What’s Your Dog’s Walk Profile?

dog training, dogs, humor

Each of my dogs has a distinct personality, even when confined to a leash

Fayston, Vermont. Despite the fact that spring seems slow in coming this year, my dogs and I are enjoying more time outside now that the snow is (mostly) melted. I am looking forward to walking on the hiking trails and public paths once those ways are dry enough for foot traffic. Meanwhile, we are meandering out on the roads, and I have noticed that each of my dogs exhibits at least one “walk profile” type when on a leash. Others have told me about their dogs’ distinct behavior while leash walking.

Recently, I devised a set of “walk profiles” to categorize dog behavior while on a leash.  The profiles are not exclusive to each other – dogs may show characteristics from more than one profile. Dogs may also morph from one category into another completely. Training is the biggest variable, but weather may also have a role in which behavior is exhibited. Equipment such as a special harness or lead also plays a part in behavior.

What type of “walker” is your dog?

  1. The Investigator. This dog loves to sniff EVERYTHING, even if the walk is on the same route taken earlier in the day. All of the day’s news is contained in the grass, but it takes time to weed out the gossip from the important stuff. This dog is thorough and curious as well as social. Perhaps even a little stubborn… Motivating to move along can be a challenge.
  2. The Fire Chief. Works a little faster than the Investigator, but is sure to put out each inflammatory remark with his own stream. The Fire Chief boasts an amazing reservoir to ensure coverage.
  3. The Motion Detector. Chases blowing leaves, butterflies, birds, and moving squirrels, the Motion Detector is energetic and enthusiastic. The Motion Detector needs frequent “SIT” time-outs to collect herself while on a leash. Can be difficult to handle in a wind gust.
  4. The Collector. Souvenirs of every walk line the driveway: sticks, dropped rotten apples, and even big branches are picked up and carried by the Collector during the walk and dropped once back at home. Sometimes these items are held in the mouth while in Motion Detector mode (see above). A collected item often serves as a pacifier. The Collector is known to carry multiple items at the same time. Caution: Large collected items can become a club – “drop it” is a good command to avoid being hit behind the knees with a large stick.
  5. The Tugboat. Harnessing the power of this type of walker is necessary, and with training, the Tugboat can become a well-mannered Pleasure Cruiser. The Tugboat is out in front, excited at being outside and stimulated by all he sees. His specialty is pulling arms: Avoid injury by using a no-pull harness/lead and engaging the tugboat in training to stop his pulling.
  6. The Hunter. Similar to the Motion Detector, but instead of chasing movement, the Hunter is scenting rodents. Squirrels, chipmunks, and gophers better beware if the Hunter is off-leash. The Hunter type is often paired with the Tugboat type, so a harness and training help keep hunting season closed during leash walks.
  7. The Pleasure Cruiser. With training and frequent positive reinforcement, this is the height of evolved dog walk behavior. The Cruiser is focused on his or her handler, does not pull or lurch or jump, and makes exploring the neighborhood a joy of companionship. Each of my dogs has flirted with this walk type, but none has committed fully to it. Yet. Our pursuit of Cruiser-ability is on-going.

What type of walker is your dog? Do you have any other types in your house? Please leave a comment!

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Picture perfect: Tips for taking dog portraits

dogs, How-to, Uncategorized
RS_welcoming committee 2017

Lucy, Charlie Brown, and Linus sit for a portrait outside my front door. This “welcome mat” was shot using my iPhone.

This post is written in response to the requests I’ve received for tips on photographing dogs. Photography, in general, is subject about which A LOT has been written, so I’m going to hit on quick and simple ideas that I’ve found useful with my dogs. I’ll “focus” on these areas: dog wrangling, light, composition, equipment, and editing for taking dog portraits.

1. Dog wrangling. 

linus portrait 2017

Linus is staring at the treat in my hand. Ths “stay” command allows a few seconds to focus and press the shutter a few times so I can choose the image I want.  Yes, Linus enjoyed the treat!

Use basic commands of “sit,” “stay” and “come” when taking dog photos. Photo sessions double as training sessions! I have noticed an improvement in my dogs’ response to “stay” since I’ve been taking more frequent squad photos. When Linus sees the camera, he will sit before I even give the command. Reward and praise – and be patient.

 

RS_CB_Foggy forest

Charlie on a foggy morning walk.  I liked the mystery created by the fog but had to lighten up the image with editing to see Charlie a bit better.

2. Light. Take note of the light source and light direction before you start shooting. Light is important for evoking emotion and capturing details. The topic of light in photography is too broad to discuss in depth here. However, here are a few thoughts:

  • Consider what you’re trying to shoot then find the right light. I prefer natural light, whether outside or inside next to a window. Early morning and late afternoon provide better light than full sun midday when shadows will be strong and could make your image striped or dappled. If the sun is bright, move into the shade for even light and no squinting. Shade on a light-colored sidewalk or on sand will yield more true colors than shade cast by bushes on the grass, which will give a greenish cast.
  • Bright light will better define the action at high shutter speeds for action shots.
  • Fog and mist create drama.
  • Generally, you will need more light to photograph a dark colored dog like my Charlie Brown than you will need for a light colored dog like Lucy or Linus.
RS_B&W_sleeping linus

Linus, giving me the eye. Black & white shows texture well.  Also, note the circular (triangular?) composition of the dog’s body around the shadow.

Optional exercise: Try converting your images to black and white and discover the lessons in contrast and texture to be learned from black and white photography. Also, experiment with apps (some of my favorites are listed under the equipment heading) and their settings and filters to figure out what you like the best in your images.

3. Composition, or how the viewer’s eye moves around the image, is another topic too broad for this post to really cover well. That said, the viewer’s eye will be attracted to the lightest spot (usually), so pick a focal point that is light, such as the eyes.

  • Before you start, think about what emotion you’re trying to show or what the story is you’re telling – your focus, so to speak. Also, take the time to look at your surroundings with your photo in mind. An uncluttered background puts the attention on your subject for a classic portrait. If you are shooting a landscape, have your dog be the focal point for an interesting composition.
  • For a basic portrait, focus on the dog’s eyes.
  • Shoot with the camera at dog-eye level.  This tip is also useful when shooting human subjects.  Also, try holding the camera lower than your subject or directly above for a different view – play with the angles!

    RS_Lucy portrait in leaves_2017

    Lucy poses during a recent walk in the woods. I called her name to get her attention as I hit the shutter.  She was above me on a rock ledge so I could stand when I shot the image. This was shot with my iPhone.

  • Hold a treat behind or above the lens so the dogs look directly into the camera. Or make a noise to attract their attention to you, behind the camera, for a view of the subject’s face. Profile or 3/4 views also make lovely portraits, so please don’t think there is only one right way. Photos of paws, or a nose, or even a tongue tell a story about personality.
  • Pay attention to shadows and reflections – they can really enhance your composition or detract by fighting for attention with your subject.

4. Equipment: Smartphones work just fine! Use what you have, and learn how to use it. If you’re like me, the camera always in your pocket is your smartphone. The newer smartphones have good cameras, so invest a little time in learning how to use the camera and take advantage of the extra features available with apps. While my Canon 7D DSLR takes awesome photos, it’s not always convenient to carry. I tend to leave it at home when I go out on a hike and use my iPhone.

Remember, with a smartphone’s camera on (or open), tap on the area you want to be in focus. The smartphone camera will want to focus on the closest object, which on a dog’s face is the nose, so tapping on the eyes on the screen will tell the camera otherwise.

With a few apps, shutter speed and aperture can be set to better control a smartphone’s camera. These two sets of photography numbers do two different things.

RS_Lucy on the ball

Lucy is frozen in mid-air by setting my iPhone’s shutter speed to 1/1000 using the CameraPlus Pro app.  The morning was dark, so the image is dark, even after editing.

  • Shutter speed: the larger the number, the crisper – or more frozen – the action will be. 1/1000 freezes Lucy’s hair mid-leap. A setting this high works best in bright light.
  • Aperture: Or the f-stop number; the smaller the number (portraits), the more blurry the background will be. The larger the number, the more will be in focus (landscapes). Start with setting either the shutter speed or the aperture leaving whichever you don’t choose on “auto” until you become more comfortable with the settings.
  • Steady the camera. Make yourself into a tripod: Decrease camera-shake by holding or leaning on something as you hit the shutter or putting your camera on something. Make sure your setting for stabilization is “on.” Exhale as you hit the shutter.

Some of my favorite apps for my iPhone include Camera Pro Plus (costs a few dollars, but it’s great for setting shutter speed and easy editing), Slow Shutter (for low light and long exposures), and PicsArt (great for adding text or fun filters). I also use Photoshop.

5. Editing apps can really make a difference between a good image and a great one, and apps only take a few seconds to use. While editing tools cannot un-blur a blurry image, they can improve lighting, lighten up shadows, boost color, remove unwanted objects or even the entire background, and crop to improve the composition. Filters on apps can change the mood with a single tap.

Different apps offer different filters and some of my favorites are on the Photoshop Express app. PicsArt has filters that “convert” your photo into a “painting.” The Camera Plus Pro app has a wonderful Clarity Pro feature, under “The Lab” tab, which allows one to adjust the amount of intensity and vibrancy not offered on the free version. The free clarity feature gives results that are a bit overdone for my taste, but try it to see for yourself before you spend money on the Pro version. (I don’t receive any compensation from these app mentions.)

 

RS_Charlie eyes on it

Charlie Brown focuses on the treat. I’ve focused the camera on his eyes to better show his expression. This was shot with my Canon 7D.

6. Have fun! The most important thing is to have fun with your dog. During training time, have your camera handy but keep the sessions short. If you want a big family portrait, practice often with your dog before you gather the people.  Take a walk, and take some photos along the way.  Your dog will love the walk – and the extra attention – and you’ll be taking wonderful photos to show off your beloved pooch!

 

Squad coaching

Uncategorized
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The Squad: Lucy, Charlie Brown, and Linus

Fayston, Vermont. Linus can’t catch. He becomes so excited at the thought that food is coming his way that he misses the toss. Every time. Unless he’s lucky. His consistency in missing is remarkable.

linus-in-pursuit-of-happiness

Linus on the hunt.

On New Year’s Eve, we took a short romp in the woods after I came home from a day of teaching skiing.  Once inside, I rewarded each dog with a small dog cookie.  Linus missed the tossed treat, as usual. The treat bounced off his nose, sailed through the air then slid across the floor coming to rest underneath the refrigerator. Linus excitedly tried to pry it loose as I watched, amused. Then I thought, what if Linus becomes stuck, too?  Dr. Roy would have another story to tell, but I’m sure I won’t like the bill. I reached into the cookie jar and pushed another cookie across the floor for Linus, which he hurriedly tracked down and gobbled up.

Meanwhile, Charlie Brown took Linus’ place at the refrigerator, trying to dislodge the cookie. After a few futile seconds, Charlie stopped. He sat down and looked up at me. “Can you help, please,” said his large thought bubble. I knelt down, removed the stuck treat, and handed it to Charlie.

Lucy stood by me, watching. Lucy is my star fielder. She catches everything tossed her way. Lucy is just as thrilled to catch a snowball as a carrot. Her movements are athletic and acrobatic: She seems to simply enjoy leaping. She radiates pure joy when she shags anything thrown for her.

I thought of how each of my dogs approaches a problem differently and the success of each technique. With the new calendar year beginning, I’ve been reflecting and planning. I also begin a new job this week. A lot of new things will be tossed my way.

Linus has shown me that it is exciting to be goal-oriented, but to be successful, one needs to slow down a bit. And, sometimes one needs a second chance. Charlie pointed out that it’s o.k. to ask for help after giving the task a good try.

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Lucy shagging a snowball.

As for Lucy, she reminds me to enjoy the leaping.

Special thanks to Lisa Loomis and The Valley Reporter for the lovely profile article about wagmorevt.com in the December 28, 2016, issue. ICYMI, read the article by clicking here: The Valley’s own dog blog

Following the thread: Special Mother’s Day Edition

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Slightly off-topic from Fayston, VT. For Mother’s Day, I bought myself a new sewing machine. Fashion frustration has brought me back to the sewing circle. Sometimes my favorite Carhartt cargo shorts are, well, too casual. Jeans are warm in the summer. I’ve been looking for a simple, comfortable shift dress that looks presentable at work yet withstands the daily mess that my life produces, and – this is very important – has pockets for my lens cap and dog treats.

If the story sounds a bit familiar so far, it’s because it’s similar to how Lilly Pulitzer first started. The company that bears her name is a long way from Lilly’s first simple dresses that she made to wear at her juice stand. Today’s Lilly is too neon, too short, too low, too much lace, and too expensive for every day, dog-slobber-and-muddy-paws-wear. I’ve trolled eBay, etc, for old school, pre-neon no-lace Lilly that someone discovered unworn in the back of a closet, with a couple of great finds but a whole lot of yuck. Then I googled “lilly shift dress pattern.” BINGO. My frustration is shared, I found.

I learned to sew from my mom, who made adorable dresses for me when I was little. Except that I preferred pants. She also made these really cute bean bag frogs, which she would sew for each of her kindergarten students. I started as a helper in the frog factory. Over the years, she made a few frogs for me, too. I still have my frogs.

As a teenager, I sewed a few things I actually wore. I remember a particular skirt I made that I loved, but it almost gave me detention. My prep school dress code specified skirt length, and I made it to spec. The dean was not so sure. He stood me against the wall and measured my skirt, from waist to hem. I didn’t gloat, but a sly smile crossed my lips as I went almost skipping to my next class.

I should also thank my step-mom for patiently letting me invade her sewing room to make a formal dress when I was in college. I remember that it was a royal blue dress and blue stuff went everywhere in that room. I’m really sorry for the mess I made, still.

Fast forward, I sewed curtains for my newborn’s room. On the last panel, I broke my machine. He’s now finishing his first year in college. Sewing machines have become less expensive, lighter, and computerized. I think I’ll start with a bag, then perhaps move onto a jacket for short-coated Linus, as he’s cold in the winter. I found some great polar fleece fabric that would look great on you, buddy. Looking at all the fabric, I can see why quilting is so popular.

I’ll eventually tackle that dress.

Thank you to moms everywhere for their loving patience and guidance. It does stay with us, always.