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LESSONS FROM MY PETS: Nick the Problem Dog

by Luann Udell on 9/23/2017 4:34:27 AM

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She's blogged since 2002 about the business side--and the spiritual inside--of art. She says, "I share my experiences so you won't have to make ALL the same mistakes I did...."  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column ("Craft Matters") for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She's a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.




Nick has taught me to get better at asking for what I want...


Sometimes it’s hard to know what we really want.


Oh, we may think we know! But do we really? When we say, “I want to be a successful artist!” just what do we mean by that?


Successful like Thomas Kinkade successful? Yes, he is one of the best-known artists of our time. But his work was kitsch, (and he knew it) and he died of an overdose of alcohol and Valium. Successful like Vincent Van Gogh successful? He never actually sold a painting (okay, well, maybe one), but now his work is worth millions, millions of people know who he is, and his work is considered stellar. Unfortunately, he’s also been dead for over a hundred years, so he never knew what success felt like.


How about the Piss Christ artist? Everyone knows his work, too.


“Okay, so not that kind of successful. I just want to sell more work!”


How much more work? Enough to buy a house? Put food on the table? Or enough to break even with your expenses?


What’s in-between??


When I try to say, or write, exactly what I want for my art, it gets tricky. Am I being too vague? Too specific? What would really give me joy?


I’ve noticed it’s not just me who feels this way. I’ve asked other people. They have difficulty asking for what they want, let alone  knowing  what they want. And like me, they ask for the moon (“I want to make a jillion dollars!” or not much (“I just want to pay for my expenses!”)


I’m now thinking that in order to KNOW what we want, we have to get better at ASKING for it. Because this is what happened with my dog, Nick.


So, a little backstory here. Nick was one of our rescue pups, puppies from the Turks and Caicoes we fostered and placed in wonderful homes over five years in New Hampshire. (Long story for another time. Or maybe a new series...?? Hmmmm.) I would meet tourists returning from vacations to these beautiful islands, at the airport, where they had brought back a puppy or two, courtesy of the TCSPCA. The pups were in excellent health, with all their vaccinations, and allowed in the cabin in a carry-on bag. There are too many dogs in the Caribbean isles with no homes, while New England, thanks to successful spay-and-neuter programs, have a dearth of puppies.


Nick wasn’t one of our rescues. He was a ‘failed adoption’ from another volunteer in Boston who did the same work. The new owner said her older dog ‘had issues’ with the pup, and so the volunteer asked if I could help. I said I would, and picked him up.


Nick was 5 months when he came to us, and we quickly realized there were other issues with HIM. Of all our fosters, Nick had ALL of the difficult growing pains most puppies have: Not housebroken, a chewer, a barfy pup, nudgy (constantly poking for attention) and a submissive pee-er. We weren’t able to place him for several months. Then I had surgery, and was unable to look for another home for him.


Nick, 5 months, trying very, very hard to be good. Succeeding only intermittently.


By the time I’d recovered, he’d been with us five months, and was officially ‘our dog’.


Nick is seven years old now, and is still a little problematic. A year ago, I realized my husband and I were part of the problem. We were both constantly annoyed at his bad habits, and Jon still does not consider him ‘our’ dog. We didn’t choose him. We were left holding the bag.


That’s not a good attitude with any parenting/foster situation, kids or critters. How does a dog fare in such an atmosphere?? They certainly know our hearts—they’ve been with us since the dawn of time: 


I finally realized Nick knew he was not loved fully, and I vowed to change that. I looked for the good things about him, and opened my heart to him. He’s much better now!


The biggest change came with the new house we moved into last spring. We live on one floor now. It’s extremely easy to let the dogs in and out to the backyard.

Soon I realized NICK lets me know when he has to go outside. That’s what the wet nose nudging was about!


So whenever Nick started to nudge me, I would ask, “Do you want to go outside?” His entire body, from ears to tale, goes full attention mode. “Yes! Yes! I do ever so want to go outside!!”


Within a few weeks of this, this paying attention to his signals, I noticed something amazing: Nick would ‘ask’ to go outside when our other, older dog, Tuck, wanted to go outside! (Tuck never asks, he just suffers in silence until we remember to let him out.) Nick is asking on behalf of TUCK!


Nick continues to get better at asking. In the last few months, he’s evolved from a) asking to go outside; to b) asking if TUCK can go outside; to c) asking if he can have dinner early (sitting by the dog food container with wistful eyes; d) asking if he can lick the bacon grease from the frying pan (sitting by the stove with wistful glances at the pan); and now e) asking for an ear scratch.


Nick asking for bacon grease.


In fact, now when Nick nudges me, I stand up and say, “What do you want?” And then he shows me. Every. Single. Time.


What’s the difference? Nick has discovered he can ask—and get an answer. A response. A gasp of amazement—“You’re asking for Tuck’s sake?! Cool!” A chuckle—“Nope, no bacon grease for you.” And an ear scratch.


Within a few months, Nick has gotten very, very good at asking for what he wants. And in doing so, he’s reminded me that I can do the same.


When we are encouraged at asking for what we want, we get better at it. And we get better at knowing what we really want.


We get better at knowing if we get it, too.


I’m going to think deeply for the next few days: “What is it that I want?”


I’m going to write about it, too. Because for me, writing lets unexpected insights pop up out of nowhere. Let’s see what comes of that.


How do YOU figure out what YOU want? Let me know your process.


And if you’re vaguely unhappy, or disappointed, or even just temporarily at loose ends about your personal, professional, emotional, and spiritual goals right now, pretend there’s someone or something out there that cares, no matter what your spiritual beliefs or practices.


Go big. Get small. Be precise. It doesn’t matter.


Just practice, and see what happens. It worked for Nick!


Er...Would you like me to scratch your ears?




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Topics: advice for artists | creativity | FineArtViews | inspiration | Luann Udell 

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Marilyn Rose
What a great story! I am just beginning to ask for what I want, and it has taken a year and a half to figure out what that is. My favorite books all tell me that imagination is the key. If you can imagine it you can achieve it. So I play a little game and pretend that there are NO limits on what I may have. So what would I want? Its not easy! I have recently discovered that it isn't enough for me to ask for an amount of money, but I need a reason for it, a purpose for it. So thats where imagination comes in. In my mind anything good is possible, so why not play the game? What would I do with an extra $25,000 a year? Or whatever amount. If it can be imagined maybe it can happen. At any rate, its more fun than listening to all that old negative self talk.

beatriz portela
Great story and comparison!

This resonates with me! I have always remembered a sermon where Jesus asks a blind beggar what he wants. The beggar could have said money (he was begging) or food or other things. At the core of what he wanted was his answer - to see! So important to get to the core of the matter! Thanks for your reminder and example!

Roswitha Cheatle
I loved your post...smiled the whole time while reading it. Yeah You and Nick!!!! Roswitha

Jim Springett
Yes I can relate tothis blog art is such a persoanl expression from each artist, and what I want changes as I mature. At first I thought selling and earning a good income to augment Marge and my retirement was the thing to do. At that time in 2007 after retiring stepping into the art arena was definitely not related at all and are totally mutual exclusive. Sells mostly on ebay the past 9 years and seeing how my clients change too with time has taught me a valuable lesson or two. Over these years my income is very modest but my overall enjoyment seems to be improving each year, not dependent on my income generation but the focus to others and how my art makes them happier. My story of saving wildlife so important too and peaople are learning about wildlife just by paying attention to my paintings. Others can not live in the wild like we do so how do they know what wildlife does and says, they have a language just like your pup Nick and if you are observant you learn what their message is, that is my story today. Today I am painting American Indian art from Edward Curtis work in 1900 to honor our early Americans. Best wishes, thx. Jim Springett wildlife painter

Kathryn Ragan
Delightful story!! I have gone through the same with my rescue dog, Maggie - also a failed foster placement. And, no, I still don't know exactly what I want with my art!!!

Fabulous Puppy Story!!! Loved it!!!!

Luann, what an EXCELLENT post!
It is so true that we need to learn to ask for just what we want.
So often our true desires get lost in the day to day, or concern for others always first. It is important to not be completely selfish with loved ones...but also so important to address our own desires.
Nailing down specifically what we want is the very first step in getting it. It does take some soul searching. ...and let's not forget that all too often we are thinking about what we don't want, don't like, and all of those disappointments. Focus on what you DO like, want, and go for it.

Corinne Abeyta-Spinnler
"Nick's" story by Luann was inspirational and motivating...especially when feeling a bit depressed.
Thank you so much for making my day!

Joanie Anderson
A great story, I so enjoyed reading this and Thank you. I have been going through a major change in my life like you did Luann. Moving across the country for me to be closer to my family. I lived in Scottsdale for over 20 years and became a very successful Southwest Artist, (Indians,etc.) even had my own gallery for a couple years. What an eye opener regarding the art market here in Indianapolis, Indiana. This is like starting all over. I have been now working on more abstracts, have my new web-site with FASO, ready to go? I believe in visualization, power of the subconscious, (book written by Joseph Murphy) meditating, seeing is believing, but I am also understanding it takes time and a lot of work. Like social media, getting myself out there. They say social media is it !! So I am working on that. One just cannot give up, in the meantime, wealth and success is my mantra today. Thank you for listening.

Carolyn Shelburne
Great story! I can relate as we have cats, and they, too, ask for what they want...all we have to do is learn to listen to their language...I need to learn from them and speak up myself! I think that should be another post...learning to listen...that's what Luann did for Nick...actually "heard" what he was saying. When I have a client, whether for a completed painting or a commission, it's important that I pay attention to what they want, and I've learned a lot from commission clients about listening. Now I need to be able to say what I want...thanks, Luann!

Claudia Rose
Thank you for your insightful post. Love the analogy with Nick as the teacher. How true!

Walter Paul Bebirian
Joanie - Joseph Murphy is a very important writer -

as far as what is success?

I have never thought about that during my entire life - perhaps something as simple as an image coming out the way that I want it to -

Suszanne Bernat Droney
Seeing photos of Nick warmed my heart. He's adorable and thankfully you took him in and have given him a warm friendly home. Asking for what I personally want is tricky as there are times that I don't know what I really want as far as my art goes, but I know that I want to continue to create. It's the thing that I really really love to do. I do know that I want peace in our tumultuous times sans bigotry and hate. How's that going to happen? It's going to take everyone wanting peace on earth and going for it ever mindful each and every day for all of us to be kind and compassionate toward one another.

Jennifer Roberts (Almodova)
Thank you for this personal, timely, transparent and spirited share!

Luann Udell
OMG, when I left for my studio this morning, there no comments. So I thought, okay, goofy post, but I enjoyed writing it.

I checked in a few moments ago to find all your lively, thoughtful comments, and I am gobsmacked! (In a good way.) :-)

I will respond to wach and every one of your remarks later today or early Sunday (art reception tonight!) Until then, I am so glad this thought resonated with you, and thank you for sharing your stories and dreams.

I will resdpond

Luann Udell
P.S., the garbled mess above is why I don't redpond with my smartphone!!! :-D

Joanie Anderson
Walter,I suppose success means for many their own feelings what is " success" Finishing that new paintings or photograph that is fabulous? Having a 10,000.00 day selling your own works of art to a collector.
Or just selling today one painting that makes your client happy and excited. Such a good feeling and feeling of being grateful and appreciated for your creation. Very humbling. Your works are beautiful by the way. Sincerely, Joanie

Esther J Williams
Loved your adopted dog story. My daughter adopted a cat (kitten) from the Dominican Republic near Punta Cana 2 years ago. She was a rare breed mixture, an Oriental Shorthair and American Shorthair. She was a problem cat too, she wanted to climb up on every counter, eat peole's dinners on the table, she didn't ask, she just jumped up and meowed loudly at you. Always hungry even we fed her plenty. It was just in her history of fending for herself on the island. She always wanted to go outside too, she was a feral cat on that island and didn't understand how dangerous it was to be outside here in Southern Calif. We lost her to coyotes 7 months ago. I was devastated, she had personality plus beyond any other cat I owned. She was a talker, she would look at me and meow for everything, she could fly across a room in a single leap. We miss her and will never forget her. I thought the day she escaped out the back door that she might have a chance to escape the predators, but she never came back. I changed a bit since 7 months ago, I learned to be grateful for whatever we have because we never know if it will be taken away.
As for asking for what I want in the art world, I want to get by of course with a profit, but I want the experiences I have with buyers to be real, I want them to be happy. If I ask super high prices like some people do I wonder if I am giving the value back to the buyer. Or is it all in a name, is my name worth all that? Surely I know how hard I work and my years of experience, skill set and awards, etc.. So, my prices keep going up each year because I earned it, but I want it to climb gradually. Do I want fame? Like your examples above, sometimes fame comes with a deadly price. A person needs to know how to handle fame and live within moderation, keeping their head. Giving back is important when an artist becomes more affluent. I do these things to not let it all get to my head. I want friends to remember me in the end with a smile on their face.

Debbie Barnett
Dogs are like that. Dogs have less to think about and know what they want. I understand them better than people. What do I want? I want to be able to make a living with my art. Hopefully it will contribute to our income as we retire. It will be easier to paint than wrestle bales of hay. That part is the easy part to know. The hard part is how to get to that point. Figuring out what to charge so that you can make a living is hard. Figuring out how to get it out to the right audience who is willing to pay for it is also hard. I don't fall into the "selling my soul" crowd. Art is like anything else. It is a product. The problem comes down to being able to paint what I want in the manner I want while selling it for a price often enough to make a decent living. Yup. That is the complicated part.

Paul Harman
Doggone good post Luann, it was enjoyable to read and put a smile on my face. I believe we all want to succeed and become successful. There are different levels of that term successful of course. I am happy that I have sold seven paintings this year and while I would starve if it was my only income, it certainly covers my supplies, framing materials and entry to shows. Just the feedback from buyers who have appreciated my work and wanted to purchase a piece or more is a huge endorsement that I am putting out quality work that people like. Knowing my work has gone to a good home also makes room for another new piece.

My measure of success has been to be recognized with Signature status and to win some awards at shows. The best part is I paint what I want to paint and what I enjoy seeing and recreating for others to enjoy. I have probably spent more entering shows than I have received in awards but it is all relative. I look at it as if you don't try then you won't ever know. One has to put work out there amongst ones peers to see the competition and to determine if the show judge appreciates your work enough to give it recognition. I was just notified that my painting, Light of a New Day was one of 116 chosen for the next Strokes of Genius book and I was delighted and absolutely floored. I have submitted before but this time my work was chosen, and that says a lot about my journey to improve.

There are art buyers out there, it just takes awhile to find the right ones.

Paul Harman
PS Your problem dog sounds like he has really learned to fit in and become a member of the family. :)

I love this. My dogs tell me too and one asks for the other as well...and he pushes her to get her to bark and get my attention when HE wants to go out! I was wading in undirected confusion and found a class...yes, a class that helped me answer this question, find focus and develop further as an artist. I am going to give you her web site. The class was called "The Exploring Artist" and she organized a wonderful way to help focus and figure out what you want to do as an artist. This class was like a small community of artists from all over the world getting together to help and support each other. I now have great new artist friends!
I usually don't comment on your blogs, but I want you to know that I love them and your art work! I plan to read all the comments and see what other wisdom is here from other readers!

Luann Udell
Marilyn, LOVE your comment, "'s more fun than listening to all that old negative self talk." SO TRUE. And yet sometimes we feel we 'deserve' that negative voice, while the 'big dream' seems silly. The trick is to think, "Would I say that to someone I love?" Of course not! Time to treat ourselves with the same compassion and respect.

Luann Udell
Beatriz, I will let Nick know! :^)

Luann Udell
Michelle, GREAT COMMENT! I am not familiar with the details you shared, which makes Jesus take it his actions way beyond compassion and kindness, to CLARITY. Thank you for your insight.

Luann Udell
Roswitha, I told Nick last night he is now more famous than Tuck. He was pleased. :^D

Luann Udell
Jim, I love your comment, about how you are sharing the language of wildlife by sharing what they say to YOU. Great artist statement!

Luann Udell
Kathryn, re: not knowing what you want from your art.... Maybe Maggie knows?? :^D

Here's a great insight-giving exercise I used to give to a writing workshop. Write a letter, from Maggie to you. (People always hear this backwards, so read it again.)

AFTER you've done this, let me know what Maggie has to say.

Sometimes this exercise gets us out of our head, and opens the 'discussion'. Try it!

Luann Udell
Pam, we learn so much for our pets, don't we? I have a whole selection of 'pet lessons' on my blog.

Luann Udell
Christine, YES, you got it! U R doing it right.

So...what did YOU discover?

Luann Udell
Corrine, thank you for letting me know Nick and I lightened your day a bit. Sometimes that's all we need.

Luann Udell
Joannie, I love how you are fiercely digging in, to do the work of growing a new audience. Yes, rebooting is hard. But worth it!

I looked up books by Joseph Murphy, M.D. He's written quite a few! Which is your favorite and most helpful?

Luann Udell
Carolyn, thank you for your wonderful comment and thoughts. YES to the listening thing! Years ago, at the very beginning of my art career, I took a workshop in building a core support group from a wise woman. The premise was simple: Ask for what you want. The workshop mantra was, "The greatest gift you can give a woman is to LISTEN TO HER."

I created a few groups along the way. They never lasted very long (it can take a while to find the right combination), but we all gained huge insights along the way.

I've tried to start one here in Northern California, with mixed results. You've reminded me to try again. Thanks for that!

Luann Udell
Claudia, thank you! I peeked at your artist bio, I LOVE how you've combined art and spiritual/emotional healing in your life practice!

Luann Udell
Walter, what is YOUR favorite Joseph Murphy book?

And as for never worrying about success, good on you! I hope we can ALL get to that place in our artistic lives.

Luann Udell
Suzanne, deep thoughts, thank you for sharing them with us today. It sounds like you've already recognized how healing and restorative the very act of creating is. That's a powerful place to be! Good on you!

Luann Udell
Jennifer, your gift to me today was letting me know how much my words meant to you. My writing is just as 'core' to me as my art. Each one informs the other, and sharing just makes it even more shiny!

Luann Udell
Esther, such a beautiful cat story! We've adopted/fostered many feral-ish cats, and yes, their hardships leave a mark on their souls. We have one with that brush mark. She is sweet and affectionate, but boy, last night she grabbed my still-a-bit-left-on-the-bone drumstick like a shark, and ran off with it. So funny--and a little scary! :^)

All pet stories begin with love and laughter, and end with heartbreak and tears. But each one carries a life lesson in there somewhere, too. It's intriguing to look back, and find the one each little critter carried.

Luann Udell
Debbie, I agree, some artists, like you, are comfortable with the balance between "what I like" and "what sells?" Nothing wrong with that.

There's a line between "what sells?" and "what will I sacrifice to make that happen?" That's the gray area that go go so dark.

It sounds like you are navigating your path carefully, so keep it up! :^)

And yeah, I hear you on the hay thing! I worked hauling bales of hale many (many many many) moons ago. That, combined with a ferociously cold winter broke my health for several months. A good learning experience!

Luann Udell
Paul, yes, I got the doggone thing! :^D

You are absolutely right, one of the best things about selling a piece is how it encourages us to make more. When we have too much inventory, it can feel like "The world doesn't want my work, why should I make more?" The trick, as you have discovered, is to restate that: "The world NEEDS my work."

Luann Udell
Carla, you may not comment often here, but you do it so well! Love your story about your own dogs. Every dog and cat has their own unique personality. I never tire of discovering them!

Thank you for sharing that link, too! Your contribution may be exactly what someone needs to hear today. I'm gonna check it out, too!

Marilyn Rose
When I get a rejection or a perceived negative comment from someone, my bratty self says silently, "you just watch me, you'll see!" I now say that to my nasty little inner wet blanket when it tells me I can't do it.

Joanie Anderson
Luann: Thanks for your response.
I purchased from Amazon "The Power of your Subconscious Mind, blue cover, with yellow butterflys by Joseph Murphy.
It sits on my day bed which is in my studio. Often
I will take a rest, as I stand to paint, and I will pick up this book and just open it. Seems that particular page will resonate with me for that day. Interesting. I love this book it has been a very uplifting book.
Thanks again for all you share, Joanie Anderson

Ooo...Joanie! Amazon has it in Kindle version today for only 99cents! Now mine as well! Will check it out right away.

Luann Udell
Marilyn, now THAT is fighting fire with fire! So glad you shared that today!

Pat Harris
i just want to know how you taught Nick to Tell You What! I have a new rescue dog who wants something nearly all the time, but I can't figure out if it's to go out cuz he NEEDS to go out or to go out cuz he wants to chase squirrels!


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