Creative Behavior Challenge: Can Dogs Paint?

Creative Behavior Challenge: Can Dogs Paint?

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RT @SSDOGS Can dogs paint? SSD Olympia says yes! Check out her masterpieces:

Multimedia from this Release

SSD Olympia poses with her artwork.

Thursday, October 2, 2014 - 1:00pm


We have some budding artists in our Northeast Puppy Raising Program, and they all have four paws. SSD Olympia and the other service dogs in training in our Northeast group are learning how to draw and paint, and it’s all part of their service dog training.

Our Northeast Puppy Raising Program has been meeting in Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday evenings for over six years. Classes are taught by Meg Irizarry, who has been a force-free dog trainer for more than two decades. She provides guidance and shares her knowledge and expertise with our puppy raisers. The Northeast group goes on many outings to places like mini-golf, the movies, a dairy farm, grocery stores, casinos, and even bowling. They also make a yearly outing to the airport, where the service dogs in training experience airport security.

Every year for fun and to improve the raisers’ training skills, Meg assigns a Creative Behavior Challenge. For this challenge, the raisers need to devise their own training plans and present the finished multi-step behaviors to the class. Skilled service dogs must be able to perform multi-step tasks, so we teach them how to “chain” behaviors together.

One year, Meg asked each raiser to use their imagination in creating a task involving orange cones. For instance, Susan taught SSD Slate to play soccer. He nosed a ball between two cones. Score! Sarah S. taught SSD Sky to recognize a picture of an orange triangle and then match it with an orange cone. Building on that skill, Sky also matched a picture of a green square with a green felt box and a picture of a red circle with a red ball. Pretty impressive! (Word around the hydrants is that Sky is now reading 101 Dalmations!)

Deb taught SSD Zane to put a cone on a puddle of spilled water to make sure no one slipped and got hurt. SSD Graham learned how to put plastic rings on a cone, thanks to Sarah K. Knowing Graham, he probably keeps his toy box organized, too.

Another year, Meg asked the raisers to choreograph a canine freestyle dance routine. SSD Nubble danced to “I Can See Clearly Now” with raisers Donna and Lindsey. Nubble was definitely the best dancer of the three, mostly because he is so adorable.

Last year’s challenge involved a secret phrase for each pup. Each raiser taught their dog a task demonstrating the phrase. The class then tried to guess the phrase based on the task performed. Sarah and SSD McKinley’s phrase was “tragedy/comedy.” McKinley “played dead” and then jumped up at the last minute to make everyone laugh. Donna’s phrase was “in/out,” so she taught SSD Roo to ring a doorbell to enter the classroom. After the challenge, this skill came in handy at home. Roo would ring a doorbell installed at nose height for permission to come inside. This was more pleasant than barking to be let in.

This year, we have our canine artists. In the spring, Meg handed out non-toxic markers and paper. The task was “Drawing for Dogs 101.” To accomplish this challenge with SSD Olympia, Donna devised a series of steps. First, Olympia targeted (touched) the paper with her nose. Then she targeted the paper with the marker in her mouth. Donna’s plan was to have Olympia draw a triangle, but Olympia gets very excited while training and consequently drew in a more abstract style.

Donna also found that Olympia tended to water down the markers with her saliva, so she decided to teach her how to use paint. This required additional steps to target the paint palette, as well as some experimentation to find the best painting tool. A sponge brush ended up working best. Olympia continues to enjoy creating works of art and her raiser says that Olympia hopes to cushion her retirement savings with the proceeds from her paintings!

What do you think of Olympia’s masterpieces?

All the raisers in the Northeast group are looking forward to next year, when Meg will surely ask them to rise to the challenge again.