Animal sculptures made from clay have been around for perhaps as long as people have played with mud. It is fun to press and shape clay into the shape of a favourite pet, and children, in particular, love to create clay animals of all kinds. With clay, there is really no wrong way to make a sculpture. Your limits are your imagination. Your dog or cat can look real or it can be whimsical to reflect the personality of the animal. You can paint your sculpture with a realistic-looking coat of hair, or you can decorate your dog with polka dots or little hearts. The important thing is to connect with your creation on an emotional level and create a dog sculpture that touches your heart and makes you smile.
Select one or several photographs of the dog. These are helpful in showing the different shapes of the dog's body in different positions. Tape the images where they can be easily viewed by the person sculpting.
Work a tennis ball sized lump of clay until it is warm and pliable. Roll out coils of clay and form the base of the dog. If your dog sculpture is standing then form a simple base for him to stand on. You may decide to remove the base prior to firing the clay but having the base will keep the clay in position while you work.
Roll out coils that are between 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch thick. Join the clay coils together by stacking one roll onto the next and then pressing the area where they join together by pinching and smoothing. You want a clay wall that is no more than 1/4-inch thick when you are finished, so that the clay is less likely to crack or have kiln problems.
Tool the clay using pottery tools. These are tools that allow you to gouge, cut, scrape, scratch, smooth or otherwise refine the shape on the outside of your sculpture. Add the details of the dog's face, eyes, mouth, neck, muscles, paws and other features. When you are satisfied with the way the outside of the sculpture looks, clean and smooth any areas and set the finished dog aside to dry out. Cover the dog with a moist cloth and plastic to slow down the drying process. You don't want it to dry out so fast that it cracks.
Paint your sculpture with glazes. Depending on your finish choice, you can paint before firing and after firing for different effects. Fire your sculpture in a kiln once it is completely dry and painted as you wish. Most pieces are fired more than once to create the desired finish.
Larger sculptures are heavier and need to be properly supported to prevent problems. It is a good idea to look at animal sculptures in pre-Columbian art websites for ideas on how to shape larger animals. Pre-made undecorated dog sculptures are available in most ceramic stores, ready for painting and finishing. These slip clay designs allow a crafter additional opportunities to make larger pieces more easily. Slip is a thin liquid clay that is poured into a plaster mould. Once the slip hardens the mould is removed.