Monday, April 27, 2009

A new painting- Brittany at the hunt

My latest painting is finally done. It was very challenging for me, because the client asked me to include the property where he hunts, an Iowa cornfield that his parents own. Bobwhite quail scattering in front of the dog, a winter cornfield covered in patchy snow– all were fun and HARD to do! This is a scene in Iowa, featuring his Brittany, Louis. 

As I got close to finishing, I went back in several times for little fixes that made a huge difference in the final work. I always try to let a picture sit a few days so I can get away from it and see any last minute things that need changing. I had to go in and remove some snow, because the dog didn't stand out enough against the background (white dog against white snow–tough to do). Then I had to tone down the field because it seemed too scattered and choppy to me. Usually the dog is large with a subordinate background in my paintings, so it was fun to do a landscape. Painting the Brittany was almost like painting a miniature-- I used a magnifying glass! 

Most of this picture is done in acrylic. I love being able to add a wash to tone down an area. In watercolor, a wash will lift the background. In acrylic, once it's dry you can't lift the paint. I also like being able to go over the details with a solid color, rather than transparent like in watercolor. Sometimes that is the best way to get a strong white, and details in the fur over the edge and into the background. 

I hope you like Louis' portrait! Visit my web site to see more of my pet portraits. 

Monday, April 20, 2009

We tried Canine Freestyle!

Dancing with your dog- what a concept! Not just for dancers, not just for women; this is a fun activity you can do with your dog for friends, for competition, or just for yourself.

I am the original klutz. I am not an athlete at all, and I’m short and squat- not the best profile for a dancer. But that’s not what K9 freestyle dancing about. You never have to actually dance, you just transition from one movement to another. You could heel the entire time. Or like Attila Szkukalek you could do a Charlie Chaplin walk.

When I was training Tank to heel for obedience competition, we would heel around the driveway to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” It sped me up, got us moving evenly, and sharpened our performance. And it was FUN. No boring heel patterns and endless drilling for us!

So when I had the chance to try freestyle for a day, I jumped at it. We went to a workshop held by Loren Jensen Carter who came in from Arizona to teach us at Kindred Spirits in Vista, CA. It reminded me of a trick-training class.  

You teach your dog each of the basic moves, such as spin left, spin right, heel on the left, heel on the right, weave through the legs, back up, paws up, bow, and more. 

Lots of treats and clicker training help you lure your dog into position. Tux is not clicker trained, so we used treats (tons of treats) and verbal praise as motivators.

Tux is a quick study. He gets it immediately, and will do something a thousand times for the treasured cookie. The challenge is weaning him off of your lure (a hand with a treat in it) and getting him to do the move with just your hand motion. Then you fade back the hand signal until it is barely noticeable as part of your routine.

Dogs are fantastic at reading body language, so they will react quickly once they’ve learned. Verbal cues are also faded out to nothing, though you can pop them back at any time to help a confused dog.

While the dogs took a break, Loren taught us moves the human partner can do as part of the routine. This is way more fun than aerobics class. The next part of the process is to learn transitions from one move to another so your routine is smooth.

You can’t do it all in one day, but at the end of class, we spent time matching dogs and handlers to music, everything from jazz to classical, pop, and rap. The piece needs to match your energy level and the natural movement of you walking with your dog.

The day was exhausting, but a blast. Try it—just go out in the yard with your dog on a leash and start walking to some fun music. You’re on your way!

Here’s some links to learn more about Canine Freestyle. 

Sandra Davis and her famous dancing dog, Pepper:

YouTube is full of great routines. Do a search for "dog dancing" or "canine freestyle."

Canine Freestyle organizations:

Discussion group—learn a lot here:

Thanks to Sheri Wachtstetter for letting me use her photos. © 2009

Monday, April 13, 2009

Update on Canine Lullabies

In my previous post I told you about Canine Lullabies, a CD with music for dogs. I hoped it would quiet down the gang when they get too riled up or just when I need some peace and quiet. Well, the CD has arrived and I have used it several times, and I am happy with the results. 

At night when I put the two puppies in their crate together, they decided it was time to wrestle and growl. I put the CD on, and they settled down within a minute or two. When the two goldens staying here were too rowdy and wouldn't go to sleep at 2 am the other night, I got up and played it again. Again, everyone settled down and went to sleep. 

I can't swear the music did it, but the dogs certainly relaxed and went to sleep. So I consider my experiment a success! I wonder if the pulsing sound  of a heartbeat helped me go to sleep too. I never heard another peep all night.

Shown above: Izzy (Isabella) and Blaze, poodle mix (6 months old) and chihuahua (3 months old). They live together and sleep together in a crate--and play long and loud all day long!)

Saturday, April 4, 2009

I found a new pet product: Canine lullabies

Unbelievable. I just found a new product on the internet at I have ordered the CD, based on what I saw when I played their YouTube demo, shown above. 50 dogs at the Colorado Humane Society calm down after two minutes of the music, which has a background heartbeat sound which comforts the dogs and relaxes them. 

As I played the demo video on my computer, a pug, poodle/terrier mix, chihuahua puppy and three shelties were rough-housing at my feet. First they perked up their ears at the sound of the noisy dogs. By the time the video was done, they were all standing or laying down quietly, and settled in for a relaxation session which lasted... well, they're still quiet and it's been about 10 minutes. I was amazed. Since I board dogs at my home, it can sometimes get more than merely chaotic around here. 

When the video arrives, I will update you on how it worked for me. What a great idea for doggie daycare and kennel situations. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My latest Painting: Miniature schnauzer

The painting of many changes
This work, a commission, has gone through several transitions as I worked. It's been fun to see if I can make necessary changes without totally ruining the painting! I am fussier than I used to be, and "good enough" doesn't work so well for me any more. As my art progresses over the years, my ability has improved with practice, and my standards grow ever higher. 

The biggest challenge in this picture was the unusual pose of the schnauzer, Buttons. This is not a traditional head study, and it would be very easy to to make him look totally out of whack. 

Every painting has to sit for a day or two before I consider it finished. I go back in with fresh eyes and see problems I had totally missed before. The real test of time is to go back several months later and decide if I'm still happy with it. 

This painting was completely finished and I went back in and changed some major things. I took out a lot of the pansies in the background. My eye was drawn to the background instead of the main subject, the dog. I also thought they looked amateurish, like cut-out paper dolls. I can do better than that!

I added garden gloves under the shovel, which in the initial underpainting was floating instead of being propped up on something. Didn't work. I didn't want anyone spending a lot of time looking at the gloves, so I added tall grass in the foreground, a device I use a lot because I like the sense of depth it gives the painting. Like you are in the scene. The "grass" also echoes the society garlic in the background. 

I also added some drama to the pansies around Buttons -- looking through my reference photos I found some wonderful burgundy and yellow pansies, so I changed some of the yellow ones to that color combo, and like it much better. 

To see a larger version of the final painting, visit my web site