Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Yellow Labrador Portrait Painting - Memorial to a special dog

If paintings are like children (and dogs), then I should not haves favorites. Luckily I think it's ok to be bias with paintings and I am especially fond of this one.

Wallace was a special show dog who was much loved by his family in the Netherlands. He was taken too young by a sudden illness. This Labrador portrait painting was commissioned as a surprise gift from one family member to another. We had to be sneaky for quite some time from photo selection, painting, shipping overseas and then he had a long nap in the back room of the customs office. It was worth it in the end! His family was moved to tears and delighted to have this memory of his presence back in their home.

I had a beautiful reference photo of Wallace that was taken while attending the prestigious Crufts dog show, which made my job easier. While I never had the pleasure of meeting this boy in person (in dog - ?), it was a joy to get to know him on my easel. I like to paint the eyes early in the process because I feel the dogs help me to capture the rest of their likeness after that. It also gives me someone to talk to as the painting progresses, especially during the rough spots.

If you would like to commission a Lab painting or other Labrador artwork of your own, please visit my OtterTail Lab Art website and contact me.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Puppy Dog Training for the Conformation Show Ring

I offer exclusive training to a few lucky dog students. I particularly enjoy training puppies and mostly I am asked to help get youngsters ready for their conformation show ring career. Enjoy this video of yellow Labrador puppy "Google" who was my latest student. It was taken after my typical 2-week training course for conformation showing. Moonlits Hot On The Search aka Google is 5 1/2 months old.

I don't take them to a perfect "finished product" in 2 weeks, I get them started well while they have fun working and their little minds become engaged with the process. Each puppy is invited one at a time and lives in our home as one of the family. This means they learn the rules of proper house manners (at least as they exist in my house), they learn to wait politely for meals, eat side by side with my dogs, meet and be nice to the cat and don't steal her food even if she doesn't finish. They learn about manners at the door and the gate, what is and is not a toy, and a host of other everyday useful behaviors.

For breed ring training each puppy learns to free-stack themselves, or at least get started by learning to move their feet on cue. They are taught to back up on cue. No physical manipulation necessary which I think presents a much nicer picture in the ring. I get eye contact on cue, mouth handling for showing teeth, body handling as a judge will do, they accept being stacked for those times it may be needed and I always want to see a wagging tail. These are Labradors after all!! They learn to stay a nice distance away from me and "be beautiful" for increasing periods of time. Gaiting is important and I teach them the whole package. Position consistent by my left side, even trotting gait, look straight ahead with your head up, turn when I turn and resume trotting, then end in a 4-square stack, wag and smile!

You may not notice all of these little lessons as you watch the video (and others on my Labrador Dogs training channel), but I have used many small steps of positive reinforcement to get each puppy to make their job look natural and easy. I put as much on cue as I can in the time they are here so they understand what is expected of them. I believe this will make their first actual shows less stressful and more fun and that sets the stage for a promising career!