The most awesome Christmas card I’ve ever made

typewriter4I love making Christmas cards featuring Dahlia.  Ever since I’ve gotten her the cards I send out to people feature my dog, usually in a Santa hat, once in front of a typewriter “writing” her letter to Santa.  But last year I was truly inspired and what I came up with still makes me giggle like mad.  Because it was awesome incarnate.

So what was this super awesome amazing card and how did I do it?

Well, I was inspired by a pair of Doggles that I bought Dahlia.  It was just a silly purchase I made at Petsmart one day and decided that I needed photos of Dahlia wearing such a thing.  Little did I know that the moment I put them on her, I would have my entire Christmas card planned out in my head.

My inspiration: Snoopy as the Red Baron.

How to make it happen?  Well, here’s how it goes.

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Wordless Wednesday: Special Holiday Edition!

Featuring the dogs of many of our great readers.  Thank you everyone for your contributions!

What are those rescue transports anyway?


Buddy, a senior lab, was found standing in the middle of a highway after being hit by a car and suffering a stroke. Here he is on his way to a rescue in New Hampshire.

I call it the “Canine Underground Railroad.”  On any given Saturday and Sunday (and sometimes even in the middle of the week), people from around the country come together to help get dogs (and other animals) to safety.  This all-volunteer network of people is simply amazing.  They spend their own time and their own money to start these animals on the path to a wonderful new life.

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Pet Photography Tip #5: Camera Settings

Now that we’ve talked about a few of the elements that make a good photo, let’s talk about how we get that photo. It’s time to get a little less artsy and a little more technical. Today we’ll delve into the different settings on your camera and what they do for your photos.

I’m going to preface this by saying that I do shoot with a dSLR, but these are important things to know, even when you’re shooting with a point and shoot or mid-range camera. Even your simple point and shoots frequently have modes other than automatic than can help a novice photographer shoot better under certain conditions.

It is very important to understand what all that fancy ‘photog terminology’ means and how you can use it to your advantage. I’m going to keep this discussion to things that are available to your average user. We’re not trying to make a professional photographer here; we’re just trying to get better photos of our pets, and I don’t know about the rest of you guys, but I’m on a budget! A $14k lens is just not going to happen!

Shutter Speed
The first and simplest technical aspect of photography is shutter speed. The shutter is the part of the camera that opens, allowing light to travel through the camera to record the image. The shutter speed, as you may have guessed, refers to how fast the shutter opens and closes.

Obviously, the longer the shutter is open, the more light it lets in. It makes sense, then, that if you leave your camera in auto mode while shooting in low light, the shutter speed will be slower (the shutter will be open longer). The problem is that a slower shutter speed means more potential for blur.

In pet photography, shutter speed is often key to getting a good, clear image. Dogs move, run, spring, and generally don’t hold still. It is important to have a fast shutter speed to keep up with their movements. You want a dog’s face to be in focus, even if he’s sprinting at the camera at Mach 10! If you’re shooting in broad daylight, this is pretty simple, and even in auto mode, the camera should pick a fast shutter speed.

In the shady woods, a fast shutter is key to preventing blur like this.

However, dogs aren’t always outside running in the sunshine. Sometimes we’re hiking in the woods, or playing in our living room, or it’s just not a sunny day. In those moments, our cameras sacrifice shutter speed to let in more light while maintaining depth of field and image quality. When we shoot a moving subject, however, we need to over ride our cameras and bump the shutter speed to keep our pictures in focus. This article will cover more about modes below.

Obviously, there’s more to photography than shutter speed. The shutter can only go so fast in poor light before the photo gets dark. Thankfully, there is another way to let in more light without sacrificing speed.

The aperture refers to how wide the camera shutter opens. Obviously, the wider the aperture, the more light it lets in. The aperture setting, or f-stop, can be a bit tricky to grasp at first. Basically, the lower the f-stop number, the bigger the opening, and the more light the camera lets in. For example, an f-stop of f/1.8 lets in a lot more light than an f-stop of f/5.6.

The problem is that it’s much more complicated than that. The wider the aperture, the shallower the depth of field, meaning that the lower the f-stop, the less of the photo is in focus. That’s how people get those neat photos where the background is blurry and the dog is in focus (this concept is called bokeh). If you’re shooting from any kind of a distance, as we so often do with dogs, it becomes very tough to keep the whole dog in focus at a low f-stop.

So let’s recap:
Low f-stop= big opening= more light= small depth of field
High f-stop= small opening= less light= big depth of field

If you want to blur your background or focus on just part of your dog (as with a macro photo), use a low f-stop. If you want to shoot a fast moving subject with your background in focus, use a high f-stop.

This photo was taken at f/9 to keep the whole background in focus.

So what do you do if you’re shooting a moving dog in low light and you want your background in focus? The next setting you can control is your ISO, or the sensitivity of the camera sensor.

In film photography, ISO was determined by the film. Film was comprised of ‘grains’ of light sensitive material. The higher the ISO, the more ‘sensitive’ the sensor/film. Basically, the camera picks up more light with a higher ISO.

However, ISO should be the last setting to bump because the higher the ISO, the higher the ‘noise’ or ‘grain’ in the image.

A high ISO leads to a lot of noise, as seen in Mike’s jacket, skin, and jeans here.

Personally, I tend to shoot at 400 ISO as a default. It allows for a fast shutter speed in most light, without adding grain to the image. When dealing with still subjects in good light, I will drop the ISO further. When indoors, I bump it to 800. In truly atrocious lighting conditions, I will go all the way up to ISO 1600.

A common solution to low light situations is to use flash. This is something that I strongly advise against Most cameras have an in camera flash. Unless you’re using a dSLR with a diffuser attachment, don’t bother! In camera flashes create harsh, flat lighting, dramatic, distracting shadows, and, worst of all, red eye!

Nasty red-eye effect from in-camera flash.

If you are interested in shooting your pets indoors, your best bet is to invest in an external flash. As far as photography equipment goes, they are pretty affordable, and the difference is incredible. External flashes allow the photographer to control the angle of the flash (allowing the photographer to bounce light off the ceiling and walls instead of blinding the subject). They also make it possible to use more or less flash. Sometimes you only need a little extra light, and too much flash can ruin the photo.

For comparison, a photo taken with external flash. The lighting looks much more natural. (I know, I know, not a dog…)

With point and shoots, you’re better off just setting up ‘studio lighting’ by bringing more light sources into the room.

White Balance
The white balance of a camera is what gives photos their ‘tint’ or ‘hue’. The white balance can give a photo a ‘warm’ or ‘cool’ feeling. An improper white balance can shift an entire photo so that it looks slightly green or slightly pink or just… off.

The good news is that most modern cameras have a pretty good ‘auto white balance’, but it’s still a good idea to play with your individual camera and see what feel you like the best.

White balance varies from camera to camera. Canon cameras tend to have a ‘warm’ feel, while Nikons tend to lean toward the cool end of the spectrum. I tend to shoot with the ‘outdoor’ white balance on my Canon. I like the warm glow it gives my photos.

A cool photo, where the ‘whites’ look ‘blue’.

A warm photo, where the ‘whites’ look ‘golden’.

You can also set your white balance manually, but that’s a complex process that needs to be done continuously for good results. If you’re up to the challenge, the best advice I can give is to look it up in your owner’s manual.

Enough technical mumbo jumbo! Let’s talk about what all of this means for you. Now that you know about how all the different aspects work, let’s talk about what modes give you control over what settings. Most people shoot in automatic, which is the one mode I avoid no matter what.

Many cameras give you certain pre-programmed modes that you can play with. For example ‘portrait mode’ and ‘landscape mode’. These are all created using certain algorithms that prioritize what the camera makers think will be most important in those scenarios. In landscape mode, for example, the aperture needs to allow for a large depth of field. Portrait mode is designed with white balance in mind, so that skin tones look natural and flattering.

But the most important modes on your camera are the ‘priority’ modes. Let’s discuss them one by one.

My favorite mode, and the one I use most frequently when taking day to day photos of my dog, is P or ‘Program Mode’. P allows you to select certain settings without overwhelming you with the other options. The flash is off by default and you can select your ISO and white balance, rather than taking the pre-programmed options. The camera does the rest to create the best exposure in your given circumstances. You have the added option of choosing to over or under expose your image (if you’re going for a darker feel or you’re shooting a black subject, for example) and the camera adjusts accordingly. If you have no interest in worrying about all the settings, but want to step up from auto mode, this is your best bet.

Another option is ‘Shutter Priority’, frequently labeled ‘Tv’. This mode allows you to select your shutter speed (for example, fast for a running dog, or slow for an intentional blurred effect). The camera adjusts everything else to compensate and create the proper exposure.

Aperture Priority’ is the counter part, and is frequently labeled ‘Av’. As you can probably guess, Av allows you to select your f-stop and compensates with everything else. If you are looking to blur your background, or, alternately, want to ensure multiple dogs stay in focus, this is a good mode to try.

Once you get comfortable playing with all that, you can dive in and try to go full ‘Manual‘. As the name implies ‘M’ lets you pick all of your settings, completely from scratch. This mode produces the best results, but takes some multi-tasking and a lot of practice. It’s great for controlling all the tricky aspects of your photography, but is not good if you’re shooting in rapidly changing conditions or need to work fast to capture essential moments.

Your best bet is to really read your manual and experiment. My personal recommendations for dog photography, however, are ‘P’ or ‘Tv’.

(Quick Tip:
There are lots of other settings that  you can customize. One of the most important for shooting animals, especially in motion, is continuous shoot, which allows you to take multiple photos in a row by holding down the shutter button. This way you get a burst of photos and can pick the best pose when you’re done.)

There’s more to photography than just the camera, however, and there are a multitude of lenses to choose from. They range from affordable to insane and there are a lot of factors to keep in mind.

Lens length is measured in mm. The way I remember it is that 35mm is your standard lens, or what we see with our eyes. That means if you take a photo at 35mm it should match what you see with your eyes. Anything higher than that is a zoom lens. Anything lower than that is a wide angle. The down side to wide angles is that you have to get close to your subject and they have a bit of a ‘fish eye effect’. The down side to zoom lenses is that you have to back away from your subject and you get some distortion from the zoom, called pin cushion distortion. In both cases, the outside edges of the photo suffer from a little bit of distortion, as explained in this article.

As usual, these are just my personal preferences.

I think a zoom lens is a great idea. Getting some distance from your dogs is a great way to ensure that you don’t end up with nose prints and blurry close ups. It’s often easier to zoom in than compose a shot up close.

The other essential lens, especially if you’re competing in dog sports, is a lens with a low f-stop option. For example, I have a 50mm f1.8 lens that I use for shooting horse shows in indoor arenas. The problem of this lens is that it’s fixed zoom and I have to ‘zoom with my feet’ or crop photos afterwards (more on post processing in a later article!)

Regardless of what lens you get, it’s a good idea to be familiar with your strengths and weaknesses and plan around them.

Educating Yourself
And now for your homework! The best way to learn about settings is to browse photos you like and check out the EXIF info, aka the camera settings for the shot. Digital cameras ‘burn’ that information right onto the photos and there are many websites (deviantArt and Flickr for example) that make it easily accessible. Scrolling through this information can answer questions about how to get the look you’re seeking. The more photos you see and take, the better feel you’ll get for what tricks work!

An example of EXIF data (and now you know what it means!)

The ‘Kelsey Is Getting A Puppy’ Literary Review, Vol. 1

All of the sudden, my bookshelves have become overrun with puppy books. In my closet right now is a teeny life jacket and an even teenier collar, both of which I saw on sale and could not resist. In my Bow Wow Flix queue, the Silvia Trkman and Jean Donaldson DVDs are now jostling for space with videos about structure and socialization and sport foundations. There’s an old shelf in my laundry room waiting to be turned into an itty-bitty A-frame.

Futurepuppy is coming.

Futurepuppy is still a very theoretical dog: he is not even currently conceived, and once he is, he will not be coming home until April at the earliest. He is, however, an actual plan: his mama is my favorite dog-who-doesn’t-currently-live-in-my-house, his breeder is my favorite breeder, and we are both thrilled about the advent of him and his littermates. Because he’s a plan and not an actual dog yet, of course things could go awry: the breeding might not take, the litter might not have the puppy I want in it, a meteor could land on my town, who knows. But my life is beginning to open up for him, he’s beginning to take up space in my brain as well as real estate on my bookshelf, I’m starting to imagine what my life will feel like with a third dog in it, the part of my brain that enjoys planning for all contingencies is figuring out all the places we’re going to take him for socialization. And that makes him real, or at least realer than “I think I might like to get a puppy someday”, which is where I’ve been for the last few years.

I’m a person who is very committed to rescue and to the adoption of adult dogs; my own two dogs are shelter adoptees who I got as adults, and I cannot imagine loving any dogs more, nor can I imagine finding another dog who is more fascinating and fun than mine. Also, while I am VERY interested in health and temperament, I’ve never been a person who’s cared much about breed; I know that this puts me in the minority of dog people, but I don’t really have any breeds that I’m drawn to above all others. Personality traits? Absolutely. Breed? Eh. So the decision to get a) a puppy, b) a purebred puppy, c) a purebred puppy from a (fabulous, extremely reputable) breeder has not been an easy or a casual one for me. Someday, I will probably write a long and meandering post about how exactly I arrived at the decision, but it’s one that took me quite literally years to make and I still feel….complex about it.

The end result of all my wibbling is that I feel exceptionally responsible for doing well by this dog. If I am going to do this puppy thing, I am going to do it as right as I possibly can. My girls have a great, happy life now, but both were raised, not to put too fine a point on it, crappily, and I want to give my puppy the things that my girls deserved but did not get when they were little. I want Futurepuppy to be beautifully socialized and to grow up into a happy, brave, confident dog who moves through the world without fear. I want him to be strong and healthy and conditioned and comfortable in his body. While I’m doing my best to resist the set of expectations that come with labeling him my ‘performance puppy’, I’d love to compete with him (I have high hopes that he’ll be an agility and a flyball dog, but mostly I just want to do something sportsy with him in a serious way.) Above all, I don’t want to screw it up.

And thus, my bookshelf and my DVD queue and the growing list of Things To Definitely Do With The Puppy that’s beginning to take shape in my head. In the next few months, before Futurepuppy comes home, I want to soak up as much knowledge as I can: I know a fair bit, but there is always more to know, and new, cool books are being written all the time. And then I thought that all of this reading might be able to be more generally helpful, since maybe some of you might also be contemplating a puppy (and maybe you are a little less obsessive and freaked out about it then I am!) To that end, I’m going to start a little series I’m calling the Kelsey Is Getting A Puppy Literary Review: I’m going to read through my growing stack of puppy books, and then I’ll review/talk about them here. Here’s what’s on my agenda right now: Patricia McConnell’s The Puppy Primer, which I’m going to read in tandem with Ian Dunbar’s classics Before/After You Get Your Puppy. Next up, the puppy version of my all-time favorite dog training book: Leslie McDevitt’s Control Unleashed: the Puppy Program. Then, a couple of books on agility foundations, Pat Hastings’ book Structure in Action: The Makings of a Durable Dog, a book on nosework, and by then, I’m sure I’ll have some more on the list (note: experienced puppy people, please feel free to give me your suggestions for puppy lit in the comments!) My plan right now is to read ALL THE THINGS in the next couple of months and then take a couple of months to relax and deprogram so I can enjoy my new buddy’s puppyhood without feeling like I am doing everything wrong all of the time. But for now, I am in Serious Learning Mode. We’ll see how it goes!

Coming up: McConnell: The Puppy Primer, Dunbar: Before/After You Get Your Puppy.

Middle Child Molly

Rest assured, you will be seeing a lot of helpful training posts on this blog.  Interesting posts.  Heart warming posts about the love that Team Unruly has for their dogs.  This is NOT that post.

I have three dogs.  I love two of them.  But my Molly?  She is downright rotten.  And guess what?  She couldn’t care less!  Sure, she has her Canine Good Citizen certification.  Sure, just a month ago she walked two Rally Obedience legs with scores of 190+.  She is a gorgeous athlete.  A relentless charmer.  The reason that pitbulls are nicknamed “french kissers”.  That doesn’t change the fact that my Molly?  Is a bad girl.  Molly has way too many of my family and friends fooled.  So, please view these ten examples (of the one thousand that I could provide.) and I will set the record straight once and for all.

You talkin’ ’bout me?

1. In The Beginning…

Molly came from a shelter in Lancaster County, PA.  As I walked in the door, I saw a young couple tearfully surrendering a sweet widdle pitbull puppy.  They had adopted brother and sister, but couldn’t handle both puppies.  So the story goes.  I should have known then.  The rotten puppy was returned!  The deceit continued further when I asked to meet Molly and she quietly curled into my lap and sighed.  This was a complete scam.  Molly does not curl up and sigh.  She prefers to be galloping across the ceiling or backs of my couches.  Molly is so impolite that she even peed on the floor while I filled out the adoption papers.

2. Molly is a terrible house guest.

I don’t mean to compare.  Actually, I do.  When I take my other two dogs to visit someone, they are charming.  Social, playful, charming, perhaps begrudgingly taking the odd treat here or there, and NEVER acting like an unhousebroken hooligan.  Not Molly!  Molly will muscle homeowners off of their own couch.  Maybe send a lamp flying here or there.  And on one absolutely shameful visit to a very dear friend’s home…Molly ran into my friend’s bedroom and peed on her bed.  Why would any normal dog do that??  And of course she has peed on someone’s floor.  I say she is an expressive pee-er.  But really?  She is kind of a jerk.

Molly hollers at me for cruelly restraining her to a tree.

3. Molly is LOUD.

The Shivering Yips Video. << Go ahead.  Click that weird link.  When Molly does not get what she wants, she talks about it.  Loudly.  In this instance she wanted to pounce on a well behaved cattle dog and owner minding their own business.  Crate Molly at the agility building?  Forget it.  Tether Molly on a hike so that I can compose a photo?  Prepare for the Yips.  After a long drive to a hiking trail, I may want to leave Molly in the car so that I can use the bathroom before hiking.  OUTRAGE.


4. That Couch Issue.

We have a green couch in our “den” area.  It is not for people.  It is for Molly.  Just two nights ago, Molly was sprawled out on the couch while I had to lay

Oh, so cute. No co-snuggling, though!

on the L.L.Bean dog bed on the floor!  If the couch is full of humans, Molly will pace back and forth and stare.  She snorts and snuffles.  She searches for an angle in.  Then she will dive on top of the weakest of the human herd.  And heaven forbid that she cannot secure a spot on the couch and she has to resort to the terrible armchair or … not the dog bed.  And just go ahead and fall asleep on the green couch.  You will wake in the wee hours of the morning with a spoiled brindle pitbull on your chest.  Staring at you.  Either that, or you will find yourself slowly and quite literally pushed to the floor.  There is an eject button for the green couch, and it has four feet.


5. Rudeness to Siblings.

My corgi, Ein, has a personal bubble.  Seriously, you can almost see it shimmering around him while he walks.  Molly has no respect for bubbles, personal space, or other beings whatsoever.  Molly prefers to yank Ein around by his furry neck ruff.  And when that isn’t fun anymore, she enjoys body slamming my poor standard poodle, Perri.  Harmless game of chase?  No way.

No one likes a pool splasher!

Molly likes to spice it up, and by the end of her games, everyone ends up belly up with paws flailing in the air.  And Molly just waits for them to get back up so that she can do it all over again.

And there was that time that Molly blasted Ein in the back of the skull with a large tree branch that she was hurtling down the trail with.

6. Did I Mention Rude?

Molly is a dirty filthy dog humper.  She humps Perri, she humps her golden retriever cousin Everett, and she used to hump Ein before she became too tall.  But the worst of all?  If she is frustrated in agility class she humps ME.  And as though that isn’t bad enough, she might start playing tug of war with her leash or my sleeve.  All of this has resulted in a strict time out schedule and more intelligent clothing choices.  But really.  I hate to compare. (No I don’t.)  Do I have this problem with my other lovely dogs?  No!

7. The Ball.  Ball.  Ballballball.  BALL!BALL!BALL!

What is more relaxing than a nice game of fetch between owner and dog?  Not much.  With Molly, however, it is a life or death situation!  A military operation!  When the ball is thrown, any people or dogs in Molly’s path will be plowed over, aside, or away. (Just ask Ein the corgi.)  That is irritating enough.  But Molly cannot play fetch with a normal ball.  She chews the ball

A ball-crazed expression on the face of Bad Dog.

in mid-run so that it is broken down to pieces within five minutes of play.   It has to be a special Chuck-It Ultra Ball.

But it gets WORSE.  WORSE!  When Molly runs the ball to me, she drops it 20 feet ahead of me.  Or maybe where she picked it up.  Or maybe she loses it entirely.  She might go for a swim with her ball and leave it fly downstream.  But the end result is the same.  She eventually returns to me – WHY? – wanting me to throw the ball.  If I don’t throw it, she rushes me and jumps on me.  Then she licks her lips and snorts and jumps again.  THROW MY BALL!  And she is the imbecile that lost the ball in the first place! Oh, do I sound like a raving lunatic?  Sorry about that.

8. Molly eats stuff.

And if she doesn’t eat it, she rolls in it.  I’ve got the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline hanging on my fridge for a reason.  The short off-the-top-of-my-head-list: earthworm. possum poop.  deer poop. rabbit poop.  homeless guy poop (this is true!). dead fish.  dead cat.  dead rabbit.  dead everything.  deer heart.  deer entrails.  deer skin.  water filter.  cough drops. squeakers. compost pile. xylitol laced gum. any food item left unattended for 1/10th of a second.
Special Discussion 1/SQUEAKERS.  Let’s talk about squeakers.  Molly is not allowed to have squeaker toys.  And you know why?  Because she eats the squeakers, and they sit in her stomach.  And then all at once she does a System Purge and vomits at least five yellowed and foul smelling squeakers into some corner of my home.  Once she system purged on my foot while I was on the phone with the “Cable Guy”.  (this is also true!)

Special Discussion 2/FIRE PIT. My husband and I burn non-recyclable /

Molly roots through a fire pit on the Appalachian Trail.

compostable trash.  We have a nice little burn pit in our yard that doubles as a campfire.  If given the opportunity, Molly enjoys rooting through the charred leavings in search of morsels.  She also does this on Appalachian Trail hikes.  It is not uncommon to find campfire rings along the Trail and Molly never misses an irritating opportunity to snorfle through the ashes.  (Safety Disclaimer – Molly does not snorfle through anything that could burn that angelic face or terrible lips.)  Now, I HATE TO COMPARE.  But I enjoy that I don’t have to micro manage the other dogs to keep them out of the fire pit.  As always, Molly creates an extra chore.

9. Molly has a bad hind end.

Molly can clear a room with her farts.  She is famous for farting in my tiny Honda, when no escape is to be had.  Bonus if it is a freezing cold day and window lowering is not an option.  Her farts vary from loud and long to completely silent, and all paired with that same condescending expression that she always fixes me with.

And if that is not bad enough, Molly has a bum set of anal glands.  On a normal dog, the anal glands will express with normal bowel movement.  Since Molly is completely disgusting, she has to express her anal glands manually by licking them.  This often happens in the car, or on the couch, or in front of company.  Sharing makes friends, right?  And the only thing that smells worse than a Molly Fart is a Molly Anal Gland Expression.  YUCK.

10. Mind Control.

The worst part of all is that even though Molly is rotten?  Everyone loves her.  And they act like *I* am the one who is out of my mind.

My sister is Molly’s self-proclaimed lawyer. (to defend her of all naughty things that dear Molly could never have done.) My friend wants to write a story book about her.  My husband’s work clients invite her into their homes and give her snacks.  And my husband is the worst lost-cause Molly lover that there ever was.

Here is where I sum it all up by saying that I really do love Molly. (sometimes.)  That I accept the naughty with the good. (ugh!)  That she is both a challenge and a joy to train and live with. (argh!) That she makes me laugh more than any other dog. (bitter laughter.) That I am completely proud of her strength, independence and personality. (gag.) That I have a million fond memories for every ten bad ones.  That I adore my bad, smelly Molly-Moo.

Mind Control is clearly at work here. I don’t love this dog!



Team Unruly Reads: Show Dog (Josh Dean)

Josh Dean (author) poses with Jack (star)

Welcome to Round Two of Team Unruly Reads, TU’s semi-monthly virtual book club where we get together to talk about dog-themed books. This month, we’re reading Show Dog: The Charmed Life and Trying Times of a Near-Perfect Purebred. We’ll be keeping this post open for comments through Monday, 3 December: we hope that’s just enough time for a fun, easy-to-follow discussion that gives us enough time to get into things but doesn’t stretch on forever.

As before, the floor is open for you to talk about anything you’d like to bring up about the book. Likes, dislikes, interesting bits, open-mouthed gawking at some of the intra-breed bad behavior, whatever you’d like!

If you’re stuck for what to talk about, here are a couple of our thoughts that might spark your own ideas:

  • Dean doesn’t hide the fact that while he’s a big fan of dogs, he’s an outsider to both dog shows and the larger world of Dog People. He does, however, still clearly have dogs on the brain: he’s been writing an occasional dog-based blog since the publication of the book. In the blog, he writes “I’m often asked to explain how I, a guy who has written mostly about people and sports, came to write about dog shows. I tend to answer that a) you can’t have dog shows without people, and a book about dog shows is as much about people as it is about dogs, and b) many would argue that dog showing is a sport, and I felt pretty confident I could cover it in that way. And I did. Sort of….[O]ne of the things that scared me most putting it out there into the world was that dog show people might find it overly simplistic, or somehow wrong.”

So first, people who show: did he get it right? And second, for the rest of us: did you think the fact that the book was authored by a non-Dog Person helped it? Hurt it? Something in between?

Team Jack: (l) Kimberly Smith, Jack’s owner, (r) Kerry Kirtley, Jack’s breeder (far right: Jack)

More Team Jack: Heather Bremmer, Jack’s primary handler (r: Jack)

  • The relationship between humans and dogs is always an important factor in books like these, and in a situation like Jack’s (where he’s got a whole bunch of really important humans in his life), it’s even more multi-dimensional.  For me, one of the most interesting part of Show Dog was the (sometimes tense) interactions between Kimberly (Jack’s owner), Heather (Jack’s handler) and Kerry (Jack’s breeder). While they all wanted him to win, they each had their own specific goals for him that the others didn’t share, and I get the sense they had pretty different methods for achieving those goals. What did you think about this?

Frisbeeeeeeee! (don’t tell Heather)

  • Of course, in a perfect world, all show dogs are beloved family pets first and foremost; however, as the occasional tension between Kimberly and Heather (over Frisbee, Jack’s condition, Jack’s manners and so on) indicated, sometimes a dog’s career as a pet can be a little at odds with their career as a show dog.  Thoughts on this? What about dogs who are involved in other kinds of performance venues (sports, service, different kinds of work, etc)? Is it possible for dogs to comfortably wear multiple hats (service dog during the day, lazy buddy playing with the kids at night) or do Dogs With Jobs have to sacrifice a ‘normal’ life?

Vendor area at the Peninsula Dog Fanciers’ Club All-Breed Dog Show

  • As I do not live under a rock, I was aware that a bunch of money flows through dog shows, but BOY does Show Dog shine a light on that! From the show vendors to the entry fees to the, um, “collection services” to the rates for professional handlers to the people who are jetting between shows in their private planes, it seems pretty clear that showing dogs (especially at the higher levels) is not an inexpensive hobby to participate in.
  • On this same note, Dean writes a lot about the growing professionalization of dog shows, particularly the near-ubiquity of professional handlers (rather than owner-handlers). Of course, this dovetails with a growing trend towards specialists/away from amateurs in many, many hobbies and pastimes (don’t believe me? Check out Stefan Fatsis’s Word Freak, about the competitive Scrabble circuit, and Sam Walker’s Fantasyland about an especially ruthless fantasy baseball league made up of fantasy baseball professionals (which, among other things, spawned Nate Silver). Anyway, as a current non-show person who is vaguely interested in maybe showing someday, I found this all rather terrifying! Do you feel the same, non-show people? And show people, what do you think? Are Dean’s concerns overblown here?

There is so, so much more to talk about, but that’ll hopefully get you started! In the meantime, I will leave you with an excellent video of Jack’s most recent litter of puppies, with book co-star, Hallie B.

[Wait, one more thing: anyone wanna take bets on how long it'll be before Josh Dean gets a dog?]