In Category: ‘Articles’

Off Leash Fun

March 30, 2011

I am a huge fan of dog parks.  Not because of the interaction my dogs can have with other dogs, but because it gives them a chance to really stretch their legs and run at full speeds.  We have a decent sized back yard, but it is too small for them to really get their motors going.  I’m not sure what we would have done if we didn’t run our oldest dog (a border collie, golden retriever cross) off leash.  As a pup, she needed quite a bit of exercise (and still does) and leashed walks around the block just didn’t cut it.

stretch Off Leash Fun

I know lots of people are afraid to let their dog off leash and usually their biggest concern is “What if they don’t come back when called?”  My dogs do not come back to me EVERY single time I call them.  And they never will.  There will always be something in the world that is more exciting than me (hard to believe I know).  But they come back most of the time and when they do, I make sure I have something to reward them. Their reward can be a ball or treat or just a pat on the head.  How I reward them depends on the dog and the circumstances. If there are other dogs and people around, I tend to reward with yummy treats, but if I just called them to get them to stop sniffing and catch up, I tend to reward with praise, pets and play.

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Lethbridge has three dog parks – Scenic Drive (near Martha’s Retreat on the southside), Peenaquim (near the shooting range and ball diamonds on the northside) and Popson (at the end of University Boulevard on the west side).  This is my take on the three different parks….

  1. Scenic Park – This tends to be the most popular park.  It has great views and lots of wildflowers in the summer.  There are lots of trails up and down the coulees.  Your dog (and you!) will definitely get a good workout at this park due to all the hills you’ll end up climbing.  This park is quite close to the road so if you are unsure how well your dog is going to listen, I would highly recommend leashing your dog before you get to your vehicle just in case.  Also there is no access to water at this park so be sure to bring some water for you and your dog in the summer.

    Scenic did have some issues with coyotes there this past year.  I’m not sure of all the details (hard to sort out rumour from fact), but be sure to keep your eyes out for wildlife.

  2. Peenaquim Park – This is the second busiest park.  You park at the bottom of the hill so the entire dog park is down in the river valley (no need to hike up and down hills, although you can if you want). There is access to the River if your dog likes to swim and there is a big wide open space for your dog to stretch their legs.  If you stick to the main loop you’ll be able to see your dog at all times as the area isn’t as big as either Scenic or Popson.  The shooting range is near the park so if you have a sound sensitive dog, this may not be the ideal park as they will be able to hear gunshots.
  3. I would say Popson is the quietest of the dog parks.  As with Peenaquim, you park in the river bottom so you’ll be walking on the flat.  There is access to the river, wide open spaces to run and hills to climb if that is what you’d like to do.Popson is the only dog park in town that rattlesnakes are found in so be very cautious in the summer.  I’ve seen a few over the years and every year I get more paranoid and tend to walk elsewhere during the heat of the day to avoid a potential conflict with a snake.
5439778920 eba4de8a96 b Off Leash Fun

Generally, the dogs at the dog park are well socialized dogs, so if your dog ignores you yelling “Come!” to go visit with a dog, it isn’t the end of the world.  That being said, there is ALWAYS a risk of a dog fight. When I see a dog up ahead, I try and keep calling my girls back to me (and I reward them heavily for doing so) until we are close enough to the other dog that I know that I can get in the middle of things quickly if I need to.  It would be a great idea to learn about dog body language too so you can know when you can relax and when you want to be on your toes. In the 6 years I’ve been going to the dog park, I have had very, very few issues.

Dog+Signals Off Leash Fun
Drawing by Lili Chin of

So how do you work up the courage to take your dog off leash?  There are a few things you can do to make your first off leash walk a little less stressful.

  1. Go with other “experienced” people and their dogs.  The dogs will generally stick together so when your friends’ dogs come running back, your dog will follow.
  2. Attach a long line to your dog.  You don’t need to be holding on to the end of it, but they can drag it along behind them so you just need to get within 10 feet of your dog to “catch” them.  This works great for those dogs that tend to dart away from you at the last minute.
  3. Pick a day and time when the park won’t be very busy – during regular work hours, early in the morning or during horrible weather are usually the quietest times.  Going out in bad weather isn’t as fun for me, but the dogs don’t mind and I don’t need to worry about encountering a lot of people or dogs.
Lola+leash 2 Off Leash Fun
Lola is wearing a long line as a precaution.  I just need to get within 30 feet of her in order to catch her.

If you haven’t tried off leash walks but have a high energy dog, you will be amazed at the difference one can make and giving your dog lots of exercise can go a long way in helping behavior problems.

Taking Better Photos

March 16, 2011

Now that the price of Digital SLR cameras are becoming quite reasonable, I know a lot of you out there have one.  And is there anything better out there to photograph than your pet? Alright, maybe your kids, but your pet has to be a close second at the very least.

I created a slideshow last week for the Lethbridge Photography Club’s Photofusion event.  I don’t think I really realized just how different my photography style is from people who do more traditional photography (landscapes, travel photography, etc.) until that night.  I was surprised by the questions that I received from some pretty seasoned photographers.

So while I’m hardly an expert, I thought some of you might benefit from hearing what I do.  As far as I am concerned there is no right or wrong way, just different ways.

While my advice isn’t necessarily catered to those with a digital SLR camera, I find “point and shoot” cameras don’t capture action very well (and that is what I am usually trying to capture) due to their lag time and slower focusing speeds.

Tip 1: Get down on the ground.  While I take the occasional photo from a standing position, most of the time I am sitting or laying on the ground.  If you are taking the photo from the dog’s level you will be more likely to capture them looking directly at the camera while still keeping their head at a natural angle.  This winter I went out and bought snow pants so that I could still comfortably sit on the ground.  They were the best purchase I made all year!

down Taking Better Photos

Tip 2: Get nice and close.  If what you are trying to capture is the dog’s expression then make sure you zoom in or get nice and close to the dog.  If you aren’t interested in the surroundings, don’t include them in the photo. The more the dog fills the frame, the more details you’ll be able to make out.

Details Taking Better Photos

Tip 3: Try different angles.  Try putting the camera under the dog, behind the dog, over the dog, to the side of the dog.  Don’t be afraid to try something new or different.  Some times you’ll be surprised at what you’ll get. If it doesn’t work, oh well, it didn’t cost you anything other than a little time.

different Taking Better Photos

If getting the camera under the dog sounds uncomfortable and a little impossible, just remember you don’t actually have to be looking through the view finder to take the photo.  Digital photos are free.  You can take as many as you want.  I often point the camera in the general direction of what I want and hope for the best.  Some times I get nothing useful, other times I get something magical.  Some of my favourite photos were taken without looking through the viewfinder.

Tip 4: Take LOTS of photos.  As I mentioned above, take lots of photos.  I keep my camera on burst mode all the time.  When you are trying to take a picture of your dog running, there are lots of variables that can make it attractive or unattractive – what part of their stride are they in, are their eyes open or closed, are their ears going in wild and crazy directions (sometimes a good thing, sometimes not!).  And most importantly is the photo in focus.  Sometimes you camera or lens can’t always focus fast enough to keep up with your speedy dog so you are really taking a chance if you only take one photo that all the variables will be perfect.

Focus Taking Better Photos

If you are trying to get a picture of your dog catching a toy mid air, you might need to try more than once or twice.  Here it helps to have a fetch obsessed dog that doesn’t mind repeating their performance 5, 10, or even a 100 times so that you can get it just right.

Over+and+Over Taking Better Photos

Tip 5: Be aware of your surroundings.  I hate taking photographs in my backyard.  The clutter of the rain barrel, the deck and the ugly fence drive me crazy.  It doesn’t help that I don’t have beautiful landscaping, if I did, it would be a different story.  So if you don’t have beautiful surroundings in your backyard, go somewhere else.  The wonderful thing about the prairies is that there is no clutter in your backgrounds – you can just focus on your subjects.

background Taking Better Photos

Tip 6: Don’t be afraid to crop off part of your dog.  Your photos don’t need to include every inch of your dog to be “right”.  Don’t worry about zooming in so tight you cut off part of their feet, or their tail.  Sometimes it is more interesting to just focus on part of them.

Bits Taking Better Photos

Tip 7: Focus on their eyes.  If nothing else is in focus other than their eyes, you can still have a beautiful image, but if their eyes are out of focus, the photo looks weird.  Don’t ask why, I don’t know.

eyes Taking Better Photos

Tip 8: Practice, practice, practice.  The more you practice and try things the more often you get “aha” moments.  Once you get something that you like, try and figure out what you did to get it again.  That is when the learning really happens.

different2 Taking Better Photos

I can’t take a decent landscape photo to save my life and that is because I never practice doing it!  So to start, I’d suggest you pick a subject you are passionate about (whether that be your pets, your kids, beautiful landscapes, wildlife or the local architecture) and focus your efforts on that.  Once you’ve mastered that subject and want to branch out, go for it. It will be a lot easier to learn just one skill set at a time. Trust me, they are all very different.  And besides, all different types of photography require different types of equipment and if you are on any kind of budget you aren’t going to want to be buying everything you need at once.

Tip 9: Take a course.  I took a few courses from a local photographer – Henriette Plas and it literally changed my photography overnight.  When you understand how your camera works, you can better figure out how to get what you want.  I’m sure there are other photographers that offer good courses, but I know for sure Henriette does!

Manipulate Taking Better Photos

Tip 10:  Know your subject.  The more you know your subject, the more you’ll be able to capture them acting naturally.

Kort Taking Better Photos

Tip 11: Have Fun!

The Fat Talk

March 8, 2011

If you’ve ever taken a training class from Amanda and your dog escaped the “fat talk”, you are one of the very few.  Most dogs could lose a few pounds (as could most of us!)  Keeping our dogs a healthy weight is important on so many levels. Overall if they are slender, they will feel better, be healthier and age more gracefully.

April 3 The Fat Talk
April is NOT a healthy weight.

How do you know what a healthy weight is for your dog?  Dogs are all different so you can’t just use a number on a scale although you can use their weight to make sure you are remaining in the right ball park once you get to that healthy weight.

The easiest rule of thumb to follow is: Can you feel their ribs?  When you gently run your hand down their side, you should be able to just slightly feel all their ribs. Dogs should also have a waist that you can see from the side (you want to see a tuck after their ribs end) and the top.

tuck The Fat Talk
Jetta has a great tuck and narrow waist.

Here is a great chart you can use to see if your dog is too thin, too heavy or just right.  How does your dog rank? (I’d guess my dogs are both 5′s… but Lacey is just squeaking into that category.  My cat on the other hand is probably a 7 or 8 but we are working on that.)

waiste The Fat Talk
Can you see how Lacey’s waist tucks in on the sides?  That is a good thing.

How do you get and maintain a healthy weight for your dog?  The same way we would do it for us.  Portion control!

If you are feeding your dog kibble, don’t just take the suggested amount on the side of the bag as gospel.  It is just a suggestion. Every dog is different based on their metabolism and how much exercise they get.  If the dog food company recommends feeding your dog 2 cups a day yet your dog is still on the heavy side, don’t be afraid to feed less.  The information on the bag is just a guideline.  It may take some fine tuning to figure out exactly what is right for your dog, but with a little time you’ll figure it out.

For example, my dog food suggests feeding my small dog anywhere from 1.25 – 2.5 cups (she gets 1.25 cups a day) and they suggest I feed my large dog 2.5 – 4.75 cups (she gets 3 cups a day).  Notice that they both eat close to the lower suggestion even though they get a fair amount of exercise each day (45-60 minutes of off leash running) and aren’t the minimum weight in their category. AND, I don’t give out many treats and when I do, they are usually quite small.

boone The Fat Talk
Even under his fur, you can tell Boone is nice and slender.

Once you figure out the ideal amount of food, still keep an eye on your dog. How much food they need will probably change over time.  As dogs age or become less active, you’ll need to decrease their caloric intake.

narrow The Fat Talk
Once Sadie slows down, she’ll have to eat less to maintain her little waist.

No matter if your dog eats scheduled meals a few times a day, or just grazes whenever they are hungry, you should be measuring out how much they eat each day.  This will help make sure they aren’t eating too much and it will also make you aware if your dog suddenly starts eating less. This can be an early warning sign that they aren’t feeling well.  I use a measuring cup that I just leave in the dog food bin that is exactly what they need each meal so we can’t screw it up.

Coulee The Fat Talk
Even if Coulee’s activity level isn’t the same every day, she still gets the same amount of food. The days where she get’s more exercise than usual just make up for those occasional lazy days.
Don’t forget to factor in the treats!  If you are feeding your dog lots of treats during the day, you are going to have to reduce how much they eat at meal times. For example, if you are going to a training class in the evening and you use treats as a reward for good behaviour, decrease the dinner meal by 1/2 cup to make up for it. Even though I have a large dog, I buy small treats (the bag will often say “training treats” on it) or I buy larger ones that I can break into smaller pieces.  This way they get a cookie without adding lots of calories.

perkins The Fat Talk

Just a few treats for a little dog can have a pretty big impact on their weight.  Be sure to give them only a few small treats each day.

So what happens when you’ve put your dog on a diet and they are constantly scrounging or begging for food?  Try increasing their fibre.  Just like with us, fibre will make them feel full without eating a whole lot more.  Try a scoop of canned pumpkin (just the straight pumpkin, not the pumpkin pie mix) with their food to help increase their fibre and decrease their hunger pangs.

eyes The Fat Talk
Try not to give in to those pleading looks!

Having healthy dogs will save on vet bills, save on food bills and most importantly keep your pet happier and healthier for a long time to come.

If you have a very overweight dog and are debating putting him/her on a diet, please consult your vet to determine the safest way to do it!