Temple Grandin’s professional training as an animal scientist and her history as a person with autism have given her a perspective like that of no other expert in the field. Grandin and coauthor Catherine Johnson present their powerful theory that autistic people can often think the way animals think—putting autistic people in the perfect position to translate “animal talk.” Exploring animal pain, fear, aggression, love, friendship, communication, learning, and, even animal genius, Grandin is a faithful guide into their world. Animals in Translation reveals that animals are much smarter than anyone ever imagined, and Grandin, standing at the intersection of autism and animals, offers unparalleled observations and extraordinary ideas about both.
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I have no hesitation in recommending Animals in Translation to anyone looking for more insight into animal behavior or perhaps those interested in better understanding the thought processes of the autistic. However, I have to warn companion animal lovers that the author clearly does not have the same sense of sympatico with domesticated predators (cats and dogs) as she seems to have with domesticated prey animals (horses, cows, sheep, pigs, etc.). Although Grandin did provide me some interesting new ways of thinking about my dogs' and cats' reactions, virtually every example she uses for dogs and cats is stated, "my neighbor's cat" or "my good friend's dogs" and many of the conclusions she draws are worded with "so I think", "I am not sure, but", "pretty much" & "it seems to me". When Grandin is discussing horse and cow behavior, she is much more likely to cite scientific studies and personal, first-hand experiences and those sections of the book are much stronger as a result.
I don't have any special expertise with animals other than loving many dogs and cats and working as a volunteer in companion animal rescue for many years, but there were several incorrect statements made about dogs that made me question how closely Grandin has actually looked at dogs in particular. She states that you should avoid white haired dogs because they have white skin and that lack of melanin means they are albino or something close to that and genetically flawed. Well, I've had several white haired dogs and they had pink skin like almost all the dogs I've had of any hair color (and I have every hair color dog). I have had a few dogs with sort of brownish skin, but even the black dogs usually have pinkish skin. And, none of my white haired dogs has had any major genetic problem - white shepherd mix lived to be 12, white cocker mix lived to be 16, and white poodle mix still living at 14. Grandin also says, "A dog's mouth should be mostly black with some white." Hmm, 5 dogs right at hand (mine and a couple of fosters) all mutts but a variety of colors, sizes, breeding and every one of them has a mostly PINK mouth, with some brownish purple on the gums (could call it black), and NO white except for the teeth. Where did she come up with that? I have seen some chows and chow mixes that have a purplish or black mouth, but most dogs have a mostly pink mouth. These were not huge flaws, but it not only made me question the author's expertise, but also made me wonder about her editor. If Grandin hasn't really looked at a dog, I don't know if I can trust that she can "translate a dog" better than I can.
Owners/lovers of bullies and rotties should be particularly aware that Grandin goes on a bit of a rant about these two breeds of dogs. As someone who has worked with many breeds and mixes often coming from bad situations, I am totally convinced that, 1) Bad dogs are made not born, 2) Some breeds are more sensitive to bad handling than other breeds, 3) Some breeds are more likely to be the victims of bad handling than other breeds. Grandin cites some statistics that might make you believe that Rottweilers and Pit Bulls are more dangerous dogs than other breeds, but she does not acknowledge (maybe she doesn't know) that those protection breed dogs are MUCH more likely to be abused or subjected to bad training (and bad breeding) than other breeds. Ultimately, I thought that some of Grandin's discussions on dogs and cats were interesting, but highly opinionated without the data or experience to support her opinions. I certainly would not use her as a source for training guidance for dogs.
On the other hand, Grandin makes a nice transition from an interesting discussion about some weird problems in chickens that came from selective breeding to discussing similar temperament problems in some dog breeds arising from selective breeding for AKC standards. And, she gives a nod to the genetic benefits of mixed breed dogs and encourages people to look at mixes when adopting a dog. She also discusses some of the latest evolutionary theories that propose that people didn't tame wolves to create dogs, but people and wolves evolved in partnership creating not only dogs, but modern man - we changed wolves and they changed us too! It has even been postulated that this partnership with wolves gave us an edge over the Neanderthals.
When Grandin is discussing horses and cows she seems to be in her element. I haven't been around livestock since my long ago FFA days and I'm not likely to be in the future, but I loved these sections. They were totally fascinating and Temple Grandin does seem to have some special understanding of these animals that often seem so foreign and incomprehensible to me. I was not sure from her descriptions of autism and the way an autistic person experiences the world, if her insight truly does come from her autism (could other autistics commune with animals in the same way?) or if she is just especially insightful with livestock animals as some other people (non-autistic) seem to be with dogs and cats. Either way, I found the book to be both entertaining and educational. Grandin quotes some scientific studies, but the book is written in a very simplistic style so the information is accessible and not dry. Andrea Gallo does a nice job with the narration.
Would you try another book from Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson and/or Andrea Gallo?
Any additional comments?
I first read Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin and I really love the book, especially it's fairly sensible take on canine behaviour. Animal's in Translation is written earlier though and Temple makes many very false statements about dogs, touting dominance and pack theory which was disappointing to hear coming from a scientist. I'm really glad she updated her understanding in later books so I recommend reading those and skipping this one.