Pack Rat... I mean Dog
By Sara Putman and Australian Shepherd(s)

Started on: 04/20/10 16:06:26
Medium: Conceptual

While on a family vacation this weekend it came to my attention that our dog, Rissa, has a knack for picking objects up with her mouth. I noticed that she constantly had something in her mouth, whether it be a stick, rock, trash, etc when we went on walks. My family had also noticed this but hadn't thought much about it, for they told her to immediately drop what she had chosen to put in her mouth. While we were walking on the beach in Cambria, CA I realized that while I picked up things that were interesting and aesthetically pleasing to me, like shells and colorful rocks, Rissa must also be interested in the assorted objects that she picks up and holds onto for most of the entirety of her walks.
Collecting is a hobby for humans as well as "pack rats," but apparently it is also enjoyable for my dog. For Rissa, each found item has its own meaning and in the process of Rissa's collecting, I became interested in what she chose to pick up.
As one builds any collection, they apply skills in identifying, selecting, discriminating, evaluating, classifying, and arranging the items. However, since Rissa usually is told to leave the items behind, I thought that I would lend a hand in collecting and keeping them for her. As of now, I am starting a collection of her found items and plan on keeping them for her to enjoy.

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Project Updates
04/27/10 20:09:08 - Behavior Patterns

As I paid more attention to my dog Rissa, I became more interested in her "collecting" behavior and wondered if other animals exhibited behaviors that were similar. As I pointed out in my last entry, Rissa's behavior reminded me of a "pack rat's" behavior or more commonly known as a Bushy-tailed Woodrat. Also known as a "trade rat," a peculiar characteristic is that if they find something they want, they will drop what they are currently carrying, for example a piece of cactus, and "trade" it for the new item.
Similarly, Rissa will mostly pick up natural found objects, like sticks, pine cones, rocks, shells, seaweed etc. and carries them for either the entire walk, or "trades" that object for another. However, size doesn't really seem to matter because she will often pick up large branches and attempt to carry them, as well as small findings that she carries for a longer period of time. This type of behavior was not as prevalent in our previous Australian Shepherd, so I know that this characteristic is not common for the type of breed.

By keeping Rissa's collection, I feel that I can help her get what she really wants. Even if we don't seem to think her findings are important to us in our daily life, she must like and want what she picks up. Just as people find interest in collecting objects, Rissa must find interest in these objects and therefore might want to "collect" them for herself.

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Comment by LisaJ (05/02/10 08:15:43):
I think this is a beautiful idea, please start to upload images of the items she collect! It would also be interesting to compare her "collectionism" with the one of other species (the pack rat, humans and others such as the bower bird).

05/14/10 18:03:32 - Some of the Collection

I have taken pictures of some of the objects Rissa had collected while on a hike by the coast in Montaņa de Oro. There is a large piece of white seashell, two long dried pieces of seawead stems, and a strange brown clump of what I believe to be seaweed.
Note: After collecting the objects that Rissa picks up, I have noticed that when I leave the objects out where Rissa has access to, she will grab them again and start to chew on them. Unlike her other "toys," which she almost always rips into shreds, Rissa has not yet destroyed the objects she has collected while on her walks. I think that she may have some personal use for these objects otherwise she probably would not want to keep them around.

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05/22/10 17:47:32 - Preference within collection

So far, Rissa tends to gravitate towards collecting natural found objects. She seems to have a preference for pine cones. More than half of what Rissa has collected is either a pine cone, or some remnant of a pine cone. I have also noticed that Rissa is usually in a playful mood and, therefore, picks up/collects an object. Rissa's "collectionism" seems to stem from her playful moods, and it seems the longer she is in a playful mood, the more objects she tends to pick up with her mouth. Also, the majority of the objects are somewhat spherical in shape, which may be easier for her to carry. Along with pine cones, she has collected several seeds/pods, dried grass/weeds, shells, and leaves.

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05/31/10 19:30:41 - Final Project Idea

For the gallery show, I want to display all of the items Rissa has collected on some sort of a table. I am going to print out about six different photographs of my dog, Rissa, in her own behavioral environment and place them in a grid directly above the table. In addition to the table display, I want to add tags to the individual objects, playing on the idea of a museum setting. Just as people are attached to certain inanimate objects, animals might also be attached to certain items, even though they may seem "useless" to us. Hopefully people realize that even the smallest or ordinary things in life can make a dog happy, and even some people as well. We don't always need the most expensive things to make us happy to be seen as valuable. Therefore, I want to question people's ability to value something, as if a dog could collect and value an object as well.

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06/06/10 18:05:26 - Final Project- Interspecies Collaboration Gallery

I was lucky enough to have my parents come see the show with the star of the my project, Rissa. Rissa was a little hesitant to enter the room, but when she finally did, she recognized her collection. Rissa sniffed her things on the table and even picked one up with her mouth and started chewing on it. She could most definitely smell her scent on the items displayed on the table. I was extremely happy to have Rissa present during the gallery show because it just seemed to pull everything together in the end.

Playing with Rissa in front of her collection.

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