Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Puparazzi: Taking action photographs of your dog

Even an expressive, jet black dog like Wilson takes a great photo
with the right lighting and camera angle.

I’m pretty excited - I bought a new camera last week – the main reason – to take doggie photos. I love taking pictures of happy dogs – and people tend to like my photos too, so here are a few of my learn-as-I-go tips. I’m a point-and-shoot kind of gal, so this is about what you're shooting, not how to use your camera. Don’t expect anything that’ll help you set your aperture and IS0 – you’re on your own for the technical stuff.

Most photos need three basic ingredients – a happy dog, a pretty location and sunshine – with you being on the right spot to focus the shot. These tips work really well for black dogs, who are sometimes more difficult to photograph.

Start with one happy dog. You are their everything – they watch you, they come to you for treats, hugs and to know that their world is safe. Know what your dog loves – treats, running, balls, toys, belly rubs – and work with it. If they like to play chase, play chase. And on the flip side, watch for hackles up or calming signals that tell you your dog isn’t happy – ears back, lip licking without you luring with a treat, yawning, etc. If you see any of that, first focus on calming your dog to make them happy, then try the photo thing much later. Use every moment – even photo taking – to reinforce training by rewarding good behaviours such as coming and sitting, and by completely ignoring and walking away from any undesirable behaviours such as jumping and barking.

Pick your location and set up your background. Look at your environment and pick a background for your photo. In our kennel yard, I like “framing” the dogs with grass, trees and fields in the background, rather than the building and parking lot. By doing that, the dog is the main topic in the photo. Watch for distractions too. In my yard, if I take the photo from the wrong angle, it looks like a tree is growing out of the dog’s head – like antlers.

It could have been a great photo of Bailey,
but there's a horrible tree growing out of her head!

Use sunshine as your helper.
For best results, the sun should be to your back or side. Because it creates dark shadows on their face, never face the sun when taking your dog’s photo. I find that early or late in the day creates the nicest facial shadows. Photographs taken at mid-day or just before dusk can have some odd lighting and cast some unflattering shadows. Watch how your own shadow enters the photograph. I’ve got countless images where my own shadow looks like a looming zombie attacking the poor dog! Taking photos on cloudy days is OK, but never as good as on a sunny one.

Be on your dog’s level. My best action photos are where I’m with the dog on their level – where I squat, sit or even lay down on the ground. After their initial energy burst, most dogs tend to come looking for you– they want to be with you. When you’re on their level, you catch the best facial expressions. For your own safety, it's best to always pay full attention to your dog when they're enjoying any off-leash freedom. Adolescent dogs in particular can get carried away and plow into you - especially if you're down at their level - so it's best that you always know where they are and keep an agile, ready-to-go-in-any-direction stance (and duck and hide your head).

My two typical photos are running dog and sitting pretty.

For running dog photos, simply photograph them enjoying their run. Another way to get interesting expressions is to walk with your dog, and when they’re not paying attention run in the opposite direction (towards the sun), turn around quickly, then snap another photo of them running towards you.

Lacey is my little darling who always comes running to me.

For sitting pretty photographs, you need treats or something they love - like a ball. Once the dog has had a bunch of fun, reward them for sitting with a couple of treats, then hold a treat by the camera lens. Voila – you’ve got them posing for their picture.

Buddy sits pretty for a tasty duck jerky treat.

Focus the shot.
Famous hockey player Wayne Gretzky skated to where the puck was going (rather than to where it was) … photographing dogs is a lot like that. Watch your dog’s movement, then aim and focus your camera where you think they’ll run – rather than to where they are. When your dog runs through that spot, click, you’ve got them. Trying to catch up to your dog to focus while your dog is running usually results in a blur.

Getting a great shot of Ashley is all about
anticipating where the dog is going, not where she is.

Finally, don’t get fixated. Have some fun, take a few photos, then put the camera away and have more fun. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t get that perfect shot – after all, it’s about being with and enjoying your dog – and tomorrow is another day.

If you’ve got any other helpful tips, please share – I’d love to hear about them.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Feeding raw food: Dogs are what they eat

Nelson is fully powered by raw. He really loves bison, beef and chicken – all served up pink and bloody. Many “dog people” are really familiar with the raw diet, but for some pet people, this is a totally new concept.

Deciding what to feed your pet is a lot like deciding what to feed yourself - you can live on cheeseburgers and fries, pre-packaged frozen foods, vitamin enriched home-made granola, something in-between or combinations. For all of these options, you are making choices between nutrition, convenience and cost. And - you feel different depending on the diet you choose – so does your dog!

Why people choose raw

Packaged pet food came out in the mid 1900’s to get rid of food processing plant by-products. Since then, pet food manufacturers have done a great job telling you you can’t feed your dog “people food”. Other than a few food items that are toxic to dogs, there’s no difference between healthy people food and healthy dog food, other than some commercial dogs foods are made with sub-standard ingredients and additives of questionable health value put together in non-human grade processing plants.

You may have heard about a BARF diet. That phrase, coined by veterinarian Dr. Ian Billinghurst, stands for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food, or Bones And Raw Food.
With a raw diet, your dog eats natural, human-grade foods with zero additives, preservatives, and unhealthy fillers. With raw, dogs are typically very enthusiastic about meal-time. You should notice improved overall health and vitality, better stools (less of them, and they’re not stinky), a shiny coat, and healthy white teeth. After switching to raw, many dogs with chronic skin rashes, hot spots and ear infections, see noticeable improvements.

However, not all veterinarians agree that the raw diet is healthy or safe. Some love it, some hate it – so depending on your vet, you’ll get different recommendations. Some people worry about getting sick from handling raw food – the key there is to handle your dog’s food in the same way that you handle raw meat you prepare for yourself.

Choices include ingredients, grain or grain-free, and fresh or processed

  • Ingredients

A typical raw food diet includes muscle meat or fish (chicken, beef, turkey, bison, etc. - the same stuff you eat), organ meat (liver, kidney, heart, gizzards, and such), bones, eggs, and fruit and vegetables (or green tripe). Their diet may also include supplements such as plain yogurt and/or digestive enzymes, and various oils like fish or canola. The key to a raw diet is that to retain all of its health benefits, meat and bones are not cooked or processed. Vegetables are only slightly cooked.

  • Grain-free diet

Purist BARFers don’t feed grains – anything made with corn, wheat, rice, etc. Many believe that our cute little biological wolves can’t process grains, believing they're the cause of so many of our dogs' serious modern-day health issues.

  • Fresh or processed

Regardless of if you choose raw and/or grain-free, you can also either buy pre-mixed foods or make your own. For convenience sake, you can purchase pre-formed raw patties or bulk meat blocks already mixed with fruits and vegetables. Conversely, you can assemble your own ingredients. By buying inexpensive human-grade chicken necks and backs and beef liver from your grocery store, asking for dog bones at your local butcher shop, and serving left-over and over-ripe fruits and vegetables, you can create a raw buffet your dog will love. Remember that your dog is an omnivore, not a carnivore, so it’s important to feed more than meat - fruits and veggies too.

If you want to improve the quality of your dog’s diet and you’re a bit squeamish about the whole raw thing, pop these natural ingredients into a slow cooker (except the bones – never serve cooked bones) and voila – holistic canine stew – freeze it in individual packages and Fido is set for the week.

This yummy doggie supper includes a raw beef patty, an egg including shell, and fruit and vegetable mush of bananas, mixed berries, brussel sprouts and broccoli, with two salmon oil capsules.

Tips to go raw:

  • The easiest way to start is buy quick-and-easy pre-packaged raw in either patties or bulk. Three very knowledgeable and very reputable local pet food retailers that sell pre-packaged raw pet foods are: Fido and Felix Foods, Metro Pet Market and Pawsitively Purrfect.
  • Provide a variety of meat sources. Buy chicken necks and backs, and serve them to your dog whole. Check what’s on sale at your supermarket, then buy it in bulk. Know of any friends who hunt? – offer to take their left-over parts.
  • Serve in-season fruits and vegetables. For example, in the spring provide steamed spinach with over-ripe bananas, and in the fall, zucchini with ripe tomatoes. Make it easy by saving your family’s left-over fruits and veges for Fido.
  • Serve organ meat such as beef liver or heart at least once per week. (My own dogs hate pork liver. They won't eat it.)
  • Ask your favourite butcher to cut up a beef knuckle bone into separate servings. Replace a couple of meals each week with bone (it’s not in addition to supper, it’s in place of supper).
  • Serve Fido your family’s left-overs, just make sure to exclude toxic foods like onions and grapes.
  • Toss a whole raw egg in every couple of days.
  • Add a dollop of plain, unsweetened yogurt and splash of canola oil to each meal.

The goal for your dog’s diet is to provide energy and increase their health and vitality. Do what works for your dog, and don’t stick to one approach if it’s obviously not working. If your dog shows any signs of not being well, talk with your vet – some issues can be diet related.

PS Hey Booberdog, hopefully this post helps Nelson not be jealous `,:3