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Trout Creek canine dabbles in watercolors


February 27, 2020

Jan Manning

BUDDING ARTIST Dakota, an Australian Cattle Dog, prefers to paint with watercolors. His owner, Shilah Crew of Trout Creek, said it took patience and lots of treats to train Dakota.

Okay, so this pup may not be a Picasso yet, but he's probably the only dog in Sanders County who can paint almost inside the lines.

His name is Dakota, and he's an Australian Cattle Dog who belongs to 17-year-old Shilah Crew of Trout Creek. Shilah, a talented young artist herself, noticed that her dog liked to watch her while she worked on sketches and watercolors. So she decided to offer him the chance to develop his own talent.

"I started by just having him touch the paintbrush," Shilah said, "and then I'd give him a treat. After a while I'd give him a treat if he put his mouth on it, and then I taught him to hold it in his mouth." She says she modified the shape of the brush handle with aluminum foil and duct tape to make it easier for Dakota to grip in his mouth.

WHILE HER OWNER SHILAH draws the outline, Dakota does all the painting herself, including this self-portrait.

"He already knew how to 'target' my hand to get a treat, so I just had him start targeting the drawing I taped to a pizza box." Shilah said this form of training is called "shaping." It's something she's learned watching videos at home and practicing in dog training classes with Sanders County Dog Training Club. "Now he'll hold the brush on the paper and actually move it around."

Shilah draws the outline she wants Dakota to fill in, and then sits next to him for encouragement. Also beside him is his food bowl. "He paints for his dinner," she explained.

It took her about two weeks to train all the steps, said Shilah, and she did it amidst distractions of three other dogs running around the house and family meals being prepared in the kitchen. Shilah said it just takes patience, logical thinking, and lots of treats.

It's fun to have a dog who shares her favorite hobby, she said, musing that "Some day maybe we'll have a show together."


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