Review: Animals in Translation

Animals in Translation

After reading and loving Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson’s Animals Make Us Human, I was especially eager to read that book’s predecessor, Animals in Translation. Animals in Translation has a more direct focus on the relationship between autism and the animal mind, which was very fascinating.

Grandin herself is a remarkable individual and it is difficult to read the book without wishing you had her intuition toward animals. Her ability to decipher animal behavior is enviable, to say the least. She is especially passionate about horses and cows, and this book, like Animals Make Us Human, taught me a lot about these animals that I didn’t previously know.

For me, one of Grandin’s most valuable insights is passing on the knowledge that all animals are far more perceptive and sensitive than we think. I’m attuned to thinking that dogs are highly intelligent, but I don’t ever think of horses, cows, chickens, or pigeons as possessing any special intelligence. Grandin convincingly shows that this is not the case, and that we should all be far more conscientious about the way we approach, handle, and communicate with all animals.

While I was interested in her arguments about livestock, I found her points and paragraphs on dogs to be far less convincing. Grandin knows a ton about livestock, but I don’t think she knows very much about dogs. For one thing, she still believes in and advocates the dominance model of behavior for dogs and the debunked “alpha dog” theory. She says you should never let your dogs up on your bed or couch and never let them look you in the eye, because then they’ll control the house, etc. A lot of people think like this about their dogs, but we now know that it’s a pretty big leap–and it’s all based on outmoded research about captive wolves.

Secondly, she dislikes purebred dogs–in some ways, for very good reasons (unethical breeding leading to genetic defects), but in others, in very questionable reasons. She tries to make the point that purebred dogs are worse than mixed breeds. Her evidence? ONE anecdote from ONE friend she had. This friend had two mixed breeds and one purebred lab and the purebred tore up the house while the mixes were no trouble at all. From this one story, Grandin concludes that mixed breeds are better than purebreds. This might be true, but even if it is, Grandin should know better than use one friend’s story–based on ONE dog’s behavior!–as evidence that all purebreds are behavioral nightmares.

For those reasons, I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone looking for thoughtful and well-researched information about dogs. But if you’re interested in the broader perspectives on animal intelligence and its relationship with autism, then it may be an enjoyable book for you.