Temple Grandin offers valuable insight to handling animals
April 16, 2012
Handling animals is a part of life for many Americans. While some handle just their own cats and dogs, thousands of people in agriculture handle livestock and horses on a daily basis. No matter what the animal is, however, humane handling is important, and this is exactly what Dr. Temple Grandin is all about.
Grandin works as a professor of animal science at Colorado State University. She also is a livestock facilities designer, and nearly half of the cattle in meat processing plants are handled using Grandin’s center track restrainer system.
She attended Franklin Pierce College where she obtained her B.A. She then received her M.S. in animal science at Arizona State University, and a Ph.D in animal science in 1989 from the University of Illinois.
She has spent her career working to design facilities and handling methods that reduce an animal’s stress, and help them to be more comfortable. “Animal thinking is very specific because it is sensory based,” said Grandin.
She continued, “I see movies in my imagination and this helped me to understand animals. An animal’s first experience with a new person, place, or vehicle should be good to prevent the formation of fear memories. Animal’s fears are very specific. Animals associate painful or threatening experiences with something they are seeing or hearing.”
Keeping animals calm and in a low-stress environment is very important to help an animal avoid fear. “For example, animals get agitated when they slip. A non-slip floor is essential as slipping causes fear,” she said.
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According to Grandin, horses can get post-traumatic stress disorder. “They get flashbacks just like people who have PTSD. It’s not proven, because to do that I’d have to abuse an animal and I won’t do that,” she said.
When working with animals, Grandin suggests looking at things the way that an animal does. “Objects are different appearing to animals. Think about the different ways the horse feels things. Get rid of stressors,” she said.
She also talks about how animals have different categories of behavior. “Some of the behaviors that are the most hard wired are the behaviors that protect animals from predators. Aggression and rage occur when the hypothalamus is electrically stimulated. Rage is what makes you get the predator off. It’s pure preservation,” she said.
She continued, “For example, a person on horseback and a person on the ground are different. If cattle are moved by horseback all the time they may have a 3-foot flight zone with someone on a horse and a 50-foot flight zone with someone on the ground. This is where it is specific,” she said.
Grandin works with people to get them to see an environment the way that the animal sees it.
“I want to get you aware of things in the environment. A puddle or a shiny object can be scary to an animal. Little distractions that people do not notice will cause balking, so tie up loose chains that scare animals. Sometimes the most obvious is the least obvious, and it has to do with a difference in perception. They have poor depth perception. It’s a lack of visualization,” she said.
This lack of visualization is what causes people to think an animal is behaving badly. However, the animal may just not be sure of the circumstances, or may be associating what is happening with a negative experience.
“Give your animal a chance to look at their environment. Animals are motivated to approach and investigate new things. New things are both scary and attractive. When you put it in their face, it’s scary. When they voluntarily approach it, its attractive. They either go in seek mode or fear mode,” Grandin said.
She added, “Animals prefer to explore something new. New things are both scary and attractive. New things are attractive when an animal can approach things voluntarily. It’s scary when you jam it in their face.”
Grandin stresses that seeing an object the way that an animal does is important in getting them to accept that object. “An object will look different if approached from a different direction. That’s the specific thinking. Until something is approached from all directions, it could still be scary. These things take time. You need time to get an animal used to things,” she said.
According to Grandin, sensory based thinking is extremely detailed, and with word based thinking the details are dropped out. She suggests using checklists to make sure different things that scare animals are taken care of.
“Checklists work great. I’ve learned that helps verbal people see what they need to see. Sensory based thinking is very detailed. If you generalize a little bit in a real specific way, that is more how animals see things. I want to get you thinking about these sort of things,” she said.
Grandin recently spoke at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo in early March in Denver, Colo., about how to handle horses. “When you buy different bits, put them in your hands and close your eyes and think about the way they feel. You can see how a horse can categorize things, such as jointed bits are bad and straight bits are ok,” she said.
Many of the problems that people have with their animals are fear motivated.
“People can be one track minded. With horses, a lot of people punish fear. When you punish fear it tends to make it worse. We’ve got to work on preventing problems. The more high strung the genetics are, the worse those problems are,” she said.
Some problems that people perceive are a result of the natural instinct of the animals. “You have to give them things to do. Think about their nature behavior in the wild,” she said.
When working with animals, she stresses that people need to stay calm and move slowly. “Sudden, jerky motion scares so you need to have steady motion. You also need optimum pressure that is not too tight and not too loose,” she said.
Grandin also suggests using clicker training with animals such as dogs and horses, to help get past fear, unwanted behavior and to train.
“Clicker training is used to reward an animal. You give food, so the animal associates the click with a reward. You need to give the reward within one second, however, so they know what the reward was associated with. With a clicker you can get precise timing,” she said.
She added, “You can also reward them for not doing something. Clicker training can be very effective for some fear things.”
One of the biggest ideas that Grandin talks about related to bad human behavior. “We need to prevent bad becoming normal,” she said.
Grandin has authored more than 400 articles in livestock periodicals and scientific journals about her findings working with animals. She has two best selling books, “Animals in Translation” and “Animals Make Us Human.” There is also an HBO movie about Grandin’s life called “Temple Grandin, staring Claire Danes.”
For more information about Temple Grandin and her work with handling animals, please visit http://www.Grandin.com.