Saturday, November 21, 2009

Yellow Lab Portrait Painting for Christmas Gift

Jack is my latest Lab portrait painting commission. He will make a very thoughtful Christmas gift to a fiancee'. This yellow Labrador painting is based on a photo of Jack in his younger years. There was some sneaking involved and help from family and friends to find photos from the past. He is an old timer now. I hope the recipient will be very pleased.

Every pet portrait painting I do is a great honor. When you commission me to paint your pet I take it as a trust you have put in me to create a special piece of artwork that will be a keepsake and a symbol of the unique bond you share with your animal. I approach each one with anxious anticipation that my finished painting will fulfill those needs. It may sound funny, but I always ask the pet to help me out as I proceed. Something in a dog's expression will set the tone for the entire painting process and choices I make along the way. I love the little stories you share about the dogs so I get some insight into their personalities before I paint. Jack has a bit of a melancholy expression, but we also found a cuteness together as the painting progressed. It is always a joy for me to see the canvas "come to life". Thank you to all who have enlivened my studio.

Please visit my OtterTail Lab Art website for information about commissioning your own pet portrait or contact me.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Teaching Tips: Training your dog to come from distractions

People often tell me their dogs won't come when called or if they do, it is only when there are no great distractions. Living in the country we have lots of bunnies, deer, and other wildlife ever tempting our dog friends to chase and leading to potentially dangerous outcomes. Here is an excerpt of an email I sent to the adopter of one of my recent foster rescue dogs (his name is not really Spot):

A bunny or deer running is tough for any dog to resist. It takes lots of practice - practicing correctly - to train a reliable recall with the competing attraction of chasing prey. The best thing to do is to practice lots of happy recalls every day. When you are walking you can back up and call him - "Spot come" - in a pleasant voice. Make it sound inviting and fun and when he comes give him a treat and some affection and then go back to walking. Do that both during the structured training walk time and during the free walk time. Do it in the house any time. Go to a different room or just back up a few steps where you are. Always use the same cue "Spot come" and always make it a rewarding experience. As you practice increase your standards. Expect Spot to respond quicker and come faster. The finish should be that you put your hand on his collar as you praise, pet and give a treat. That teaches that he has to come all the way to you and be touched. As you increase your standards save the best treats for the best responses. For lesser responses still praise him, but make it clear to him that it is better when he responds quickly and/or moves faster to you. Dogs can only learn if the communication is clear. [This is a very important point for all training. It won't work to always say "good dog" for any feeble attempt and job well done. You must make it clear to your dog when one "answer" is better than another or he will never learn to do it better.] Never call Spot to punish him or he will learn that coming is bad. If he does not come when you call, go get him and make him come to you either by guiding by the collar or with the leash. Be nice, but make it happen. Try to have lots of repetitions of happy recalls that end with you touching his collar, then giving him a hug and/or treat, telling him he is wonderful and going on about having fun. Before you go for a walk call Spot to put on his leash. It's another chance for him to come, have his collar touched and then be rewarded with something he loves. Anytime you are going to do anything fun that you know Spot enjoys - sit on the couch, go to bed, eat a meal, go for a ride in the car - call him "Spot come", touch his collar, then invite him to the activity. All of these repetitions will teach him that coming when called is a fun and rewarding exercise and it will also create a habit. Habits help dogs respond automatically, without question - the brain doesn't think about it first. It takes lots of practice doing it right, lots of repetitions. That is how you get a dog that you can call off a deer.

Today's photo is of one of my old rescue dogs, Winston. He definitely needed LOTS of training when he came and seeing him come when called always brings me joy. He is living with good friends now and I'm sure they appreciate the training he received while he was here. Rescue dogs my need more time to "unlearn" past bad habits, but it is well worth the time to teach them!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Yellow Lab Dog Portrait Painting - "Mr. Big"

This is my latest Labrador Retriever portrait painting and it is one of my own much loved dogs. He was born in 1988 in my first litter, the biggest puppy of 8 and he would plow through the other puppies pushing them off Mom's nipples like a big brut, hence naming himself Brutus at a very young age. It did not take long for him to accumulate over 20 nicknames (yes, I counted them all once), including Mr. Big. Shortened to "Big" it fit his personality as well as his size. Big became The Big Ig, Ig, and Iggy, among others, he answered to all of them. Big Brutus had a big ego and a great sense of humor. He was definitely the comedian of the family and he had funny quirks that we still refer to today. He made a particular noise - which I have never figured out how to spell - and it had a particular meaning that my husband and I still imitate to convey that message to each other. The most unlikely of Brutus's nicknames was Muffy, but that fit him too. Under his tough-guy comedian facade he was a sweet softie and if he got upset about anything he turned into a big baby. He had an ear hemotoma at one point and a friend commented that it looked like he was wearing ear muffs. That lead to us calling him Muffy when he got round-headed and submissive - aka "all muffed out". His official name was OtterTail Beau Brutus, CD - son of OtterTail Leela the Hunter, CD and Am/Can Champion Davoeg Silky Beau. Brutus was a wonderful character who enriched our lives beyond measure. He left us at the age of 12, taken quickly by hemangiosarcoma cancer. I painted this portrait as a 60th birthday present for Jim. It will hang next to Dave's dog portrait - Mr. Big's "grasshopper". By the way, that line of hair that makes a ridge from eye to eye is called a cow lick. When it goes along the top of the muzzle (perpendicular to the cow lick) it is called a zipper.