Does it take loads of luck to capture portraits of your dog?

Does it take loads of luck to capture epic portraits of your dog? Or is it more akin to skill?

First, what is luck?
Luck is defined as success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.

Then what is skill?
Skill is the ability to use one’s knowledge effectively and readily in execution or performance. 

In a sense, they are on opposing sides, nearly opposites to each other. Pure luck shows up as gambling, while pure skill lands in the game of chess. The rest of the encounters throughout our lives land somewhere on the gradient. (Google “skill vs luck” for some rather in depth articles on how the two work with each other. This one is interesting.)

Guess if it is skill or luck:

  1. Camera use & image creation
  2. Seeing lighting conditions
  3. Capturing an epic action image
  4. Dog body language
  5. Capturing the perfect head tilt

The results: SKILLS!

That’s right! All of the above are skills!

NO WAY!?!?!?

You may think that capturing an epic action image is luck based, but with the right skills & knowledge it is very possible to do (a beginner might attribute the image to luck, whereas the professional knows it is skill). Head tilts don’t always happen and you may think they for sure are a point of luck, but the skill of the photographer is what draws them out, not just pure chance.  

Well hot dang! 

Plus it’s not only the skill of the photographer but the skills of your dog that lend towards epic portraits! 

If your dog has ample skills under his or her belt, they are going to lend way more to their portraits than us just chancing it with luck. And most dogs have tons of skills in their repertoire, even if they are rather primary. 

Skills such as:

  • Sit & lay
  • Standing still
  • Running & jumping
  • Head tilts
  • Shake, speak & roll over
  • Eye contact

Yes, eye contact is totally a skill dogs have and it gives them the leg up over their wild cousins (and was one of the way their ancestors forged their bond with ancient humans). Eye contact makes for stunning images with soul to them.

If your dog looks away when you aim a camera or phone their way, it’s not that they aren’t photogenic, but that they associate the camera as a big scary eye that is staring them down. Luckily, it is easy to transition them into eye contact with every device you use to capture their image. 

Start with a bazillion mega tasty treats. Have your dog sit & treat. Raise your camera just below your face, treat. Raise your camera to your face, treat. Click, shutter sounds, treat. Treat for continued eye contact. Repeat until your dog gives you supermodel eye contact any time your camera is raised. This same process will work with a cell phone too!

And… luck of the Irish, today is St. Patrick’s Day! 

A little history about Saint Patrick, from an article in the Virginia Free Press, 1833.

“St. Patrick received his commission to preach to the Irish nation in the year 431 from St. Celestine. It is generally agreed by writers, and especially by the the great Butler, that he was a Scotchman, and that when at the age of sixteen, he was carried a slave, by certain barbarians, to Ireland, and there retained in captivity for six months. However, admonished in a vision he had from God, he went back to his own country, where he was again enslaved, but recovered his liberty after two months. Finally, he was enabled to make his father’s house, where, by long preparation and careful study, both in science and virtue, he prepared himself for priesthood. In 432 he passed over into Ireland, and there effected a complete conversion of the whole island. He established and endowed innumerable monasteries and houses of learning, and left behind him a priesthood that has since not been out-rivaled for learning, virtue and constancy in maintaining the faith.”

The shamrock legend per 1961: “Long ago, when Ireland was the land of the Druids, there was a great Bishop, Patrick, by name, who came to teach the word of God throughout the country. This Saint, for he was indeed a saint, was well-loved everywhere he went. One day, however, a group of his followers came to hime and admitted that it was difficult for them to believe in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. St. Patrick reflected a moment then stooping down he plucked a leaf from the Shamrock and held it before them, bidding them to behole the living example of this ‘three-in-one’. “

Why March 17th? That’s the day Saint Patrick passed away, about the year 469. 

The first St. Patrick’s day parade in New York was held in 1737!

Why not do some St. Patrick’s day pictures? Heck, we should set up the backdrop stand and backdrops we’ve collected. Blue helped by barking at the backdrop stand, stood on the backdrops and thought they were rather fun to wrestle. 

Once they were up, he was quite a charmer & pro model! (Cheese treats & tripe treats work rather magically!)

First, the St. Patrick’s themed images. I love the green foliage backdrop, though the hat gets a little lost. I may keep this backdrop hung up longer as we haven’t seen rich greens in 6 months…

And a quick series with all of the other backdrops. All with front light provided by the living room windows paired with my new camera. (Yes I got a new camera! A Nikon Z9! A new car too! Haha!)

Looking to give a dog some extra luck and a new home? Check out these “Lucky” dogs on Petfinder!

And also, someone needs to adopt Drumstick! With a name like that, he’s sure to be a charmer. He’s at Tri County Humane Society, just down the road from me!

Or if you’d prefer something Green, or a little good fortune with a Shamrock or  Clover or just a good pal named Pat, you’ll be sure to find the luckiest dog to add to your family this March!

We’re in a blog ring of fellow dog & pet photographers around the world. Next Kim Learn of Two Saints Photography in St. Catharines, Ontario, finds the third time’s a charm with her dog photography.

How to have an indoor play day with a puppy!

Minnesota winters can be rather brutal, then nice, then brutal. This February is a testament to this – teens, 20s, 40, 20s, 30s, teens, 40! (For those who don’t know, 20ish is the average temp for February in Minnesota. Below that is quite common as well.)

With the temps & weather (Tuesday it was 40s & rain, Wednesday it was 20s, snow & loads of wind, high of 18 on Thursday) it meant that Blue & I stayed bunkered down in the house more than we were outside. 

What to do to keep a 7.5 month old puppy entertained?

Time for an indoor play day!

  • Grab the toys!
    Opt for some tug of war, fetch or chase. Bring out toys that aren’t in the regular rotation (they’re new again!) and have tons of fun!

  • Name game!
    Start with a toy your pup enjoys. Point to it, say the toy’s name (corn, ball, raccoon, etc) and when your dog looks at it, reward the behavior (yes or click your clicker). Repeat a couple of times, ending on success. After your dog looks at the toy on cue, see if you can get your pup to engage with the toy when you say the toy’s name. Once that happens consistently, add in one, two and more toys. Repeat the process for each toy with a different name. Show off to your friends when your pup can find “duck” out of all the toys in the bin.

  • Hide & Seek!
    Easiest- you hide, pup finds you. Step up with hiding favorite toys or treats. Help your pup if they don’t understand right off the bat. “Find it” is a great cue to use for this game.

  • Flirt pole or flirt rope!
    For any pup that chases, a flirt pole is a great way to have your pup work to catch the “flirt” while expending a solid amount of energy. A flirt rope is similar, though instead of a pole with a “flirt” on the end, it’s a double ended soft rope with “flirts” on both ends. Not sure how easy they are to find, but made mine! (If you’d like one, I could make you one too!) The biggest thing l don’t like about the flirt pole is once Blue catches the “flirt” the activity turns into tug then drop it before the activity restarts. He’s also good at catching the flirt so it ended up being less about getting him to move & chase. The flirt rope doesn’t have the catch to drop activity. If an end is caught, a game of tug can happen, then the other end is engaged to get him to pursue it (usually resulting in a drop of the first end he catches), making this an ongoing game of chase & catch!

  • A big ol bone!
    Chewing is great for dogs. It helps them burn energy, relieve stress and will occupy most dogs for a couple of hours. Blue loves big smoked bones, Bender loved stuffed shin bones. Certain bones can splinter when chewed, so keep an eye on the bones your pup is chewing. Make sure pieces aren’t small enough to be swallowed whole to avoid choking. Yes bones can also be messy! Other good chew options include antlers, hooves (very stinky), bully sticks, or nylon bones. Avoid rawhide – it can be choked on & doesn’t get digested very well.

  • Make your own game!
    This could be a chase me, I chase you game, the floor is lava, building & destroying a fort. Or play with nontraditional things.  Blue LOVES soda cans, silverware, a metal cuff bracelet and a full slip chain collar as toys – the weirdest toys ever when he’s got a bin full of made for dog ones bwhahaha!

In addition to play, being cooped up indoors for the winter is a good time to work on obedience skills – sit, lay, stay, leave it & so forth – and also work on trick training like hold, bow, spin, speak and many other skills that don’t just make your dog a good dog but a totally awesome dog! Remember, shorter sessions are best, end on a positive note (that could be as simple as a sit depending on the day) and have fun!

Luckily, Blue isn’t a high energy or drive dog, which means a new bone chewed for an hour or so will tucker him out for a solid nap. Playing with the flirt rope tires him out as well (and frequently ignites a bout of the zoomies) and he’s getting better with solo play and self settling when tired. 

Here’s how we play:
– Corn catch & tug. This also involves Blue shaking the corn & beating his sides with it haha!
– Bearable, Racool & Rudolph toys, with Racool being the preferred.
– Flirt rope! Blue chases one end and the other end is dragged & wiggled to get him to pounce. 
– Big big bone!
– Metal cuff & spoon – stay weird Blue!
– Time to nap!

Happy Valentine’s Day with Kisses from Blue

Happy Valentine’s Day! 

Yes we are 4 days early, but who can resist celebrating the holiday of love especially with a puppy or dog you love? We can’t!

This is Blue’s very first Valentine’s Day! He’s 7.5 months old, sort of a teenager at times (selective hearing & command requests denied) and other times still a bumbling puppy at others. The biting is waning, his self settling is becoming better and he still loves the Young & Restless chime at the end of the show that signals lunchtime. There are days he drives me batty and I’d like to trade him for an older model, then there are days when I love him even more than I had before. 

Onward to the little Valentine’s session with Blue! 

First the “studio” was created – the loveseat was rotated, yielding 51 inches of wall space between its back and the bookshelf.  Not an ideal setup, but it works with a bit of Photoshop magic. 

Decorations consisted of a Valentine’s Day sign. The monolight brought downstairs & paired with the 48 inch octobox (it was the first I grabbed from upstairs, and of course it was a monster one haha!). Both were positioned on the corner of the loveseat. 

Flash & camera at the ready, Blue was then wrangled into a girl’s pajama shirt. We began.

First shirt off and Blue stuffed into a lovely girl’s sweater. (When thrifting it’s easier to find hearts & love shirts in the girl’s section than in the boys.) The teenie weenie rug was also removed as it looked odd. A couple of sparkly hearts were added to the wall for a bit more pizazz! 

Sweater squeezed out of, we turned towards bandanas and fake roses. Bandana one had big hearts but didn’t photograph well. Bandana two had a ton of little hearts and looks quite awesome! 

The trickiest thing with Blue & the roses was handing them to him while focusing on him at the same time. 35mm + my arm length lends towards 3/4 portraits instead of full body. I think we managed to get some keepers!

Who wouldn’t love a Valentine from this handsome hunk? Do you have a favorite image of Blue? 

We hope you have a love filled Valentine’s Day with your dog! Blue, Kris & I send you ginormous love, hugs and kisses!

Have a Golden day, its National Golden Retriever Day!

Have a Golden day as today is National Golden Retriever Day!

I know, one of those huh I didn’t know it was a national day day haha! National Golden Retriever Day started in 2012 by Kristen Shroyer as a tribute to Golden Retrievers around the country after the loss of her golden Quincy. 

Some neat facts about goldens:

  • As of 2021 they were #3 in most popular dog breeds in the US!
  • The Golden was first seen at a British dog show in 1908 and were listed as Flat Coats (Golden) [another source mentions in 1906 they were in the Retriever – Wavy or Flat Coated in classes for those of “any other color”. ]
  • Recognized officially by the The Kennel Club in 1911 as “Retriever – Yellow or Golden” then in 1920 as “Retriever-Golden” in 1920. The CKC (Canadian Kennel Club) recognized Goldens in 1925 with the AKC (American Kennel Club) following in 1932. 
  • In the USA, there are between 5,00,000 to 750,000 registered Golden Retrievers!


Let’s head into the breed’s history for some lore & mystery!

We head back into time to the Guisachan (pronounced Gooeesicun) estate of Dudley Majoribanks, aka Lord Tweedmouth at Inverness-Shire, Scotland, the year 1854. Lord Tweedmouth was an avid hunter and was looking for a dog that would tirelessly retrieve over land and water to hunt grouse, partridge and even red deer. The thought was to combine a retriever with a water spaniel to create such a dog.  Lord Tweedmouth wasn’t a beginner of breeding dogs as he had bred & kept meticulous records from 1835 until his passing. When he acquired Guiaschan, he built a basic kennel but finding it unsatisfactory for his dogs he build a new state of the art kennel. The new kennel had thick walls, with 6 foot railings and tiled floors outside, while the inside featured paved floors, paneled kennel sides and in floor heat! There was also a cold water supply to cast iron bowls in each run – schwanky! 

The kennels aside, let’s get to the start of Golden Retrievers!

First arrives a yellow wavy-coated retriever named Nous in the 1864. Nous was an anomaly due to being yellow in color – the fashionable color of retrievers at the time was black, which meant yellow pups were typically culled or occasionally passed to another person. 

Enter in the first part of lore:
It was said that Nous & two other dogs were acquired from… a Russian circus! Supposedly in 1868 Sir Dudley purchased three yellow dogs from a Russian circus in the area. These dogs were said to have been from the Region of Caucacus and most likely were sheep dogs of sorts. Believable… eh.

(In 1911 William le Poer Trench SWORE that the yellow dogs he acquired from Guisachan were from the original breed lineage of Nous – that is the Russian ancestors. He went to the Caucasus but the dogs were all on the high ground with the sheep at that time. He paid for a dog and still none could be found!)

The second part of lore:
Nous was acquired when Lord Tweedmouth & his son were strolling around town. They passed a cobbler who had a young yellow wavy coat retriever, perhaps lounging outside or greeting the two passing. They inquire about the dog and the cobbler relates that he received the dog as payment from some lord or another. They banter and the dog, having caught Lord Tweedmouth’s eye, is transferred into the hands of the duo. 

The Russian background story wasn’t debunked fully until 1952 when Lady Pentland, granddaughter of Lord Tweedmouth shared Lord Tweedmouth’s meticulous record & studbook (it was kept from 1835 to 1890) with Golden Retriever historian Elma Stonex. The second piece of lore of Nous from a cobbler is also debunked with the studbook – Nous’s entry states he was a flat-coated retriever bred by Lord Chichester. 

The actual story: Not exactly known but the studbook notes that Nous was received from Lord Chichester on his Stanmer Park estate near Brighton. Nous was the only yellow pup in the litter of pure bred flat coated retrievers with both of his parents being black. How the pup landed with Lord Tweedmouth isn’t stated, though one notation I found mentioned that the pup was given to Lord Tweedmouth from one of the keepers in lieu of a debt. 

In 1952, the 6th Earl of Ilchester published a famous article in “Country Life (England)” which brought out tons of information about the golden retrievers as a breed.

You can read the article here:  Breed History of the Yellow Retriever 

Now on to the second part of the paring: Belle. 

Belle was received from David Robertson in 1867 (she was born in 1863). The studbook notes that she was a “Ladykirk breed” (also known as a Ladykirk Spaniel or Tweed Spaniel or Tweed Water Spaniel). 

What did a Tweed Water Spaniel look like? Written blips mention Tweeds were similar in appearance to Irish Water Spaniels (they possibly were a variation of them) with a heavier muzzle and pointed head. They had a curled coat that was  light liver colored (at the time liver color could be many shades of brown including sandy & fawn), they also had thick, slightly feathered, hound like ears, droopy lips with fore legs that were feathered but hind legs that were not and were sized like small retrievers. Description noted by Hugh Dalziel in his 1897 work British Dogs: Their Varieties, History, Characteristics, Breeding, Management, And Exhibition. He also mentions one of the Tweed dogs he owned carried liver & tan colors on multiple puppies in two litters she produced, lending toward a background ancestry from Bloodhound. (The Bloodhound would lend to a superior sense of smell, great for a hunting dog!)

This is what an Irish Water Spaniel looked like in 1897. From Hugh Dalziel in his work British Dogs: Their Varieties, History, Characteristics, Breeding, Management, And Exhibition.

(A note: In 1863 there was also a “Ladykirk breed” dog named Tweed in the studbook,  prior to Belle. He was never used in breeding before he died in 1867. A new Tweed arrived in 1872.  Both dogs were from David Robertson who had also produced Belle.)

The mating of Nous to Belle occurred in 1868 and produced 4 yellow pups: Cowslip, Primrose, Crocus & Ada. Crocus was the only male and was given to Tweedmouth’s son Edward Marjoribanks and Ada to cousin Henry Edward Fox-Strangways, 5th Earl of Ilchester. (There is dispute if Ada was one of the original litter of pups or if she was from a later Nous x Belle litter…)

Thus began the beginnings of golden retrievers!

From the original pairings, the studbook noted that the “new” Tweed was bred to Cowslip in 1873 and they produced a yellow pup named Topsey. Ada produced a yellow pup in 1874 named Brass. In 1875 Jack & Jill another pair of yellow pups were sired by red setter Sampson & Cowslip. In 1878 Sambo a black flat coated retriever was paired with Topsey, producing the yellow pup Zoe. Zoe was paired with Jack and they produced Nous II and Gill. Gill was mated to a black labrador called Tracer and the female yellow pup, Queenie, from that mating was bred back to Nous II. Crocus produced three yellow puppies in 1881 with Zoe. And we haven’t even reached 1900!

Outcrosses touched into Irish setters, St John’s Water Dog of Newfoundland, additional flat coated retrievers, a sandy coated bloodhound, and Labrador. Each of these outcrossing helped to shape & define the breed of the Golden retriever as well as adding to the depth of coat colors from cream to red. 

From the various breedings and combinations, it was notable that the yellow coat color would emerge even when one of the parents was a black coated dog. Most likely it meant that the parent with the black coat was caring the genetic marker for a yellow coat! Yellow isn’t a dominate allele and you need to have two copies of the recessive gene e/e for a yellow (shades of white, cream, yellow, apricot, gold, lemon, or reds). Once the color yellow was achieved in multiple generations, the genetics were set for consistent yellow coat colors, despite the fact that great great grandparents would have carried black coats! 

That wraps the history up quite well! But…. there’s more mystery!

There may have been yellow wavy coat retrievers, very much in the Golden Retriever type, BEFORE Lord Tweedmouth built the foundation! You can read about it here: The Origins of the Golden Retriever Revisited by Jeffery Pepper. It’s a bit of a long read, but it does raise the theory that there were yellow retrievers in existence before Golden Retrievers were created!

Wowee what a history!

No matter their history, Golden Retrievers have won the hearts & couch spaces of many families in the past 155 years! Huzzah what a legacy!

Don’t own a Golden Retriever to celebrate? Look into rescuing one of your own! Tri County Humane Society doesn’t have any goldens at the moment but look at all the other adorable friends you could add to your family! Or find a Golden from Retrieve A Golden of the Midwest (based in Minnetonka MN), or head over to Petfinder and search for Golden Retreivers in closer proximity to you! (If you don’t want to adopt, consider fostering!)

Or if you already have the perfect pup or pups at home then… celebrate National Doggy Date Night, also on February 3rd! 

Head out to a local dog friendly space for a cider or brew, pop into an indoor dog park or head to your dog’s favorite shop to snag a new toy and some sweet treats. Kick back and watch some dog friendly movies as you stay cozy during the cold snap for today!

Also… February 3rd is… National Carrot Cake Day!

Break out your grater and work up those arm muscles shredding carrots like our grandmas & great grandmas did! There are tons of recipes available from the Google machine, you’ll be sure to find a favorite! (I use a vegan one that involves… baby food!). Not one to make a carrot cake, then head to your nearest baker or grocer and snag a ready to go option. 

Did you know that the oldest carrot cake recipe is found in a French cookbook published in 1827!

Not sure you’ll be able to find a dog friendly carrot cake, but there are a big batch of cake & cupcake recipes available to be found on the Google machine that your dog would LOVE for you to bake (and remember the 3rd is also National Doggy Date Night! Cake for you and your pup!)

So take today, February 3rd to celebrate Golden Retrievers, have a doggie date night and eat some carrot cake!

We’re in a blog ring of dog & pet photographers around the world! Next visit Endless Mountains PA photographer Elaine Tweedy of I Got the Shot Photography shows you three “golden” moments from her studio work.


New Year’s things to achieve, not resolve

The fresh new year arrives tomorrow after a celebration that peaks at the midnight hour with champagne, noisemakers and glitter galore. 

With the new year comes multitudes of resolutions. Things people resolve to settle or find a solution to whether it be undesired traits, behaviors or personal goals. 

Resolve the things. Hmm… isn’t a resolving something taking care of something “problematic”? We’re looking for the “cure” in a sense for the problematic things instead of creating a “preventative” that keeps us from getting the problematic thing in the first place and needing a cure. 

Instead of resolutions this year, I’m making a list of things to achieve. To achieve is to successfully bring about or reach.  Instead of resolving something problematic, why not achieve a goal instead?

New Year’s 2023 things to achieve:

  • Dogs of the North Shore – indeed another book! EEEEEK! Lots of logistics to come. Let us know if you want to be part of the book!
  • Quarterly Short & Sweet Sessions, one for each season. 
  • Minimum of 4 sessions a month – totally doable! That would be a whopping 48 sets of dogs & their people for the span of the year!
  • A studio space! For when the weather chills or grows too hot. Home based is easiest, I think it would be cool to have a space that others could rent too!
  • Scouting new locations at least once a month with Blue.
  • An indoor dog park! A very far out project & goal, but it could be considered for the coming year!
  • Better weight management – there are 30 lbs that need to be shifted off. I have the methods, just need to employ them and stick to them. 
  • Eating more healthy things and less sugary things. 
  • Hiking with Blue, at least once a month packing up and visiting a state park on the parks list from Minnesota
  • Camping with Blue! We’d need a few bits more of supplies and we might be more of glampers but it would be fun to spend the night in various places around the state!
  • Baking at least once a month, making waffles once a month and doughnuts a few times a year. I love baking but my energy has been a bit blah for baking. 
  • Being more social – whether a book club, a thrifting buddy, glass collecting friend, or with fellow dog people, social & new friends is an achievement for next year

From the start of the new year until the end of the year is the deadline for the achievements. Each one of them is doable, some requiring more oomph and motivation, others more logistics. And what better thing to look back on the year and see the things you’ve achieved? 

Whereas if you work to resolve things for the coming year you may skimp on it, might not get far (a huge portion of resolutions are left to the curb within the first 3 months of the new year…)

Here’s to the coming achievements of 2023! Much love from Blue, Kris and myself!