Shortly after the first photo was taken, my husband was at the computer when he looked down to see that Bella had placed the Deer by his chair with the Blue Scarf laid out quite beautifully. "I love you Dad" was the message. On another day, she used the Pink Squid to give me a different kind of message. I had yelled at her from the other room when I heard her trying to get into the kitchen trash. Bella ran to her sleeping crate and stayed there all afternoon, refusing to come out. Around 4:45, I noticed that she had placed the Pink Squid by the doorway to my office. Bella was giving the message "Okay Mom, I'm over it. And by the way, it's time for dinner." I laughed and we were friends again.
The Pink Squid is a toy I made especially for Bella. It has two squeakers of different pitches, and wiggly black "tentacles" at both ends. I grew up with a mother who taught fabric arts, and I enjoy making this sort of thing. Bella understood that I was making something for her and watched attentively, eager for me to finish. From the moment I gave Bella the Pink Squid, it was obvious that she loved playing with it, and I was delighted to see this, as you can imagine. I put out several other pink toys, wondering if Bella would use the Pink Squid as part of a construction. Bella didn't treat the Pink Squid like an ordinary toy, though. She did something utterly unique with it, laying it out as an extension of a piece of driftwood. Just then, my husband walked up to me and said, "Wow, did you see this?" "Yes," I replied, glowing with pride.
From time to time, Bella likes to organize her toys in twos -- 2 deer facing each other, 2 pups facing the same way, etc. When I first noticed this grouping, it looked like there were three pairs of two, with two pups fitted together, the two Blue Braids looped together, and two black items that were roughly similar in shape (a toy and a piece of fabric). I looked at the braids more closely, trying to see where the knotted ends were, and realized that there was one knotted end too many. It was a small stuffed squeaker toy I had made for Bella several days earlier. What to do with the new toy that was different from all the others? Bella could have placed it in the hallway, like she does sometimes with a single toy. Instead, she worked it into the construction as if it was the knotted end of a braid. Look at the Blue Braids and see if you can tell which of the knotted ends is really a fake.
_From time to time, Bella uses one of the indoor tie out leashes to make what I call her leash sculpts. With people coming and going over the holidays, I added a second tie out leash in the living room. This added a bit of novelty to the scene, and Bella likes novelty. She also likes it when we have company. What about the flowers? Did they strike Bella as novel? I don't think they were on Bella's radar when she made the first of these double leash sculpts, but she may have taken the flowers into account when making the second one. A day or two after I took the first picture, I noticed Bella delicately exploring the flowers one by one with her nose. I don't recall any of our other dogs showing this kind of curiosity about flowers. Maybe I just wasn't looking....
_Dogs who make constructions may be a rare phenomenon, but the making of constructions is instinctive for other members of the animal kingdom. In response to the House Beautiful blog entry, a friend sent me a picture of an elaborately decorated bower and courtyard, made by a male bowerbird. Each bowerbird species makes its own, highly distinctive constructions, but the basic components are an elegant thatched structure for visiting females, and a colorfully decorated "court" which serves as the stage for the male's courtship display. Research on the bowers created by male bowerbirds suggests that they use geometry and perspective to maximize their appeal to females (see Current Biology, 2010). Some of Bella's constructions may reflect similar capabilities. Notice how, in the second photo, the toys are arranged so as to draw the eye to Bella in her "bower," with the rug in front serving as the courtyard for her display.
_ The moment I saw the three-toy arrangement in front of Bella's canvas crate, I thought of a fan. I had given Bella the pink dog toy the day before, and this was the first construction she made with it. The second photo illustrates another meaning to the word "fan," which is "to spread across something." Bella laid the purple dog toy across the entrance to her lair, parallel to the threshold. The pink braid in the foreground seems like more of a decorative touch, the way you and I might spruce up the entryway to our homes, by placing a pot of flowers by the front door. Do dogs really think that way? Most dogs probably don't, but I'm quite sure that Bella does.
What I love about the first photo is that Bella is doing her best imitation of a hunting dog for Kepu, pointing with her right paw lifted. The two dogs have just finished a game of chase and are negotiating what to do next. Kepu wants to hydroplane in the water, and takes off. Bella wants to be with Kepu so she takes off too and runs beside him, matching her movements to his as he leaps up out of the water. When it's time to get out, the two of them trot together towards the bank. You can see in the second photo how relaxed they are, their bodies mirroring each other, their tails waving in unison.
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!
The dogs were thrilled when our nephew Aaron came to visit. In honor of the occasion, I brought out a colorful new toy for Bella. Ordinarily, Kepu leaves the plush toys to Bella, but he was excited to have company and grabbed the new toy, eager to get in on the action. "He wants to be a star like Bella," said Aaron, who had been touring Bella's website. While Aaron played with the dogs, I sewed a decorative collar on one of the black "pups," wondering if Bella would treat it like a new toy. I was delighted when she took the pup in her mouth and began rolling around with it, making it squeak repeatedly. On the last day, Bella placed the pup with the decorative collar on the floor at the foot of Aaron's bed, signaling that she was happy to have him with us. Shortly after we said good bye, I found Bella resting in the living room with the black pup at the end of her tail, both facing towards the door through which Aaron left.
One day I decided to teach Bella to weave in and out under my legs as I moved forward, using a treat in my closed hand as a lure. She caught on quickly and really enjoyed herself. When the game was over, Bella walked over to the fireplace and looked up at Roxanne. I realized she was making a request and took Roxanne down for her to play with. Bella shook Roxanne ecstatically for several minutes, until I returned Roxanne to her perch, out of harm's way. Several days later, I found some of Bella's toys lined up so they pointed to Roxanne (see photo), as if Bella was thinking about the wonderful time we'd had earlier. This sequence reminds me of the work of Vilmos Csyani, a Hungarian ethologist who has observed that dogs provide and request information in their relationships with humans, and are much smarter than scientists have previously given them credit for.
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.