By CHERESE COBB
Just call him Pablo Pawcasso. Hunter, a 5-year-old black-and-tan Shiba Inu from Alberta, Canada, has learned how to paint abstract masterpieces by crosshatching non-toxic acrylics in a drippy, streaky and swirly style.
His owners, Kenny Au, a computer engineer, and Denise Lo, an ESL teacher, discovered his hidden artistic talent when they were looking for a new hobby to teach him after he “got as far as he could go” in regards to agility courses. Incredibly crafty and intelligent, proud and independent, careful and tidy, Hunter enjoys exploring new hiking routes, chasing backyard birds and solving children’s puzzles.
“He needs…physical and mental challenges to be happy,” Lo says. “He’s either sleeping soundly or 100 percent ready to accomplish his goals.
A year ago, they got him a little piano, but he hated it. Then a blank space on their wall inspired them to teach Hunter a doggone good trick: how to create art by painting paper with short, confident strokes.
“We had a large blank wall that needed something to go on it, and we thought about how we could make something that the whole family could contribute to,” she says. “Because Hunter is such a calm, careful and responsive dog, we figured he’d be able to learn the brushing motions to create some kind of memento for us. We were really surprised at how good the result was right off the bat.” So, they shared his work on Facebook and Reddit where it generated a lot of memes and even a Photoshop battle.
“We don’t paint every day,” Lo tells FETCH. “Hunter usually barks and stares at us when he wants to do it.” Then he patiently stands in front of a blank piece of acrylic paper, taped on top of a black tarp by his humans. He’s extremely picky about the weight of the brushes and how chewy they are. When he finally chooses one, his owners dab it in the paint and stick it between his teeth. After making a brush stroke on the paper, he’s handed another brush with a different paint color and rewarded with kibble.
“It’s not much, but it’s different from the brand that we usually feed him. He thinks it’s a treat,” she says. “When he learns a new trick, however, he’s…visibly proud of himself, so it isn’t just the treats that motivate him. We can definitely see that he enjoys being placed in different environments and learning new things, especially after struggling with it. I think that’s something that both an artist and [a] doggo can share.”
While Hunter is normally pretty careful about where the paintbrush goes, he’ll occasionally try to paint lying down, ending up with a rainbow of paint specks dried in his fur. As for signing his paintings, he doesn’t like getting his paws dirty at all, so the couple created a stamp from a mold of his paw. “If he’s feeling bored or uninspired, then he changes up his brush strokes a bit and the paintings become more interesting,” Lo says. “We’re trying watercolors as well, and we think the combination would look really good. We prefer it if he’s not painting the exact same way every time because each painting should be unique.”
Au and Lo don’t think that Hunter’s more capable of being trained than other dogs or breeds. Some dogs can balance three pints of Ben & Jerry’s on their heads. Some dogs can hold behemoth slices of pepperoni pizza in their mouths without wolfing them down. Some dogs can even ride forward and backward on bicycles with training wheels. “Just like people, it really depends on the dogs and what they’re into,” Au says. “A large part of it has to do with the time and the effort that the owners are willing to commit to finding out what interests their dogs have and how to encourage them to test their limits.”
Hunter isn’t just painting for kicks—er, wags—anymore, though. He’s cashing in on his talents with his nearly 100 paintings fetching $41.06 each on Etsy. (Now, that’s a lot of kibble.) He’s also giving pound puppies a paw up by donating his paintings to Second Chance Animal Rescue Society in Edmonton, Alberta.
The couple wonders if he’ll ever get bored—at which point they’ll stop doing it. But that hasn’t happened. “He’s been really consistent, and he’s still enjoying it,” Lo says. “[However], he thinks of us more as his companions than his masters, so if he thinks we are treating him unfairly, he’ll let us know.” Follow him on online @shibaartonline or visit his Etsy store (etsy.me/2J0Sfoy) to commission an original painting.