Animal, autism expert shares insight

A well-known animal behavior specialist spoke last Wednesday during a Tender Loving Canines fundraising event at the Del Mar Country Club. An audience of service dogs from Solana Beach-based TLC and dog lovers joined Dr. Temple Grandin, who discussed her efforts to make the meat industry more humane and about living with autism.

TLC recently launched a program called New Leash on Life, which pairs service dogs with autistic children.

Grandin, who lives with autism, said her drive to work with animals didn’t come from any particular experience in her childhood. “The way I think is more like an animal,” she explained. “I wasn’t some magical dog whisperer,” Grandin said.

She said she relates more to animals than humans. She described how she thinks visually and, like an animal, uses all of her senses to gather detail. She said she understands feeling anxious or fearful, as many animals do, which can lead to abnormal behavior.

Grandin compared autistic anxiety to being in a locked room full of snakes. “I felt all the time like I was in a constant state of looking for predators,” she said.

When an owner introduces a dog to something new, be it a pet carrier or the vet’s office, it needs to be done gradually and gently. If the dog struggles in fear of something new, she said not to “squish them too tight,” instead hold them with support and stroke their fur.

She said owners should never punish fear-based behavior, as it can often make it worse.

“What you can do to prevent abnormal behavior is give your dog a really active social life,” Grandin said.

“Dogs need to socialize with other dogs off the leash,” Grandin said, noting a dog that doesn’t interact much with humans or other dogs can become aggressive.

She advised owners to get out and play with their dogs as much as they can. When they are indoors during the day, she said to make sure they have lots of things to “seek,” such as toys.

Grandin has applied her knowledge of animal behavior to her work with slaughterhouses, making their facilities and processes more humane and holding them to those standards.

She said she often worries that not enough field work is being done with animals anymore, that it lacks funding and willing researchers.

She said there needs to be more people finding solutions for animal issues, such as Del Mar Country Club owners T. Boone and Madeleine Pickens, who are working to stop the horse slaughter.