Animals do have emotion, and fear tends to be one of the most primal emotions,” says Temple Grandin, who has been innovating the animal welfare industry for decades with her unique way of thinking.
And although she’s dedicated most of her life to studying cattle and other prey animals, her reference to fear as a prevalent emotion also applies to the dogs and cats that veterinarians see in their practices every day.
Dr. Grandin is currently a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University where she teaches courses on livestock behavior and facility design. She also spends much of her time traveling and educating others on her methods of livestock handling and knowledge of behavior, as well on her other area of expertise, which is Autism.
Diagnosed with Autism herself at the young age of two, the now seventy-four-year-old animal welfare pioneer has marked many achievements in her lifetime. Dr. Grandin has authored numerous books on animal welfare and Autism, she is one of the most respected names in the field of livestock handling and behavior (in North America, almost half of the cattle bred for beef are handled in the more humane restrainer system that she designed for meat plants, as well as in facilities worldwide), and this incredible icon even had a movie made about her which won several Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe Award.
In her 2005 New York Times best-selling book, Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior, Grandin acknowledges that while many animal welfare activists avoid eating meat entirely, livestock animals were essentially bred by humans to serve a purpose, and that humans should recognize their caretaking role and respond accordingly.
“We owe them a decent life and a decent death, and their lives should be as low-stress as possible,” she writes. “That’s my job. I wish animals could have more than just a low-stress life and a quick, painless death. I wish animals could have a good life, too, and be able to express normal behavior.”
Grandin’s view on veterinary care is in line with her stance on livestock handling; it should be as low-stress for the animal as possible.
“I think some of the newer programs like Fear Free are great,” she expressed.
Grandin shared that one of the most insightful studies she was involved in on getting animals to accept vet care with the least amount of stress possible was a 1995 behavior study where they worked with antelope.
“Antelope are one of the most flighty animals you will come across,” she says. “We worked on conditioning these animals to willingly walk into a crate and accept a blood draw.”
During the study, they had to figure out what was triggering the fear in the antelope. And they used positive reinforcement methods, including treats, to make it a good experience for the animals.
Grandin went on to emphasize the importance of making any animal’s experience at the veterinarian a positive one.
“Their first experience needs to be something good. Offer them treats and some pets, then have them come back later in the day for their shots,” she says of spearheading the fear that most dogs develop of the veterinarian.
Above all things, Grandin expressed that dogs today are highly under-socialized and not exposed to enough new environments, people or other dogs, which is a primary cause of fear, anxiety and behavior issues.
“When I was young, we didn’t have dogs that were afraid of thunder,” Grandin shares. “Our dogs had very few behavior problems and we had no dog bites. If a child got bit by a dog, the parent would ask the child, ‘What did you do to it?’
“Dogs nowadays don’t get the chance to do doggie things. People will take their dogs out for walks but will yank them away when they go to sniff a tree. They need to be dogs,” she states.
As far as older dogs or rescue dogs whose owners may not have had the chance to expose them to much during the beginning of their life, Grandin recommends figuring out what is triggering the fear in the dog and working to eliminate the trigger.
“Rescue dogs or a dog that’s been abused, you don’t know what they associate fear with. It could be something they’ve seen or heard. Animals are very visual. It could be the white coat the vet is wearing, so take the coat off,” she says.
In addition to dogs needing more exposure to new situations, Grandin expressed the importance of small comforts during vet visits, such a placing a mat on the exam table so the dog is not afraid of slipping.
“I’ve even told people that if their vet doesn’t provide a mat for the dog on the exam table, bring one with you. You don’t want your dog to have a bad experience,” she continues. “Dog owners also need to get their dogs used to being handled and having their paws touched.”
Additionally, Grandin was involved in a consulting assignment focusing on why dogs are either passing away or getting injured during airline transport.
“The dogs are being found with bloody paws and mouths from trying to get out of the crates,” Grandin continues. “It’s because they’re scared. People don’t train their dogs to be comfortable in a crate and then they’re shoved into a dark space on an airplane, of course they’re scared.”
While everyone is quick to blame the airlines for the mishandling or neglect of the animals, Grandin put herself in the animals’ position and quickly realized they are simply acting out of fear.
“Nobody else thought about fear,” Grandin concluded.
That single statement goes to show why Dr. Grandin has been so successful in her lifetime of advocating for animals…nobody else thinks the way she does. +