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Taking Better Photos of My Dogs

Our photos are not our stories, but they are invaluable tools in telling our stories. Better photos help us tell better stories.

I don’t make specific New Year’s resolutions, but each January I like to check in on my continuing resolution to be a better photographer.

In January of 2012 I was armed with a simple point-and-shoot camera. My entire knowledge of photography was summed up in the camera name. I knew how to point the camera and I knew how to press the shutter

I almost exclusively left the camera in “auto” mode. So my growth as a photographer was limited to understanding better framing and better lighting

In 2013 I bought a new camera and passed along my old one to Eko. The above shot was taken with me new camera as I fiddled with settings I didn’t understand

2013 was a “one step backward, two steps forward” year as I tried to get the hang of aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings. I’ve never taken so many horrible photos and I’ve never learned so much

This photo is from Jan. 2014 and I think exemplifies the progress from the previous year. Not only did I have a much better understanding of my camera, I also began to edit my photos in Adobe Lightroom

My low-light photos transitioned from dark/blurry messes to sharper/better exposed shots 

In January 2015, I once again upgraded my camera. This time with a much better understanding of what I was doing. Lots of trips to the beach helped me refine my action photography skills

I spent more time last year studying focal lenses and shooting techniques in order to stretch my knowledge and improve my photos

And here’s a shot from January 2016. It’s far from perfect, but between the photo and the editing, I think it captures the sum of my growth

In 2016 the plan is the same, keep stretching to get better!

Luckily I have a couple willing assistants to help me with the cause

Photography can be seriously daunting, but by taking small steps I’ve managed to go from a total neophyte to a practiced-amateur. All while spending quality time with my dogs. Not a bad deal!

If your looking to take better photos of your dogs, regardless of camera or skill level, I highly recommend you check out this quick guide. It’s a great starting resource.

I still have a long way to go on my journey to take better photos. But I have received a lot of help along the way so I am always eager to pay it forward.

If you have any questions about the basics of (dog) photography just let me know in the comments. Also, if you have any good resources for dog photography please share those as well. I’m always looking to learn more. Thanks!

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Penny’s Home!

I dropped Penny at the vet yesterday morning around 8:30 am for pre-op care for her spay. Around noon I got a call from the vet.

“I’M ON MY WAY!” I said, bombing down my apartment steps.

“…uh, the surgery hasn’t started, we’re just calling to double check Penny is microchipped…”

Ok, so maybe I was a tad anxious to go get my girl. It seemed like an eternity had passed when I finally got the call at 5pm that the surgery went well and Penny was doing just fine.

At the vet’s office, a groggy Penny used up all her energy burying herself in my lap and wagging her tail at somewhere near the speed of sound.

Back at home, we had a cuddle pile for our brave patient

As expected, Penny conked out hard 

This morning I found the pups curled up like this. Penny had 1.75 beds and Eko had 0.25 beds. Eko was kind enough to let the little patient have whatever she wanted

It’s been a while since I’ve had a pup have surgery, so I was surprised when Penny didn’t come home with a cone. (Wish I had known that before I went and bought markers/stickers to decorate…)

I’m not sure if the vet thinks Penny needs to catch some z’s on a flight, or maybe the vet wanted Penny to have a flotation device in the event my apartment crashes into Lake Michigan? But with her fancy post-op collar, Penny is prepared for either scenario.

Penny was understandably even more confused about it that I was

But you can call me Willy Wonka because I was giving out treats left and right 

“I still don’t know what this thing on my neck is, but as long as the treats keep coming, I don’t care.”

Thanks to Dr. Baker and the awesome team at Blum Animal Hospital, Penny is safe and sound. We here at the Marking Our Territory recovery clinic are going to make sure the little troublemaker is back on her paws in no time.

And thanks to everyone who commented on yesterday’s post. The comments definitely helped keep my worried mind from wandering too far!

A Heartbreaking Canine Love Story

On account of my wedding, there’s been plenty of joyful posts about love recently. Today I want to share a heartbreaking, but equally profound lesson I recently learned about love.

Last week I took the pups to the vet for a Canine Influenza booster. Unfortunately the vaccine was formulated for a different strain than the one currently affecting Chicago, Indiana, Wisconsin and the Midwest. But since there’s some chance of cross-protection we went ahead with the shots. Eko and Penny are thankfully both still healthy and happy.

While waiting at the vet, Eko and Penny were enamored with a beautiful Pyrenees-mix pup

The woman with the puppy told me she just rescued him the weekend before from a shelter in Kansas City. While we spoke, the sweet/shy puppy jumped into the woman’s lap for a big cuddle. The moment brought a flood of memories back to me about my first days with a new dog.

There’s excitement

But there’s also plenty of nervousness

You worry about the pup and hope they are healthy and promise to take care of them when they’re not

Then there’s the joy of watching a dog become your dog, a loyal and loving companion

In that one cuddle I saw all those emotions in that woman, and I saw all the love the rescued pup already had for her. But I also saw something else – a deep pain. Unprompted, the woman told me her healthy, five-year-old dog had just died a few weeks prior from complications from Canine Influenza.

The woman picked up her dog from boarding after a short vacation. The next day the dog was lethargic. Despite rushing him to the vet, the dog didn’t make it.

I nearly burst into tears when I heard the story, so I don’t know how she held it together. I suspect it had something to do with the loving puppy she held in her lap. “I feel like I can just now start talking about it,” the woman said while holding the rescue tight.

Of course, it was the pup who had come to rescue this woman. It’s an old turn of phrase, but it never seemed more apt to me then in that moment. To have your heart ripped out and to then find the courage to risk it anew is to teach a powerful lesson about how we should live.

My teachers

The woman and I only spoke briefly, but the moment was so tragic, uplifting, sad, hopeful, broken and perfect. There are few better instructors in love, loss and humanity than our dogs. Now please excuse me while I go give my two a big hug.

These Pups Have Some Spring

Break out your sunscreen and beach umbrellas, it was 55 degrees here in Chicago yesterday! As spring comes to life so too does the city and its people. The thaw noticeably improves everyone’s attitude with the promise of brighter days ahead.

Spring is not just for people though. The sun charged my solar powered pups and had them looking like a couple of springs bouncing around the beach.Montrose Dog Beach, Chicago, blog,  marking our territory, rhodesian ridgeback

Eko leaped and bounded like Superman

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And Penny only occasionally touched the ground

Spring is all about new beginnings and we got to witness a wonderful one. For the very first time, my brother brought Doc (his eight year-old adopted pointer) to the beach. It was glorious.

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Doc tore across the beach with the excitement of a young puppy

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Doc and Penny kicked up their paws and blew their ears back

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It was a beautiful whirlwind of sand and smiles

After playing with Penny, Doc learned a very important lesson – how to avoid Penny!

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Step 1: Hide with Eko near a human while Penny finds a new target

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Step 2: Relax and enjoy watching another pup try to keep up with Penny

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You are never too old for your first day at the beach

Spring is in the air, and so are these pups. Can’t wait for more warm weather adventures with Eko, Penny and Doc.

The Doggone Data

I love dogs. I love science. And I especially love how science helps me love my pups better.  It’s incredible how far we’ve come in terms of nutrition, veterinary care and training for our dogs thanks to new data from a variety of fields.

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Officially, dogs haven’t led any of these scientific studies. After he goes to college Eko hopes to change that

I try to keep up to date on the latest canine science, so I thought I’d share a few of my favorite recent studies here. One study from the University of California examined whether dogs exhibit jealous behavior.

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Jealousy? Never around here. Eko was totally fine with puppy Penny getting all the attention.

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Oh wait, no he wasn’t

A study from the Messerli Research Institute showed that not only can dogs distinguish between happy and angry faces, but they could also do so when only seeing part of the face (eyes, mouth, etc). 
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Penny didn’t need to see my whole face to know it wasn’t happy at being woken up early

A study out of Kyoto University suggesting dogs can tell if you’re untrustworthy is one of my recent favorites. In this study they played the same cup game I do, but the heartless scientists lied about which cup the treat was in! Never fear, the pups quickly learned who the fibbers were and no longer took direction from them.

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Luckily the pups trust me, both inside and outside the operating room

“Smell ya later,” takes on a whole new meaning with this study from Emory University. According to researchers, our pups love each of our signature scents. You know that crazy reaction you get from your pup when you walk in the door? Turns out it can be elicited in your pup even when you’re not around. All they need is a whiff of your scent and it elicits and powerful, positive emotional reaction.

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Excuse me, are you wearing eau de Will? It’s simply divine 

As my mother once asked me, I often ask my pups, “Sounds good. How does it taste?” Eko and Penny are food crazy so I found this info from Dr. Ann Hohenhaus particularly interesting. Dogs have such a powerful nose, you would think they have an equally powerful sense of taste. However, it seems our pups might not have quite so discerning a palate. Thus explaining why my two might no be so concerned with savoring their food as much as inhaling it.

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“Tough choice. Get me one of everything.”

A smaller study from the University of Sweden found that dogs prefer rewards (treats) more when they are earned than when they are freely given. Of course it’s tough to pin down the exact reason for this preference, but some aspect of having control over the reward certainly pleased the pups.

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Sometimes, pups even work for rewards you thought were well hidden

I’m always fascinated by how animals of different species interact. Usually this means I’m fascinated by how Penny and Eko ignore me when it’s bath time, but there is a growing body of research about other cross-species interactions.

One of the more well known and successful experiments pairs zoo cheetahs (normally skittish) with puppy partners in order to build up the cheetah’s comfort with people.  (Note: In what might be the greatest scientific errors of our time, Penny was NOT the Ridgeback chosen to be paired with the cheetah at the San Diego zoo)
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We haven’t had a ton of cross-species interaction, but this horse in Charleston had a grudge against Eko or me. Never got close enough to figure out which one of us it was. 

Of course none of these studies are bulletproof. And there is a certain, “Well, of course!” factor to some of the results. But what’s most important for me is that there are still lots of people around the world working to help man understand our best friend. A pretty worthy endeavour in my opinion.

The above studies only scratch the surface, so if you’ve seen or read about any interesting pet research please share in the comments. There’s always more to learn and I’d love to check out whatever you’ve got.

My Birthday Gifts

I don’t personally remember the day twenty-nine years ago, but I take my parent’s at their word when they tell me today’s my birthday.4.1

“Birthday? Let’s party!”

As a kid, birthdays were about the excitement of gifts and presents and things. The great part about getting older is realizing it’s not the things, but the things we do, which matter. And of course, who we do those things with.

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A year ago today I had a great girlfriend and a great pup

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Today I have a great fiancee and two great pups. Progress!

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Eko and Penny chipped in and got me a card and gift. The gift happens to be coupons for dog treats, but their hearts are in the right place

Per the card’s suggestion we tried to take a nice family birthday selfie. This was as close as we came:

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Eko whining for dinner, Penny attacking with kisses, me being foolish, Emily wondering how a nice girl like her got mixed up with us. A fitting photo, I think.

And the best gift of the year?

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A winter-wonderland walk to the park with Emily and the pups

4.7 I’ll be spending my birthday with the big one, the little one and the middle one. What more could a guy ask for?

Life, in short, is good. No telling what this year will bring, but I’m certain I couldn’t ask for a better crew to go on the adventure with me.

Unexpected Adventures

“A shared love of adventure” is near the very top of the long list of reasons I love my dogs. Wherever I go, Eko and Penny follow with an infectious eagerness to romp and explore. From cross-country road trips to trips to the beach, I love planning adventures of all sizes with my pups.
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My all-season adventurer

But one of my favorite things about having dogs is the unplanned and unexpected adventures. Those spontaneous moments of exuberance and mischievousness which appear from nowhere and owe their existence to nothing in particular.

At the end of last week I took out my recycling after a trip to the beach. Apparently I did not close the door well enough  because at the bottom of the steps I heard a thunderous avalanche behind me. Eko and Penny decided they weren’t done romping for the day.

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The players dashed onto the field 

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And the game was on!

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Penny zoomed with reckless abandon 

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And jumped with joy

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Why? Because why not?

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Even a trip to the recycling bin can be an adventure with pups

Now, all unexpected adventures with pups are not pure joy (Penny destroying my couch, for example). But these unexpected and unscripted moments are what make life interesting. And more often than not, they make life a whole lot more fun!

When Pigs Fly

A number of people have asked about the popper treat I used in this video to teach Eko how to walk in his boots.

 

 

I picked up the poppers because all treats are not created equal.  The poppers fill an important niche in training in that they are small in size but high in reward value for Eko. Eko wouldn’t budge in his boots for his normal training treats and I didn’t want to use a dental chew or bone (other high value treats) because they take longer to eat and would interrupt training.

 

C'mon, pop!

Eko with his eyes on the prize

For reinforcing commands Eko already knows, I prefer using his regular training treats as a baseline.  But for rewarding novel behavior (currently I’m working on the “wave” command) I find the poppers extremely effective.  When Eko gets one of those, he knows he really nailed it.

 

Pops and pops

The poppers offer a fun way to practice the “leave it” command.  I love how intently Eko watches the treat (click image for full size gif)

If you want to check out the Beggin’ Party Poppers for yourself, they’re currently running a giveaway sweepstakes over at Pighead.com. I’m kind of jealous of all the dogs in the video over there who jump and catch the treat midair.  For some reason, if you toss a treat up to Eko he will let it hit him in the head rather than jump for it.

Hm, speaking of which, I think I know the next trick I’m going to have to teach Eko!

My Dog Taught Me How To Use A Camera

There’s no doubt that dogs are teachers.  They teach us about love, patience, loyalty and character.  I recently realized that for the past 2+ years Eko has also taught me how to use a camera.  Here are a few of the tips I have picked up from Professor Eko in Pet Photograph 101.

 

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Avoid using flash whenever possible.  I love this photo of Eko, but my flash gave him “pet eyes” (the equivalent of red-eye in flash photos of people).  Flash photography can also make photos look unnatural so I do my best to use it sparingly

 

 

 

Rhodesian Ridgeback, adventure, marking our territory, chicago, dogs, blog, photoComposition is key. I took this photo with an older cellphone so the quality is not great, but I love the photo because of the composition.  A great and simple reference for photo composition is “The rule of thirds.”  If you take a bit of time to think about composition it can make for some really unique and memorable shots

I took the vast majority of photos on this blog with the Canon S100.  It is a compact but great little camera, perfectly suited to use in one hand when you have a leash in your other hand.  As Eko has grown, so has my knowledge and interest in photography so I decided it was time to invest in a new camera.  I needed something that was portable but powerful.

After a lot of research I settled on the Sony NEX-6, and after watching for a sale, using credit card points and some earmarked money I pulled the trigger (shutter?) on the purchase.  And I am thrilled with my initial results.


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Shoot in “manual” mode to get the best photos.  When I started this blog I was afraid to ever turn the dial on my camera from the safe and comfortable “Auto” mode.  Now that I have made the foray into manual settings I can’t imagine ever going back.  I take a lot of TERRIBLE photos as I’m learning to shoot manually on my new camera, but I also take some amazing photos that would be impossible on “Auto.”

Along the way I have also discovered that photos are not finished after you click the shutter.

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To get the most out of my photos I shoot in RAW (a file format you can easily switch to on most digital cameras) and edit in Adobe Lightroom.  Editing photos can seem intimidating, but Lightroom makes adjustments as painless as possible.  I promise, if I can learn to use it, anyone can.  I highly recommend purchasing Lighroom, it can help make your photos the best they can be

When I started this blog, I had a suspicion Eko is really a dinosaur, but I could never prove it.  Now thanks to Eko and everything he taught me about photography I finally have proof.

Rhodesian Ridgeback, adventure, marking our territory, chicago, dogs, blog, photoWelcome… TO JURASSIC BARK!!!

I have learned a lot about photography in the past two years, but I am still an amateur. One of my favorite parts about checking out other blogs is to see and learn how other people take pet photos.  I can’t begin to count the tips and ideas I have seen on other blogs so thanks to all of you as well!  If I can pay it forward by answering any basic questions, just let me know.  And if you have any other tips I could use, make sure to share those too!

 

 

 

Home Is Where The Park Is

Eko is a seasoned road warrior and I am lucky how patient he is with long car rides. Especially considering we were on the road for twelve hours yesterday and this was the type of stuff he had to deal with:

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The pet “exercise” area was about the size of Eko’s old kennel, filled with sharp rocks and dogs aren’t allowed off leash.  Someone didn’t think this one through

Unfortunately for Eko, he slept Tuesday night, had to sleep in the car all day Wednesday and then listen to me snore all last night after I crashed into bed.  This morning we took a well earned trip to the beach for Eko to burn off all that stored up energy.

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I love unclipping Eko’s leash after he hasn’t been to the park in a few days.  The way he bounds into the water always makes me smile


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It was also nice to see our old friends.  I call this guy “U-Boat” because he is a German Shepard that always lays in the water like a submarine


Rhodesian Ridgeback, dog adventure, petcentric, marking our territory, dog blog, dog photos

A couple people people also thanked me for bringing back “the dog that always makes my dog sleep longer.”  I particularly like “U-Boat” lurking in the background of this photo

 

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Happy to be home!

NJ was a blast, but it’s great to finally be back in Chicago.