Chris Shaughness

author, speaker, animal lover

Book Reviews

Book Review – Animals in Translation

When I taught obedience classes, I frequently referred to the way that dogs and other animals think – in pictures – and reference the work of Dr. Temple Grandin.  I erroneously assumed that most people had heard of her and her book called Animals in Translation.  I believe that her work is so important to understanding the behavior of animals that I thought I should give you a review of the book.  I have Dr. Grandin to thank for my much of my ability to analyze pet behavior problems because I try to “see” situations from their perspectives.

Temple Grandin holds a PhD in Animal Science.  Her work in the agricultural business to improve the living conditions of livestock gives insight into how animals think.  But it’s not this work that makes Dr. Grandin such an insightful guide into the animals’ minds.  It’s the fact that she’s autistic.  Dr. Grandin briefly takes us through her life and challenges to function in a verbal world when her world is visual.  She thinks in pictures instead of words and discovered this is true for animals too.  

A great explanation is given of how the human brain differs from animals, explaining why we perceive the world differently.  One difference is in the neocortex portion of the brain.  Humans have a much larger neocortex than animals which accounts for humans’ ability to rapidly generalize situations.  Animals do not make rapid generalizations.  Dr. Grandin uses a great example of this fact:  a dog learns how to do various actions in training class but often will not do them once back at home or when outside.  [I hear this quite a bit from my clients.]  It’s because the dog has formed a “picture” of doing these activities in the classroom (or wherever the teaching took place) but has not generalized the learning to other locations.  This is why practice is so important in every place that the dog goes.

Humans also have larger frontal lobes of the brain which gives us the ability to see “the big picture” but often miss the small details.  Conversely, animals see the details.  This issue is critical in understanding how animals perceive the world.  Bigger isn’t always better!

The remainder of the book reviews animal feelings and drives to help us to understand animal behavior – why they do the things they do.  And the book concludes with a troubleshooting guide.  

The book is not a quick read and can be somewhat clinical but there are so many terrific insights to be gained.  If you truly want to learn more about animal behavior, it’s worth the effort.

“Whenever you’re having a problem with an animal, try to see what the animal is seeing and experience what the animal is experiencing.”  – Dr. Temple Grandin


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