You only get one Novice A dog: In praise of Luce.

Luce CD!

Wearing her bling well.

When I adopted Luce from the shelter, I had some vague notion that I’d like to play some sort of dog sport with her, maybe agility. I’d never trained a dog before, but I’d been working with the public’s dogs in either a boarding kennel or veterinary hospital setting for several years. I felt pretty confident that I could adopt a dog from the shelter and train it without too much trouble.

I was woefully unprepared for what I brought home. Luce was a young adult pit bull, completely untrained, quick to fire up, slow to settle down, with absolutely no self-control. She was reactive, dog-aggressive, and had impressive barrier-frustration issues. I completely understand why she was in the shelter with nobody looking for her (she’d been picked up as a stray). She was a maniac. But she was also mine.

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Dog Photography Tip #1: Composition

People frequently ask me for photography tips and I have to be perfectly honest: I don’t really think about it! Photography is something I do so that I can share my world with others. It’s not about art for me. It’s about showing how I see things, what I experience on a day to day basis.I actually had a photography teacher in high school tell me that I had no talent and should quit while I was ahead. Obviously, I didn’t take his advice. Instead, I started to experiment with things that worked and things that didn’t. Over time, I have discovered that certain things really do help make a better photo.

It’s time to share those things! Let’s see if I can make a series of 10 Dog Photography Tips in the upcoming weeks..

Composition - This is the one thing that I learned from taking the one photography class I enrolled in. It’s also something you’ll learn in most basic art classes, starting in middle school. There are a few basic concepts that will help make your photo more appealing to the eye.

The first thing to keep in mind is your focal point. This is the focus of your photo and the thing you want your viewer’s eye to be drawn to. When it comes to pet photography, this is most commonly the pet. However, it’s often fun to switch this up. For example, in this photo, which I still feel is about Herbie, the focal point is actually the kitten in the foreground.

Keeping the dog blurred emphasizes the kitten as the focal point of this photo.

Remember, it’s always fun to switch it up! We all love to see cute and charming pictures of dogs and especially puppies, but it may be more interesting to focus on a specific aspect of your dog. Dogs have great textures  on their paws and their noses. They have soulful eyes and favorite toys. They leave footprints and wear dog tags. All of these things make for alternative to your standard dog posing or face-focused photo.

In this portrait of a ferocious looking happy greeting, the dog’s teeth are very obviously the focal point.

There are several things you can do to draw attention to your focal point. The first is to use the rule of thirds. This rule dictates that, rather than placing the focal point in the middle of your shot, you divide the photo into thirds and place the focus where those lines intersect.
Here we see the dog placed on the rule of thirds.

The rule of thirds creates visual interest and lets you do things like play with negative space (the empty area in a photo). It’s important to pay attention to this negative space because the way you balance it can really change the feel of a photo. A photo that is well balanced in its use of visual space can give a calm, relaxed, or still feeling, while a photo with dramatic negative space can come off as dynamic or full of motion.

Here, for example, the dog is laying still and the photo is cropped close. The dog takes up about half the space in the image and the photo feels peaceful and balanced. You feel as though the dog is going to stay put for at least a little while.

This photo on the other hand features a lot of negative space and background. The pose alone would make for an exciting shot, but leaving a lot of the background allows the viewer to imagine just how much open space there is and just how far the dog could run. There is a sense of motion and speed about the shot.

Another compositional tool is the leading line, a literal line in a photo that leads the eye to the focal point. Trails, long dog legs, or dogs arranged in size order are just a few examples of leading lines that can really make a focal point the center of attention.

In this photo, for example, the line of reeds in the background draws the eye horizontally across the photo and to the dog.

A final compositional concept that I frequently use in my photography is that of natural framing. We’ve all seen photos framed and hanging on the wall, but natural framing refers to objects in the photo that seem to surround the focal point, really making it pop. My friend’s boxer, Kole, has a fun habit of naturally framing himself!

Kole demonstrates natural framing.
So there you have it, the basics of composition broken down a la textbook… only featuring dogs as the subject! Check back soon for more dog photography tips… including how to get the best light, capturing poses and expressions, and selecting good angles and backgrounds for your photos.

Naked Lunch: A Beginner’s Guide to Raw Feeding.

“Hi, my name is Ren and I am a raw feeder. It has been two and a half years since I last bought commercial pet food.”

I first became aware of the raw feeding method through my friends in the Australian dog breeding and showing community. I moderate a pedigree bull breeds dog forum and I have friends there who have been breeding, showing and feeding their dogs raw food for decades.

After feeding Max, my first Staffordshire Bull Terrier, on expensive kibble for years (recommended by my vet, no less) and struggling to manage his weight, teeth, breath and gastrointestinal health until the day he died, I knew that I wanted to give raw feeding a shot with my second dog.

I have fed my three year old Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Tayla (Supasound Chase That Feeling), a raw diet since she was six months old, because I believe it is the best way to keep her happy and healthy.

Look at this dog. It doesn’t get much happier than this!

Once I kicked the commercial food habit, I never looked back.

So what is raw feeding?

“Raw feeding is the practice of feeding domestic dogs, cats and other animals a diet primarily of uncooked meat, edible bones, and organs.”

The thinking behind raw feeding is that canines should be fed what they are biologically designed to eat. The Canis lupis familiaris (domestic dog) is a sub-species of the Canis lupis, or grey wolf. Despite approximately 15,000 years of domestication and selective breeding, it has been argued that the nutritional needs of the canine have changed very little.

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Dock Diving, aka the Wet T-shirt Contest of the Dog World

Today I took three dogs to a dock diving seminar in Virginia Beach.  Two of the dogs with me were mine (Cherry and Smooch), and one belonged to a friend of mine– a duck toller named Titan.  I also had my husband and son, along with my friend’s son (the actual owner of Titan).   The four of us, plus three dogs and tons of gear, all piled into a rented Dodge Grand Caravan (long story for a different post!) and headed for the beach.

We made pretty good time, barely encountering any traffic along the way, and pulled up a few minutes before 10am.  This allowed us enough time to check in, show our rabies certificates, and eye the pool.  The pool was an above ground affair, with a large dock at one end (as one might expect).  There were distance measurements along the edge of it, and the instructor explained how the jump distances were measured.

And then he brought out one of his dogs to demonstrate.  Now, women would understand me on this one, so, if you look down and note that you are NOT female, just follow along.  Ok?  Ok.  So you know when you are at the beach, and you are feeling mighty good, all stretched out on your towel in your new bathing suit?  You know, that one that strategically hides your figure flaws, perhaps under a silly skirt ruffle thing, and has extra padding to hoist your no-longer-twenty-something boobs up to your chin?  And then, out walks this hot tanned blonde with an impossibly sculpted derrière in a string bikini, and every guy on the beach is staring at her as she saunters slowly past?  And sometimes she’ll even stop to let the wind catch her hair and work that angle for her audience?  Yeah, that’s what made an appearance.  The Weimaraner that came out of the building and joined the trainer on the dock (stopping occasionally to pose and work her audience) was that girl.  And she knew it.

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Flyball: The Kegger of dog sports

Photo by Jim Geiser Photography

Love it or hate it, flyball is one of the loudest and most unruly dog sports out there. On the surface, it’s very simple: four dogs run a relay race in which they run down a lane over four jumps, trigger the box to release a ball, catch that ball, and run back over the four jumps. Fastest team wins. Easy peasy, right? That’s what I thought, too, and why I never had much of an interest in it until I got Steve.

I didn’t intend to play flyball when I bought Steve. He came from someone who plays a lot of flyball, but my interests were in agility and obedience. When he was maybe six months old, she emailed me and invited me to a flyball tournament. She wanted to see how he was turning out and she thought he should see flyball. And she thought that I should see flyball because I would appreciate it more if I actually experienced it.

He was insane for it. Instantly. Running dogs! Barking! Balls! Tugs! What is not to love?

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Normal Ain’t Easy: How My Dog Got Her CGC

Yesterday an event that has been preoccupying me since, oh, early 2008 finally took place. Yesterday my dog Lucy earned her Canine Good Citizen certification. High five, buddy.

Hello world! I’m a genius!

Now, in the grand array of potential titles available in dogdom, the CGC is actually a pretty minor thing. It’s a test that the AKC runs to test what are essentially basic manners: the question is not so much “is your dog special?”, it’s “is your dog normal?” Can your dog live in the world as it’s currently structured without too much hassle or annoyance to anyone else? While the test is foundational for going on to do therapy work, competitive obedience, etc, it is, on paper, not very hard to get. Many dogs get it right out of the gate, and indeed, at our test last night, there were several confident, sassy little dogs just out of puppyhood who sailed through the test with no apparent problems. For a variety of reasons, my dog was not a dog who was ever destined to sail through it, and in fact, our path to the CGC took the better part of four years. In that time, I have learned a tremendous amount, and what I have learned was not simply how to train my own personal dog to pass a test: I have learned a lot about the complexity of what we ask of modern dogs, the complex stigma that surrounds dogs who, for whatever reason, do not easily adapt to the way we live now and the ways in which we both drastically and subtlety shape the fates of animals whose lives intersect with our own. I have also learned a tremendous amount about fear: how it presents, how to vector it off in the direction of more positive emotions, and how we make it worse. I’ve learned to how to respect the emotional life of a member of another species, and I’ve learned, in a rudimentary way, how to speak another language. And when I look at the little blue and yellow dongle on my dog’s collar, that is what I think about. But more on that in a minute.
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The Perfectly Imperfect Trial (or, The Trial as Assessment)

runningThis past weekend Dahlia and I attended a CPE (Canine Performance Events, Inc.) agility trial.  This was our sixth trial since we began competing last November.  We’ve gone to them with varying degrees of success.  On one turn Dahlia will be perfect.  Slow and steady, but perfect.  She’ll nail down the entire course with no faults and earn a Q (qualifying score).  On another turn she will sit and stare at you and not move a muscle, finally crawling off into the shade and rolling over.  There has been a lot of joy.  And also a lot of heartbreak and frustration.

After our first trial (one Q out of four runs) our instructor called together an “Agility Anonymous” meeting for all of the folks who train with her.  It was a two-hour long discussion about training and trialing in agility and other dog sports.

One of the most important things I got out of that meeting was to stop looking at trials as “competitions” but rather to look at them as “assessments.”  It was a chance to see how all the hard work you put in during classes and training sessions was going.  And it was also a chance to see what needed work.  Sometimes you know the latter.  Sometimes it surprises you.

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On Difficult Dogs

Let’s be up front about something: I’m a worrier. It’s pretty much “my thing.” I worry about car accidents, I worry about money, I worry about people dying, I worry about my own death. I worry about my dog getting cancer or needing a knee replacement or being shot by an armed intruder. Some of my worries are realistic, but many of them are not – well, realistic in that they happen, but unrealistic in that these things are not statistically likely to happen to me. At least not all at once.

So when I decided I wanted to get a dog, I worried about a lot of things. Would I have time to exercise him? Would he destroy any of our valuable possessions? Would he get along with our cats? Was I “good enough” as a dog owner to handle a large bulldog – would he be aggressive towards people?

No, seriously, he loves the cat.

It turned out most of my worries were totally unfounded. Cerberus has chewed one non-dog item in his entire life (although, to be fair, it was one of my fabulous purple boots). I’ve found plenty of time to exercise him, though I often wish I had more, and he seems perfectly content to sleep at the base of my desk when I have to work. He and the cats are best friends. Well, one of the cats. The other one hates him and frequently bullies him into the corner, where Cerberus will sit until I come along, move the cat and tell Cerb it’s okay to come out now. He loves people and happily wiggles up to those he knows for treats and cuddles, though he’s appropriately reserved with strangers until he gets to know them. Nothing that I worried about before bringing him home ever panned out. It was something I never even thought about.

He’s dog-aggressive.

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On Love and Loss

It was a month ago, on the 13th of June, that I lost my best friend. If was one of those freak accidents, one of those moments you wish you could go back and change just one simple thing.

Howie at 5 months old. Photo by Erin Powers

Howie was a dog that had, in some way, touched everyone he met. He was incredibly lovable, he was joyful, he was obedient; he was also disobedient in a lovable way. He never did anything with the purpose of being a “bad dog,” and he always, always, gave me his all.

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The Saga of the Never-Wet Tail


Dahlia and the gigantic tail of doom

One thing that Dahlia is most noted for is her tail.  It’s gigantic and sometimes seems almost out of proportion to her body.  It’s bigger than some dogs I know. Recently I was at an agility trial and someone came up to me and said “Are you the one running the black dog with the gigantic tail?”  Yup.  That’s me. Continue reading