Bella's not the only one to arrange herself with a pup at the end of her tail. Here, Bella made an elegant construction then retired into her canvas crate. Then Kepu came along and made himself part of her construction by lying tail to tail with one of the black pups. The evidence suggests that Bella sees the pups as "dog like" and similar to herself. She also seems to understand that the pups are different from the stuffed deer. Is Kepu learning to see the world Bella's way? Perhaps Aaron was right when he said that Kepu sees Bella as a star and he wants to be one too!
In preparation for walking the dogs, I warmed up using what's called a Magic Circle in Pilates. Bella was watching, eager to be off. It was a clear, crisp day and the walk was quite enjoyable. An hour after we returned, I discovered that Bella had decided to try out the Magic Circle herself, placing it over my flowered meditation cushion, a perfect fit, as you can see. She didn't touch the Magic Circle again until six weeks later, when she used it as one of three circles, lined up in a construction. Looking at the photo I took, I'm struck by how much thought Bella seems to have put into this construction. Not only did she loop the green and purple tie out leash to get the circle at the bottom, she decided to "decorate" the flowered cushion in the middle, placing a carefully folded throw rug on top, as if she was frosting a cupcake!
Kepu is an older male cattle dog and Bella's companion. That's Kepu in the foreground of the photo for this entry. I was taking a picture of Bella lying with her head on one of the "puppies," at the top of a three toy line up, when Kepu casually positioned himself in front of Bella, his front paws between the toys closest to the camera. Kepu is acutely aware of the attention Bella gets for making constructions. He doesn't make constructions himself, but I've noticed that he sometimes lies down in parallel with Bella, or in parallel with one of her straight line constructs. I've even found Kepu lying down in such a way that his body makes one of Bella's line sculpts longer. Recently, I came across a living room tableau in which Kepu had made himself part of a collage-like assembly of cloth toys that Bella had arranged in front of her canvas crate. Bella was curled up inside, while Kepu lay with his tail touching the tail of one of the black pups, the upper part of his body in the sun. It looks to me like Kepu has learned to "see" the visual appeal of Bella's constructions and to use them to his advantage, asserting his dominance and strengthening his emotional bond with Bella at the same time.
Several weeks ago Bella made a construction that was entirely new, a connect-the- dots triangle which took up 1/3 of the living room rug. To get a triangle this size, Bella used the blue denim dog bed and the tie out leash attached to the coffee table as “dots,” in addition to the five regular toys that were out. I was reminded of Donnie the Doberman, whose use of cloth toys to make geometric patterns was featured in a National Geographic special on canine intelligence. Donnie made his constructions when no one was looking, but thanks to Dr. Barbara Smuts, who conducts research on animal behavior and teaches at the Univ. of Michigan, Donnie's behavior was captured on hidden camera video. To watch footage of Donnie at work, go to the Doberman’s Den website. I was reading the comments people made about Donnie's constructions which prompted me to get Bella some "puppies." As you can see, she used three black "pups" as dots for the triangle.
My husband was doing the grocery shopping when the purple rubber ball caught his attention as a toy that Bella would like and give her something different to play with. The purple ball wasn't like the cloth toys that Bella uses to make constructions and she didn't know what to do with it, despite our efforts to engage her by rolling it down the hall, etc. I left the ball out in the living room that night. The following day, I noticed Bella inside her canvas crate with a two ball sculpt out in front. Where did she get the tennis ball I wondered? Then I remembered I'd been throwing the tennis ball for her outside. She must have had the idea of putting it with the purple ball while we were playing and was able to bring the tennis ball inside without my seeing her. Who says dogs can't think?
Just a few days before the "aha" occasion we experienced as a family, I discovered that Bella, who had free run of the house that day, had arranged the tie out leash attached to the coffee table in the living room to make a figure eight design. Bella can be pretty obstreperous if she hears dogs barking out on the street, or if someone comes to the door, so I have tie out leashes throughout the house, in case I need more control. I wondered if the figure eight leash sculpt might be a sign that Bella was expanding her horizons, using something she had found in the environment to make a construction, and not limiting herself to the cloth toys I'd been providing. Three days later, Bella created a new design with the tie out leash in the living room, using it to make a new design in the shape of a "W," with loop for the point in the middle. Later in the day, when I found the tie out leash attached to the couch in the family room arranged in a double loop design I thought to myself, "She's going to keep going with these constructions. Wow!"
At the time I started photographing Bella, in May 2010, she wasn’t making constructions; she was just so sweet and pretty and did such cute things playing with her toys that it was fun to take pictures of her. Many dogs dislike having a camera pointed at them, or flash bulbs going off, but Bella didn’t seem to mind. In fact, it wasn’t long before she would pause for the extra moment needed so I could “get the shot.” Reflecting on Sally’s comment, the thought occurred to me that my little Kodak camera was probably giving Bella feedback about things that pleased me, encouraging her experimentation with her cloth toys to evolve into the making of constructions. The transformation took place gradually and, for a long time, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing I did wonder if the increasingly lovely things Bella was doing with her cloth toys might be purposeful behavior. Bella would curl up and use the tiger braid to frame herself, so that it followed the curve of her back, or she would lie down with back arched and upwardly curved tail, her fleece ball at the tip. My heart would melt on these occasions, and I would run and snatch the camera. One day, I walked into the living room to read on the couch, and there at my feet was Bella’s tiger braid, arranged in a perfect right angle aligned with the corner of the rug. This was the “aha” moment for me. Bella had carefully made a right angle with the braid and placed it by my reading station on the couch, so that I would find it when I went to sit down. It was obvious that she had done this with intention, and this realization filled me with happiness. Little did I know that I would have occasion to feel this kind of happiness again and again as Bella’s making of constructions took hold.
The cloth toys which make up Bella’s constructions are mostly plush fleece, and they’re indoor toys, according to the rules of the house. The living room is her favorite spot for sunbathing, playing with her toys, and seems to be the experimental lab for her constructions. Many of her early constructions, or sculpts as I sometimes call them, were made of fleece braids measuring 3 to 5 ft. long, which Bella arranged in single or double loops. If two braids happened to be out, Bella would come up with a construction using both of them -- like a true herding dog, Bella likes to bring the things in her care together. She also has her own ideas about where certain things should be, such as the early Tiger Braid/Zebra Braid Sculpt which Bella chose to place in the middle of the front hallway, and a Two Braid Sculpt made several months later, which she boldly placed in the doorway to the kitchen, the most high value location in the house.
Bella's website is magnificent. Her constructions are becoming more and more intricate and amazing. Her attention to detail stuns me. As an educator, I think about a lesson for first graders. I would show Bella's sculpts to my kiddos and have them create some using multiple toys. The lesson would focus on looking carefully like Bella does, which way do the black deer's feet face and what is the rule for the other toys? Then moving to writing on paper, which way do your d's face,how about p's? Kids would love it. I find the leash sculptures with their loops to be jaw dropping and just wish that I could watch Bella create one. Of course I love the scent training too.
Thank you for sharing Oscars story. I loved it!! Can't wait for the next chapter.
Lance enjoys his walks with his new friend, Bella. Lance does not do anything as creative as Bella's sculptural constructs. However, Lance is GREAT at De-constructions! We can find evidence of his deconstructs all over the house as he carries everyone's slippers around and sometimes chews off the fuzzy cuffs of the slippers, or takes out the insides of his stuffed toys and scatters the remains around!
- Hugs and Licks to Bella,
- Evie and Lance
Thanks so much for sharing Bella's website with me! I'm familiar with Donnie, the Doberman & think it is so cool that Bella's talents are being showcased online!
- Jessica A
You sure must have your hands full, dealing with two such resourceful and intelligent dogs. But what a wonderful gift they bring.
- Steve D
Wow! ACD's are such intelligent dogs and Bella has demonstrated this in such an exceptional way. What a sweet and beautiful girl. And Kepu too! Good luck to you and your wonderful dogs and what a great website you have!
- Maris F
Bella is a lucky girl to have found someone who "gets" her! Is there a talent to chewing up stuffed toys? If so, my dogs are very talented! Great site! Keep it up.
- Cathy Y
I am amazed at your photos and your insight. You could be intuitive to Bella's and other dog's secondary communication. Thank you for sharing! Charlotte, NC
- Susan B
You were number 4 when I googled canine construction...Bella is famous!
- Susan B
What an interesting subject, and what a great dog! Before I read your blog, I had no idea that dogs created or expressed in this way. I am sharing the information with my friends who have dogs.
Sweet- I've never known a celebrity dog with her own website. How adorable she is.
- Heather Kriensky DVM
Website is so sweet. Pretty good pictures and illustrative of the Artist's work. I like it and wanted more. You present it without presumption. Let the viewer see what they see. Feels like a nice invitation to dialogue if others have a similar experience. Good work.
In Dog Sense author John Bradshaw writes about how dogs love their humans and want to please them. Clearly Bella loves her human and has figured out that her constructions please you. What a lovely relationship.
I was fascinated by Bella’s constructs. Before I opened the site I thought, “this is crazy.” But the photographs document something extraordinary and fascinating.
Maybe the camera,maybe Bella knows your scent and it changes when you are happy, maybe she watches your eyes and face for happiness???? Dogs are so amazing and the science behind their amazingness is starting to catch up to what good dog owners have known all along.