Dogs know more than we think.
Kylie is a good dog. She is a tri-colored Australian Shepherd and is owned by my good friend Kathy. Kylie is an obedience and breed champion with a room full of ribbons and trophies to show for it. This is a dog that would never dream of being naughty and not doing what is asked of her.
I have had the honor of hiring her many times for print ads and commercials. Kylie always did a great job for me. She followed my commands and was always cheerful with a joyful expression on her face. She loved to work and she loved being the center of attention. In the show ring and on the set Kylie was a star.
Then Kathy was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember crying with her when she told me and I hoped and prayed for a quick recovery. Kathy is a fighter and underwent aggressive chemo treatments and then surgery to fight her disease.
Months passed as Kathy went through her treatment, fighting fatigue nausea and tolerating the loss of her hair as her body struggled to beat the cancer that had taken hold. Her friends continue to pray and care for her. Kylie the Aussie never left her side.
We were all overjoyed when Kathy eventually was declared cancer free. I knew Kathy enjoyed having Kylie perform for the camera so I waited for her to tell me when she was well enough to begin bringing Kylie the Aussie to photo shoots again.
After I was sure that Kathy felt well enough to give it a try I booked Kylie for a shoot for a major retailer. Kylie was to pose with a human model who would brush her with a special grooming tool to remove fur.
When Kathy came in with Kylie, I hugged Kathy and asked how she was feeling. Kylie the Aussie had always pulled on her leash when she saw me and wriggled her whole body in anticipation. This time when I greeted her and her owner, Kylie the Aussie was oddly restrained in her manner towards me.
It is my usual practice to leave the owner in the waiting room and take the dog from the owner to work them on the set myself as most dogs work better when not distracted by their owner. Kylie was no exception to that rule. Although Kathy is an excellent trainer, in the past Kylie seemed to focus better when I worked her on the set without her owner in the room.
I started to escort Kylie away from her owner and towards the set but she sat down and refused to leave Kathy’s side.
“Come on, girl,” I said, slightly surprised. This was not normal behavior for Kylie the Aussie at all. Where was the dog that practically dragged me to the set and was so happy to show off her skills and tricks?
“Go on,” said Kathy to her dog. “Go with Barbara. You’ll be fine,” she said.
Kylie the Aussie was obviously reluctant to obey. She slowly got up and went with me, but looked over her shoulder at her owner.
“Come on, girl,” I said in my cheeriest voice. “I’ve got cheese,” I said. Usually, the word cheese is the magic word to focus Kylie’s razor sharp attention. This time I said the magic word, she glanced my way for a moment, then looked back to the door of the room in which Kathy her owner was waiting.
Why was Kylie the Aussie acting so strangely? This was not like her at all. This dog loved me and usually pranced and danced on camera happily sitting and cocking her head for the camera.
The human model came in and I put Kylie the Aussie in position. I stepped back and began to cue her, looking for the sweet expression and happy ears that she always offered me. Kylie did her best to be obedient. She is a good dog and knows that Stay means Stay, but there’s a big difference between a dog who is focused on the work and a dog who is just going through the motions. Kylie was just not with me. I told her Stay and she would Stay but only for a moment or two and then she would break her Stay. This is unusual for such a well-trained dog and experienced animal model. “Oh, no! What did you do?” I said (my traditional speech when a dog breaks a Stay). I tried again. I gave her the hand signal and said “Kylie, Stay!” She paused for only a moment this time before breaking her Stay again. I was shocked. This is an obedient dog. She always listened to my commands and performed them cheerfully and happily for the cheese reward. What could possibly be wrong? I watched Kylie the Aussie as her gaze continued to go to the door. And then I understood. Kylie the Aussie’s mind was with her owner Kathy in the waiting room.
I apologized to the photographer for the delay and took Kylie off the set. “Okay!” I said to Kylie. She bolted out the door and down towards the hall to be with Kathy. I could hear Kathy laughing as I headed towards them. “What is it, girl?” Kathy asked as Kylie stood on her hind legs and washed Kathy’s face with her tongue.
“She can’t leave your side right now,” I said. She knows that you haven’t been well and that her place is with you.”
Kathy held Kylie’s head in her hands. “Is that true, Kylie?” She said “Don’t you know that I am okay now?” Kylie looked back at her with the intelligent brown eyes of an Australian Shepherd, one of the smartest of all dog breeds.
I think Kylie the Aussie felt the need to protect her owner Kathy and be with her. Kathy had beaten the breast cancer, but perhaps her dog still thought she still needed special care and attention. Although Kylie the Aussie shows every sign of enjoying being an acting dog, perhaps she thought she had a more important job right then: Being with Kathy.
“Please come to the set with us?” said Kathy to me, and we went back. I said to Kathy: “You work with her. She usually works better with me, but she needs you this time.” Kathy put Kylie in position, the human model readied the grooming tool, and the photographer began to shoot. It was like a different dog was there. Kylie posed and perked her ears. She put her paw up and then down on command and she spun around in a circle when asked. She even kissed the model’s face on cue. Here was the Kylie I knew.
The rest of the shoot went perfectly and the client was happy with the results.
Another six months went by before I needed to use Kylie on a shoot. I had been in touch with Kathy and knew that she was getting stronger and feeling better every day.
This time when she came to the studio Kylie was overjoyed to see me, almost leaping into my arms as I said hello. And when I took her leash to lead her to the set she went with me without a backward glance.
On set she was once again a pro, offering all of her endearing behaviors like tilting her head and grinning for the camera. When we finished and I returned her to Kathy in the waiting room, I marveled at how different Kylie the Aussie was from the last time I worked her.
It’s amazing to me how dogs sometimes just know. Apparently, even though Kathy thought she was back to her old self, Kylie the dog did not agree and thought she needed to stay by Kathy’s side. Now that Kathy was fully recovered and cancer free, Kylie the Aussie also was back to her old self and ready to perform.
all images © Barbara O'Brien PhotographyBarbara O'Brien Photography is located at White Robin Farm in the beautiful rolling hills of western Wisconsin. Images are available for reproduction. Please e-mail or call with intended usage, size of print run, distribution. Barbara O'Brien Photography 612 812 8788 cell 715 448 3456 home firstname.lastname@example.org