Yesterday, Janet Badger of Bangor, Maine wrote, “You speak often of your dog, your faithful studio companion. We’ve owned several dogs over the years but I’ve found them to be like having a toddler around — you have to know where they are and what they are doing at all times. As a printmaker, I need my focus and concentration, to work without distraction. Is there a perfect breed of studio dog? I think I need a quiet companion, though we can all benefit from morning and evening walks. It’s my husband who thinks we should have one again, despite the expense. Can someone who lives happily without a dog learn to live happily with one?”
Thanks, Janet. Dogs are angels sent from heaven to make us into better people. A few minutes of petting a dog releases oxytocins into the bloodstream of both dog and human, reducing stress and lowering blood pressure. Dog people may live longer.
Every puppy begins in joy and ends in tears. Sometime ago I wrote about the loss of our former dog, Emily. The email condolences that came in here were overwhelming. As far as I’m concerned there are two downsides to having a dog. The first is when you finally lose them, and the second, an ongoing problem, is what to do with them when they can’t travel with you. Lining up trusted dog sitters is vital.
Having said that, a dog will increase your studio hours and prevent you from wandering off and getting into trouble. Benjamin Franklin said that in order to be happy a man needs “a good woman, a good dog, and ready money.” I’ve noted that none of my dogs have ever criticized my work. A loving tail-wagger in the studio goes a long way in a profession of loners.
For an assessment of breed appropriateness, intelligence and size considerations, you might read Dr Stanley Coren’s The Intelligence of Dogs. I happen to think that dog people are the best people, perhaps because dogs, just like artists, have excellent dreams and fantasies. But there are cat people too, and they are just as passionately converted. Gerbils, weasels and rats do it for some folks, particularly as starters. You have a good husband — I think you should also have a good dog. Forget about the ready money.
PS: “Just like humans, dogs dream about the activities which they are most familiar with and things that have gone on in the previous day.” (Dr. Stanley Coren)
Esoterica: Dorothy the Airedale has a particularly spirited personality. Good for my cardiovascular, she is always eager to go for a walk. Uniquely, she is also content to play ball with herself. She is a happy girl, rather overly bonded but universally friendly. She’s fully employed patrolling our property but unfortunately gets poor marks for squirrel and mole control. An occasional garden digger, as I write this she is curled up with dirty feet in a pile of paint rags. To her credit, she steps carefully around paintings when they are casually thrown here and there.
Living happily without?
by John Crowther, Los Angeles, CA, USA
I find something terribly sad about the question posed by Janet Badger: “Can someone who lives happily without a dog learn to live happily with one?” How can the happiness of not having something that can bring inestimable richness to one’s life possibly compare to the happiness of having it? Besides being constant muses for me, my two dogs are wonderful company. And they know to curl up together and sleep (on their bed in my work space) while I’m at the drawing board or painting.
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Rescue a dog
by Dianne Clowes, BC, Canada
The best way to find a suitable dog is to go to the SPCA or Pound or a Rescue Society. The people there can tell you all about the dog’s nature and you will give a lonely creature a loving home. Also you won’t have to go through puppyhood unless you want to. A cat isn’t a good idea as their hair floats everywhere and I hate picking hair off a wet painting. A dry painting is even worse! My pets have been endless inspiration and I do pet portraits in any medium including on glass mugs! If you provide a cuddly bed the dog will lie there out of your way — usually.
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Courage and a broken heart
by John Hulsey, KS, USA
We have always had dogs around — once up to four! But then, we live in the country with a big fenced yard and a big dog-door, so no worries there. We now have two Great Pyrenees — our favorite breed so far for intelligence, kindness and watch-doggedness out here in the woods, though they do tend to lay their massive bulks right behind me when I work at the easel! You are so right about the dog-sitter, but our travel schedule is determined by when SHE is available. (We made the mistake of telling our retired traveling friends about her). They are now 13 years old, ancient for Great Pyrs, and are facing a double-departure, perhaps this fall. It takes courage to take on the love of a new dog knowing that it will end with a broken heart!
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by Gwen Fox, Colorado Springs, CO, USA
Janet… here is what will happen when you get your puppy or dog. You will view the world with different eyes due to the purity of your new companion’s soul. Your creativity will grow in leaps and bounds because dogs teach us to be new.
To be new we must be willing to be clumsy as being clumsy means you are exploring and never on solid footing.
Being new means never having to apologize for being different, creative or failing.
Being new gives permission to rest and dream.
Being new presents a life without judgment.
Being new is curiosity in full bloom.
Being new allows laughter to come from deep within your belly.
Being new says it’s alright to cry.
Being new opens the door to creativity.
Being new invites quiet.
Being new is pure love.
Enjoy your new companion and learning the joy of “being new” each day.
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Greyhound historical choice of artists
by Renato Muccillo, Maple Ridge, BC, Canada
The ultimate dog breed for every artist, especially those who spend a lot of time in the studio are Greyhounds as they are extremely docile and quiet and seek nothing more than a comfortable bed to sleep on. Their favourite things to do in life are to go from 0 to75 km an hour in search of the most comfortable couch in the house. They will also sleep for hours at a time without moving which makes for a great subject to paint. There is a reason artists have kept greyhounds and other breeds of sight hounds in their studios over the centuries… They are just a great breed of dog for artists. Plus they’re always in dire need of compassionate people looking to rescue these beautiful animals that ultimately get discarded from racetracks with nowhere to go.
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Rescued pit bulls ideal companions
by Amber Grey, Waynesville, NC, USA
As a writer (no wet artwork to worry about) and someone who works with people with disabilities and, along with my son, also does animal rescue, may I suggest that Janet consider adopting either an older dog from an animal rescue group (they will already know the dog’s disposition and she can ask for an older dog who is calm and content just to “be” with his or her human) or a service animal who is retired from his/her work with someone with a physical, visual, or hearing disability. The latter are all carefully trained to lie calmly where they are told — either beside the artist or nearby under a table (no worry about stepping on them or any part of their anatomy).
I have two rescued pit bull mixes who think nothing is better than to lie beside me or on the futon behind me all day until I get up to refill my coffee or head to the bathroom. Then they would like to have an hour in the huge dog pen on our rural property, going on walks with me only early in the morning or before dinner. I’ve had them now for more than 9 years and they have won the sleep on/off the bed debate. But other than that, they do what they are told when they are told. And bring a lot of joy to my heart 24/7.
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Think of it as courtship
by Beverly Smith, Rose Valley, PA, USA
I have had a dog all of my life. Some dogs are like soul mates. You know each other immediately. They are special in this world and if you’re lucky enough to find one I suggest you take him home immediately! I have a schnoodle (schnauzer /poodle) mix. Yeah, he’s funny looking but he loves me and I love him and that’s that. He looks at me like I’ve never seen my husband look at me. He travels nicely beneath an airline seat. He sleeps with us at the foot of the bed unless I invite him up to be squished like a stuffed animal while I fall asleep.
Tony (my dog) loves my work. He thinks I’m great. He can see the promise of a blank canvas, has faith in the first few brush strokes and is in awe after I’ve finished the painting or even if I just put it aside for a bit. If I want to walk or play, he’s ready. If I feel like reading, he warms my lap. If I’m happy or sad he always takes my side.
I cannot imagine living without a dog. It would be cruel and unusual punishment for me. I would say do a little homework and notice breeds that work with your lifestyle and surroundings and be prepared to do a little training at first for your investment in your future. Think of it as courtship.
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Affirmation of emotional wisdom
by Barrett Edwards, Naples, FL, USA
You will never know, of course, how many times I mentally compose fine and pithy responses to your wonderful letters but fail to commit words to paper. But as one who has just plunked down an irrational amount of money to get on the waiting list for a puppy, I just had to write and express how your words buoyed me this morning. Although I am eager to get my companion (despite my husband’s muttering about cost and life complications), I too have wondered if I can afford the time away from my art that it will take to train and love this precious animal. So your words are an affirmation of what I know emotionally, if not yet intellectually. The real remaining worry is that, in my application, I failed to specify that my puppy must have a good eye for composition, temperature and values.
Dog contributes to improved art
by Ron Dotson, Jamul, CA, USA
I am presently owned by a female black lab who tolerates my time in the studio. She requires play time in the morning when we get up and while I’m immersed in painting she lies either in the hall outside my studio room or on the bed in the adjacent bedroom. She generally won’t come into the studio, probably because she doesn’t like walking on the hardwood floor. However, every hour and a half or so, she will come to the door to remind me that she needs attention as well and so I take a break and we go out and play for fifteen minutes or so. This not only serves to keep her happy but also gets me up and moving for a bit since I tend to paint sitting down at a table and a break is really beneficial. The other thing I’ve noticed is that coming back to a painting after that short break, I’ll often see things a bit differently than when I was immersed in it before leaving. This can be advantageous as I often get too focused on details and fail to look at the whole. Hence, my dog is contributing to improving my art. I also get to transfer some of that love of dogs over into my art as animals, and especially dogs, are a large part of what I do. Not to mention the fact that exchanging that unconditional love with your dog opens you up to deeper relationships with people as well.
Confessions of a cat lady
by Kristine Fretheim, Maple Grove, MN, USA
I seem to be a cat person. I’ve painted several. But I do love all animals and would love to have a dog, too, but Mr. Munchkins vetoed that. After almost losing our cat this winter, I decided no more animals because saying goodbye is too painful. I find cats to be very quiet studio partners. The best advice mine has given to date is to just relax. And Mr. Munchkins adds a great deal of texture to my paintings by way of a film of fine white cat hair in and over everything. I’ve also learned over the years to keep a lid on my water bucket when not in use. I once had a cat, a trickster type, who loved to take a sip when opportunity presented. I would find Buster’s paw prints in rainbows of colors dancing across the studio floor, so I am sure to cover my palette as well now. As Buster’s protégé, Munch is very laid back. He prefers yoga to long walks. And we paint to choruses of birds through open windows as much as possible.
My dog is my personal gain
by Gerti Hilfert, Langenfeld, Germany
There is so much help possible today in training a dog for several situations. It’s a question of understanding but also gentle consequences and clear signals for the dog. It also depends on the both sides’ trust. If the dog feels safe and comfort just from the holders serenity it might be much easier. On the other side… a dog helps a lot to calm you down.
For example… a dog can be used from the very beginning to an indoor bench (in case of a puppy already large enough for the adult). Quite soon it learnt the positives from this sheltering. Most dogs love staying inside there and learnt that the open (!) bench is a nice and safe place to relax, which is quite important. Best bench position is when it doesn’t allow the dog to control everybody or anything (the bench door should not point to open room or positioned opposite to a chamber door or perhaps the front door). For that purpose use covering towels or plaids on the bench top including the sides, except the open bench door. My dog learnt to step aside when I appear. So she’s not in my way but respects me.
It doesn’t depend on the breed only. You can have any breed… it all depends on how you interact with your dog. Even non-acting means for dogs a communication.
Very important are in between breaks for the dog’s temper, its needs and to keep it species-appropriate busy. After such breaks it will enjoy its food, following return to the safe bench for a long nap or chewing a goody = your own work phases.
My work keeps me always busy for hours but my dog learned to wait until I signal her, let’s go and start! Without such breaks I would live unhealthy and forget about any breaks. My dog is my personal gain.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Jim Few of Navarre, FL, USA, who wrote, “For a studio companion, you can’t beat ‘The World’s Fastest Couch Potato’ — a retired greyhound. They really don’t need a lot of exercise: ‘If it ain’t moving — forget it!'”
And also Debbie Langston of Oklahoma City, OK, USA, who wrote, “You referenced in your letter, ‘The Dog Decision,’ that you had previously written about the loss of your former dog, Emily. I would appreciate knowing the name of that letter, so that I can look it up on your website. I would like to read it.”
(RG note) Thanks, Debbie. “Emily (1996-2003)” can be found here.
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