My husband bought the Long Bodied Purple Dog for Bella, and she really loves that toy. She spent the first day shaking it vigorously, and biting down on the dog's head to make it squeak repeatedly. The next day, Bella placed the Purple Dog just outside her canvas crate, so it pointed towards a couple of stuffed toys which were several feet away. That evening, I found the Purple Dog and 3 other stuffed toys grouped together (see photo). "Bella's herding instinct at work," I thought. The following day, Bella placed the Purple Dog in front of the door to my husband's home office, letting me know that she'd gone with him to do errands. The last day the toy was out, Bella again grouped the Purple Dog with the other stuffed toys, but varied the arrangement (see photo). Bella may be "the enforcer" when she's trying to herd other dogs, but when it comes to arranging her cloth toys, she does what I call "tender herding."
Earlier this year, I shared some photos of Bella's constructions with our vet, Heather Kriensky, DVM, and she thought the behavior was very much tied to Bella's herding and maternal instincts. At the time, the reference to "maternal instinct" surprised me since Bella is spayed and has never had a litter. This exchange occurred months before the photos for this entry were taken. When I discovered Bella with the black "pups" in her crate, arranged as if she were suckling them, I wondered if this might indeed be an expression of "maternal instinct." This hypothesis garnered support two weeks later, when I found Bella with one of the "pups" at her breast, lying in a beam of morning sun. That afternoon, Bella made the connect-the-dot triangle featured in Blog Entry # 9, arguably her most sophisticated construction to date. The juxtaposition of these events says something meaningful about the thoughts and feelings underlying Bella's constructions. That's my perspective, anyway.
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.
Notice the snowflake ribbon on the shelf and on the throw rug? Yes, Bella really did take the ribbon from the shelf and used it to "trim" the rug. The ribbon had been out for weeks without Bella showing an interest in it. Then one day she saw an opportunity to do something attractive with it and acted on that impulse. I took some photos, delighted by what she'd done. In the back of my mind, I'd been wondering whether Bella would do something interesting with the ribbon, even though it was clearly "mine" and not one of her toys. She must have known that "hers" and "mine" wouldn't matter if she played with the ribbon in a way that pleased me and of course she was right. She has an uncanny sense about that sort of thing.
I got a roast chicken out of the refrigerator, and then the phone rang. The chicken was gone when I returned a few minutes later. I wondered if Bella nabbed it, but there were no bones on the ground and no sign of the plastic dish the chicken was in. I looked in the refrigerator, then in the trash -- nothing. I told my husband that the chicken was missing, then left with Bella for dog class. When I got home, hubby told me that he'd found the plastic dish under the sheet which covers his drum set, and it was licked clean. A few days later, I found that Bella had laid her tiger braid in a line from the edge of the rug to the edge of the sheet where the chicken dish was hidden, as if to cordon off the entry to the kitchen and memorialize her little caper.
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?
Roxanne, who I mentioned in the previous entry, is special both to Bella and to me. She's different from Bella's other toys, because she's a floppy doll and was made especially for Bella. The woman who made Roxanne was undergoing cancer treatment at the time. She loved the pictures of Bella that I had been sending her, and seemed to have a special understanding of my relationship with Bella, which meant a lot to me. My friend sent me photos of the richly colored designs she'd made using a technique called "needle felting," and told me she was making a toy for Bella. I didn't know what to expect. When the package arrived, I unwrapped the tissue paper carefully. There was this wonderfully colorful floppy doll, just the right size for Bella. The doll needed a name, so I called her Roxanne. Bella loved playing with Roxanne so much that I figured out how to use the video feature on my little camera. Bella and Roxanne became close friends in the process, but that's another story, for another time...
“This image, with the black “pup” by the leash fastener, shows how Bella’s leash sculpts have evolved. The story behind it gives a taste of Bella’s sweetness. I was drinking my morning coffee in the living room, watching Bella as she played with Roxanne, the wonderful floppy doll that a friend of mine made for her. Bella had Roxanne in her mouth and was squeezing her, which was fine, but then she began sinking her teeth in. I reminded her, “No tear.” Bella understands this directive and usually responds to it but this time she chose not to, so I retrieved Roxanne and put her up out of harm’s way. I finished my coffee and left the room for a few minutes, to put the mug in the kitchen sink. I returned to find that the tie out leash in the living room had been carefully crafted into two elongated loops with the black “pup” placed by the fastener at the end, almost as if Bella herself was clipped to it. Bella watched from her canvas crate as I studied the tableau. The message it conveyed seemed clear. “I’m sorry mom—I didn’t mean to be bad.” This made me smile and, as I reached for the camera, a warm feeling passed between Bella and me.”
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.