fascinating!

    About factory farming:

    Pork is the national meat of Germany, and how pigs are raised in factory farms is very open - I read articles in magazines, and you see it on TV often. At first I was in culture shock, at how often they have TV programs on factory farms (which detail birth to grocery store), things that I never experienced in America, where we are not encouraged to think about where our food comes from (at least in the past; things may be different now on American TV).

    Germany wants factory farm practices exposed, for example, every single egg you buy in Germany has a number stamped on it which describes if the hen lived free range, semi-free, or in cages. At the grocery store I never see customers buying caged hens' eggs, and the Germans I talk with would never buy an egg with a 3 stamped on it (cage).

    But back to the pigs. I was surprised to learn that by law the young pigs must be provided with toys as environment enrichment. Two toys per 8 pigs, I think it was. And there is a spacing law, how many pigs per "stall" and I believe they have the most stress-free slaughter method, because the farmers won't get as much money per pound if the animals feel stress before their deaths. They use gas to kill them, and this gas is under strict regulation to kill them instantly. It still sounds horrible, but compared to what we do with our beloved pet horses back home, well, you understand.


  9. Sounds like a very interesting read.

    Love the new picture!!!!!

  10. Great post. I've been wanting to buy that book. Everything in your post corresponds to things that I've slowly been learning over the years with my horses. I like the part about the horse's response being dependent on whether they can choose to approach the scary object. I've been trying similar things to what you've done with Dawn (with clicking for approaching/touching) and it's amazing how Mr. Spooky Poo is so much braver!

  11. Thanks for the great review - I've been meaning to get her book(s) for something other than my typical fare...

  12. What a good review! I had forgotten the section about forced novelty, but you reminded me of it. :)

    What did you think of her theory that more white = a greater tendency to spook?

  13. I well remember studying Temple's methodology in one of the animal behaviour courses I took under Dr. Frank Hurnik while I was in college at the University of Guelph nearly 20 years ago. When she started to publish for the masses (she had been widely published and studied academically for a very long while) I was (and remain) one of her loyal readers.

    Her common sense approach has helped countless farm and zoo animals lead better lives than they would otherwise have done. I read the section devoted to horses in this book with great interest.

  14. Wow..really interesting! Sounds like a great read to get my hands on! Thanks for sharing Kate and love the ears! ;)

  15. Funder - I don't know about more white being more spooky - my spookiest horse is all bay with not a white hair anywhere! Although I like most of what Temple Grandin has to say, I'm suspicious of any labeling of horses of different colors as having different behaviors. That said, I believe there is a certain paint pattern - is it medicine hat? I'm not sure - that is associated with deafness. And deaf horses can be more sight spooky since they don't have their ears to use for additional information. Perhaps that is where Temple got it from.

  16. Kate, I remember she was actually generalizing across all animals. I think it was in AIT, but it might've been in another book... She said, in her experience, a Holstein is generally spookier than an Angus, a loud paint is spookier than a plain bay, etc.

    Obviously, Dixie is the spookiest horse I've worked with, but I also have a very small sample size. I've often wondered how the white = spooky thing holds up over a bigger sample size - it's a really hard question to ask without bias, though.

  17. Interesting about the more white = more spooky thing. The Paint we bought a year & a half ago is a VERY white B&W overo with an almost medicine hat and he is extremely calm & non-spooky. The only thing I've ever seen worry him was a baby miniature mule (which apparently freaked out most of the horses). And his reaction to that was just a look of absolute horror & certainty that death was imminent! My spooky TB is dark bay with 2 white marks. Interesting to think of in terms of all animal species though.

  18. Oh, thank you for a wonderful review on Temple Grandin's new book. I'd watched a tv news piece on her some years ago and intended to, but never did, get and read her book about humane treatment of livestock. I was so impressed with her work. Her new book sounds like a wonderful read.
    Boy Howdy would I EVER like to get her involved in eradicating rollkur and LDR - I can't for the life of me understand how those advocating for RK or LDR as "training methods" fail to SEE that the horse is SUFFERING ! !
    .... take a breath here ...
    Thanks again, Kate, for taking the time to share - was wonderful to read.

  19. I have read Temple's books and I think she is great!

  20. Good review!

    I really enjoyed this book when I read it last year.



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