David Smith's Reviews > Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals

Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin
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's review
Oct 05, 2011

it was amazing
Read in August, 2011

This fascinating book has a lot of insights into the higher picture of how behavior works in animals, and into the devilish details of dogs, cats, horses, cows, pigs, and chickens. It also covers zoos and wildlife more generally though with specific anecdotes. The most mind blowing moments happen when you realize, or Temple Grandin points out, that understanding humanity has an awful lot in common with animal husbandry. This is easily in my list of top 5 nonfiction books ever read.

The theory of behavior boils down to emotions, and how they drive behavior. Neuroscience has helped narrow down a few fundamental emotions. SEEKING is curiosity. Humans, pigs, and big predators need it stimulated in spades. RAGE, similar to frustration, is theorized to stem from being held by a predator. It may provide the shock of energy you need to get loose. FEAR explains itself. PANIC has to do with social attachment. It's what babies feel when they get separated from their parents. When you cause an animal pain, they make separation noises. Maybe that's why we say it "hurts" to lose someone we love. LUST doesn't get much play in the book. Read Sex At Dawn for that. Finally, PLAY is roughhousing play in young animals and humans.

Long story short, stimulate the SEEKING and PLAY while avoiding FEAR and PANIC.

Here are some of the passages I particularly liked.

If we get the animal's emotions right, we will have fewer problem behaviors. That might sound like a radical statement, but some of the research in neuroscience has been showing that emotions drive behavior.

(This is the thesis of the book) Everyone who is responsible for animals (note by me: the human great ape very much included) - farmers, ranchers, zookeepers, and pet owners - needs a set of simple, reliable guidelines for creating good mental welfare that can be applied to any animal in any situation, and the best guidelines we have are the core emotion systems in the brain. The rule is simple: 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 (note by me: repetitive, pointless behavior that the animal engages in for hours every day). In the rest of the book I'm going to tell you what I know about how you can do that.

To train a cat, you have to give it food treats, but a dog is happy when you're happy.

A young cub, like a young child, can get away with more aggression than adults can because a wolf cub or a child can't do that much damage. The aggressive behaviors come in first, so young wolves (or young children) have some way to defend themselves if they have to. the submissive behaviors come in second, so an older, bigger wolf or human has ways to stay out of fights with other juveniles or adults. We definitely see that in normal humans. A normal two-year-old child may hit his mom; a normal twenty-year-old would never do such a thing - at least, no normal human who's been well brought up.

A lot of parents feel that they yell at their kids more than they want to, but it's hard to stop. A behaviorist would say that's because parents keep getting negatively reinforced for yelling. Every time a parent ;yells at a child for doing something bad and the child stops doing whatever he's doing, that is negative reinforcement. The kid's behavior is painful for the parent and ;yelling makes the painful thing stop, which makes yelling more likely to happen in the future because it got results. Yelling has been reinforced by the kid stopping what he's doing. But then, because the parent yells so much, the kid starts to habituate to yelling. He gets used to it. The kid stops responding to being yelled at, so the parent yells louder, and then the kid does respond. That reinforces the parent for yelling louder, and the kid habituates to louder yelling, and so on.

Negative reinforcement used to the way a lot of people use it - not just animal trainers but parents, teachers, and bosses - has bad side effects. Karen Pryor says negative reinforcement "puts you at risk for all the unpredictable fallout of punishment: avoidance, secrecy, fear, confusion, resistance, passivity, and reduced initiative, as well as spillover associations, in which anything that happens to be around, including the training environment and the trainer, becomes distasteful or disliked, something to be avoided or even fled from."

It's easier for a horse to be brave when he's feeling happy than when he's feeling nervous or afraid.

KAren Pryor says animals that have learned to learn start to feel like they're training the person, not vice versa. They know they can figure out a way to make the trainer give them treats. She could be right, based on what behaviorists know about humans. I read a very interesting article by three research psychologists on positive versus aversive control of people. Aversive control is what they usually have in a public school. The students have to do theri work and behave well in class or they'll get bad grades or a detention. Positive control might be used in a preschool, where the teachers "catch them being good" and then reinforce the good behavior. Instead of making the children do good behaviors by threatening to punish them if they don't, the teachers watch the children until they spontaneously do a good thing and give them rewards to reinforce the behavior and make them more likely to do that behavior again in the future.

The psychologists said that people feel different under these two systems. When a person is under aversive control, he feels like he's being controlled. The authors write, "The person reports that his or her autonomy was undermined because avoidance or escape behaviors are verbally understood as things that he or she 'had' to do." POsitivie control is the opposite. Even though the teacher or psychologist has created an environment that "controls" the person's behavior through positive reinforcement, the person doesn't feel like he's being controlled, probably because he is getting reinforced for behaviors he didn't "have" to do. The authors say: "The behavior is likely to be reported as having been the product of an autonomous decision to act. Subjectively, behaviors that are followed by pleasing consequences are likely to be verbally described as those that we 'like' to or 'chose' to engage in."

Animials trained using positive reinforcement learn faster, too. If you put a horse in a maze and let him find ghis way out through trial and error, he'll finish faster than a horse who gets a shock when he makes a wrong turn. Paul McGreevy says, "Punishment can stifle creativeity and impede a horse's innate problem-solving skills."

The proof of this is that Bud's methods don't work with completely tame cattle. When I walked back and forth behind a herd of completely tame cattle, they just looked at me like I was stupid. Tame cattle can't be herded. They can be led, but they can't be herded, because there is no fear.

Last, very often people find positive handling methods harder to use than negative methods. The blue-ribbon emotions help us to understand why. Handling untamed, untrained cattle is frustrating because they don't do what you want them to do, and frustration is a mild form of RAGE. So, unless a person is an expert in quiet handling of cattle, the environment at a ranch, a dairy farm, or a slaughterhouse will naturally activate the RAGE system in his brain. That's why it's easy for people to blow up at farm animals (or at small children). Getting angry at frustrating situations is natural.

Confident people have more positive emotions than depressed and insecure people, which might mean that their SEEKING system is activated. Since SEEKING inhibits RAGE, maybe confident stockpeople have a higher frustration tolerance. The reason why the first study found that introverted handlers had the most productive cattle is probably that introverted people are naturally quieter than extroverts. Cattle prefer quiet handling.

The pigs quickly learned that they could move the cursor on a computer screen with the joystick. At first, the game was very easy. The cursor was in the middle of the computer screen and the pigs got a treat if they mnoved the cursor far enough in any direction to touch a line that formed a square around the cursor... When the treat feeder broke, the pigs kept playing. Pigs have a very strong SEEKING system.

The building contractors were running the show, and they built what was good for building contractors, not animals. That happens with cows and chicken, too. No company or organization should allow a contractor to dictate design.

Touch helps the eye to perceive accurately. Oliver Sacks describes a person who was blind and regained vision as an adult. To understand the meaning of things he saw with his eyes, he had to touch the objects he was looking at. I believe that there is something fundamental about the nervous system that prevents the computer mouse from being connected to the brain the same way touch is. Touching and feeling objects are essential for accurate perception. (note by me: This may explain why Odin feels compelled to touch everything)

In the 1980s, the Humane Society of the United STates donated money to fund the development of my center-track restrainer system for meat plants. They would never do that today. Few animal welfare groups would fund something to help reform and improve the livestock industry. As people have become more abstractified they've become more radical, and today the relationship between animal advocacy groups and the livestock industry is totally adversarial.

You see this at every level. Recently I went to a college that has a program on animals and public policy. The only publications they had in the library were animal advocacy magazines. I said, "look, I think you need to subscribe to Feedstuffs, Beef, Meat and Poultry, and National Hog Farmer. You need to get the magazines read by the industry." To make policy that will work you need information on every side of the issue.

Dave Fraser, a respected animal welfare scientist at the University of British Columbia, says that to understand an issue you need to read literature that is not from the most extremist people. I believe he is right. Both animal advocacy organizations and livestock groups often respond to complex issues with simplistic and contradictory information. Throughout my career I have observed that on most issues, the best way to solve animal problems is to take an approach that is somewhat in the middle between extremist positions.

Look at the situation with horse slaughter in the United STates. The Humane Society managed to get all the horse slaughter plants shut down in America. Now the old Amish carriage horses and other unfortunate equines are getting transported down to Mexico, where they're worked and starved until they drop dead from lack of nutrition and overwork. If I were a retired Amish carriage horse, would I rather get hitched up to an old pickup truck and get sores and go hungry, or go to a U.S. slaughter plant? I got into a discussion with some of the people trying to shut down the plants once, and I said, "You want to make sure, if you do this, the horses don't have a worse fate." My worst nightmares came true. Thousands of horses have traveled to Mexico, where they were killed by the barbaric process of stabbing them in the back of the neck. Yes, in an ideal world all retired and unridable horses would go to sanctuaries, but we don't live in an ideal world.

Activists need to find out what is actually happening in the field so that true reform will occur instead of the tragic mess of unintended consequences that hurt animals.

Mike Norton-Griffiths, a conservationist living in Kenya, says that since 1977 Kenya has lost between 60 and 70 percent of its big wild animals in the areas outside the national parks. It was in 1977 that Kenya passed laws making it illegal to hunt wild animals or raise them on ranches to sell for profit. That isn't a coincidence. It was the law that caused the animals to disappear. It made things worse. The large animal advocacy groups are still defending their law.

The law hurts the animals by making their habitat disappear. Before 1977 wild animals lived in two places: government preserves and privately owned open-range grasslands owned by wildlife ranchers. Once wildlife ranching was made illegal, ranchers couldn't afford to maintain their grasslands. They had to plow up the rangelands and plant crops to support themselves. That law does exactly the opposite of what we need to do to protect the animals. Laws need to be passed that create an incentive for people to take care of the animals. The 1977 law created an economic incentive to destroy the grasslands and deprived the animals of habitat.

African landowners make some of their biggest money selling big-game-hunting safaris. I found lots of websites advertising them. A typical price for a ten-day trip to shoot antelopes and warthogs costs $9,500... Sacrificing some warthogs, antelopes, or wildebeests that are held on private land may be necessary to motivate landowners to preserve their land as wildlife habitat.

You can't pass laws against human nature. If you do, the animals will suffer.

A measure that produces good effects in one situation may do damage in another, and ... there are few general rules (rules that remain valid regardlesss of conditions surrounding them) that we can use to guide our actions. Every situation has to be considered afresh." In my work I call that animals will throw you a curve ball.

There's a fire-breathing dragon in the foothills, I tell them, and your job is to bring him back alive without having him burn up Fort Collins and our university. Or there's a ten-foot-high daddy longlegs out in a field. Your job is to bring him back to the lab alive without breaking his legs.

However, you have to be careful not to force new things on animals (or on people). Animals like novelty if they can choose to investigate it; they fear novelty if you shove it in their faces.

People have a lot of control when they do their laundry, but you wouldn't want someone to put you in a zoo exhibit and give you piles of dirty laundry and a washer and dryer to keep you busy. That wouldn't be a very stimulating environment.

Dr. Orosz chose an excellent, enriched environment for the parrot. The greenhouse reduced FEAR because the parrot could perch on trees under the foliage, which kept his instinctual fears of aerial predators from being turned on, and the students became his human flock so his PANIC system would not get turned on.
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