Book Review: Animals Make us Human

Animals Make Us Human
Creating the best life for our animals 
By Temple Grandin & Catherine Johnson
(Amazon, $13.24)

I received this book as a Christmas present and couldn’t resist sharing it and raving about the information inside!

Temple Grandin, who has a PhD in animal science and is a professor at Colorado State, has a unique perspective about animals. Writing as a person with autism, Grandin has taken her position as a scientist with autism to create several works about animals and how they interact with humans.

Animals Make Us Human is a great, in depth view on how we humans can strive to maximize the happiness of our animal companions. Using years of scientific data and citing dozens of experiments, Grandin dives into everything from keeping a lion in a zoo from pacing in its cage to keeping a dog happy when you leave home.

Of course, this is a dog blog, and I was totally engage with the ideas around dog training and behavior management. Grandin challenges the traditional approach of training dogs in which humans are taught to become the “dominant”, or “alpha” figure in their dogs life.  According to numerous studies cited in the book, dogs don’t quite act like wolves in the way we once thought. Grandin takes the “Cesar Milan” approach and spins it into a new light, agreeing that even though some situations (doggie daycare, for example) may warrant having an alpha presence, these strategies aren’t necessary in everyday training.

The problem occurred with studies done on wolves in captivity, taken away from their natural setting and put in “forced packs”. These dogs, unstable and insecure, created a pack pecking order to maintain structure. This resulted in more fights and lashing out then with normal, natural wolf families. The change in environment and familiarity with their mates caused drastic changes in the way they interacted.

As a former daycare worker and as a dog owner, I loved that Grandin was able to compare two opposing sides of methodology without completely denouncing either. She respectfully presents both sides of the coin and tries to help the reader understand that old methods are born from old understanding, and as we become more knowledgable, the methods change.

Gardin dives deeper into the idea that as dogs become further removed genetically from their wolf brethren, they lose their ability to express submissive behaviors, resulting in more aggressive communication between dogs. The escalation of emotion leads to more fights between unfamiliar dogs. For example, malamutes, who are genetically much like their wolf descendants, exhibited all the submissive signs that wolves do when they greeted another dog. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, which are clearly very much removed from a wolf, exhibit none of these traits, and are thus more feisty (putting it mildly, that is).

Understanding the ideas behind dominance and submission are crucial when training a dog, but so are understanding there particular drive behaviors. Finding an outlet for a dog’s seeking and play drives, and learning how to handle their fear, rage and panic emotional triggers, are critical to developing a dogs well being.

The best way to handle all these drives, according to Grandin, is through proper socialization (and I obviously agree). I loved the quote Grandin used, from Patricia McConnell, “Socialization is not the same as enrichment. You need both.” I couldn’t agree more! And proper socialization can be the preventative cure to all kinds of later life issues. What I didn’t know about was a second socialization stage, between 18 and 36 months, when a dog becomes socially mature. This is a great opportunity to have your pup around positive adult-dog influences to steer them into the right direction through their teen years.

There is so much information about dogs in this book that I can get carried away. I’d also miss out on mentioning how Gardin talks about creating happy lives for your cats, for pigs, horses, birds, and captive animals in zoos. She talks about ways to stimulate their deepest instincts to help give even a caged lion a happy and content life. Believe it or not, an animal raised in the wild, yet put into captivity, tends to react better to being behind the glass in a zoo. You’ll have to read to find out why!

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in animal science and animal psychology. Scratch that, I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever cared for an animal and wants to better understand the way they think. Not every animal is dealt the best hand, but with a little help from us humans, we can totally give them the happy and content life they need. Grab your copy today to find out how!

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