Lessons from the dog - Reward yourself for baby steps

If you’ve ever taken a puppy to puppy obedience class or done any kind of training with your dog, then you know teaching commands takes time. You start slowly and  reward for any action to following the command, no matter how small it is. For example, if you want to teach your dog sit, you would first say the word, then put your hand on their bottom and push it down so they are now sitting. The moment their butt makes contact with the floor, you praise and reward them with a treat. Now, you helped make it happen, but if you do this enough times, your dog will figure out that when he puts his butt on the ground and sits, he gets a treat and will do this all on his own. This may take a few days or even a few weeks. But if you are consistent with your training, your dog will eventually learn to sit.

I’m always learning new things. Whether it’s an exercise for my daily workout, an editing technique for my photography or just implementing a new habit for living a better lifestyle, I’m constantly striving to improve. Sometimes I get frustrated when the result I want is taking too long. Too often I expect that if I read or watch a video and then attempt it myself, I should get the same result as the teacher. But like my dog, it takes time and won’t happen with just one try.

I reward my dog for baby steps they’ve taken to learning a new command. I need to do the same thing with myself. To be grateful for trying something new, for extending myself no matter how successful or not I am. Instead of getting frustrated, I need to happy with what I just learned and tried to make happen. The next time I try, I’ll do better. And repeat. Until I do it as well as the teacher who taught me. We don’t expect our puppies to learn sit in the first try, and I need to remember to be gentle with myself as well. And reward myself for the little steps I make along the way as well. Yet, another reminder how my dogs are such great teachers! 

Kita Penn State

It takes a team

I get a lot of comments on my photos of the shelter cats. People are amazed that I can capture the personality of these cats in this tough environment. Many cats are scared, shy and insecure in this relatively new environment to them. The kitten photos, especially ones of the entire litter, are a big hit. And while I am the one who presses the shutter button on the camera, I don’t work alone.

When I started volunteering at PAWS, I had little experience with photography. Knowing that I loved photographing animals, I thought working with the shelter pets would be a great place for me to practice and improve my skills. At first it was just me, my camera and a cat in a room. Eventually I learned to bring things like string and kitty toys to get the cats attention. But they were always a moving target and sometimes I would take me as much as 15 minutes before I could get one decent photo. 

Then I started learning about off-camera flash and studio photography. I bought a white sheet and started using a flash. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a step better than what I had been creating. Eventually PAWS bought a strobe and I bought a light stand and umbrella. It was hard, but doable, multitasking to get these photos. It meant holding the camera, playing with a feather toy and trying to keep the cat on a table long enough to press the shutter button to get a photo…in focus! I didn’t photograph many cats because it took so long just to get something that was usable. 

After I earned enough points from all of my photography purchases at B & H, THE photo and video store in NYC, I was able to get a couple of savage seamless paper rolls for free. I chose colors that would be a nice background for my photos. At this point, I realized I couldn’t continue to work on my own. So I put out a plea and started working with an assistant. Someone who would help keep the cats on the table and engage them while I focus on getting the shot.

Yes, this means more effort to set up my equipment, but having an assistant also means I can photograph more cats every time I go into PAWS. And those photos of a bucket of kittens? Well, now you know the secret behind the shot! My assistant keeps all the kittens in place and with a few swishes of a feather toy, the kittens pop up and follow it with their eyes, while I just wait until that right moment and press the shutter button! 

I’ve had a couple of assistants over the last couple of years. Rebecca, my current one, has been helping for the last 2 years. Unfortunately for me, she is graduated from Penn State and is moving overseas to pursue a Master’s Degree. The hundreds of photos I’ve taken over the years wouldn’t have happened without Rebecca and all the other folks who have assisted me. Like so many other things at PAWS, it really is a team effort and I, alone, don’t deserve all the credit. 

Before saying good-bye to Rebecca, I took one last photo of her with this litter of kittens. Not only did she help me with the photos, but she also walked the dogs, took cats to the vet to be spayed or neutered, volunteered on the floor on the cat wing and so much more. Our volunteers from Penn State are invaluable and while we are always sad to see them go, we know they have bright futures waiting for them!

Rebecca and Frannie's kittens.jpg

On being a dog mom

Mother's Day is coming up and that means we get to celebrate all the wonderful moms who are working hard to raise their children. But what about all the women who don't have children but consider themselves a mom...to their dog? The #dogmoms? Shouldn't we be celebrating them too? While I'm not a mom to a 2 legged child, I do know that it is without a doubt the hardest job in the world. And the most rewarding! Being a dog mom can't compare to the most important job in the world. But, we do have a lot more in common than you might expect. Today I take a look at the ironic similarities between being a mom to kid without fur, and one without!

1. Babies are toilet trained and puppies are housebroken. Neither happen without encouragement and training from their moms!

2. Moms and dog moms take care of their babies when they're sick, sometimes sacrificing a good night's sleep or missing a day of work to do so.

3. Babies and puppies make plenty of messes and their moms are always cleaning up after them. Poop and all!

4. They arrange playdates with other kids and dogs. Yes, there is such a thing as doggy playdates.  Just like kids, dogs love the interaction with other dogs and fall asleep in the car on the way home.

5. Dog moms as well as moms have been known to cancel plans because their kid got sick. Somebody has got to stay home to nurse them until they are well again. 

6. I don't think there is a mom out there who hasn't felt guilty leaving her kids while they go to work. Dogs are especially good at making the sad puppy face as they watch us through the window.

7. Ask any mom to see her cell phone camera roll. Odds are that it's full of photos of her kids - fur and non furry ones!

8. It's a sure bet that moms set aside money to spend on her kid. She may even forego splurging on herself so she can dote on her baby...or pup!

9. She takes her kid to visit Santa Claus or the Easter bunny. Go back to #7...there's a good likelihood there's a photo in her cell phone camera roll!

10. Dress our kids up for Halloween. Ever see the Halloween costumes at Target or Party City? There's a whole section just for the fur-kids! Sometimes mom will co-ordinate her outfit with her pup's. Think Dorothy and Toto. Or Princess Leia and an Ewok. It's not weird, right?

11. Kids and dogs need regular baths. Especially after they've played in the mud on a rainy day.

12. Christmas cards have become so popular between friends and family. If you're going to send a photo of the family, why not include your fur-kid?

13. Ever see a sweet, pretty woman get all Cujo when her kid is attacked by another? Go to a dog park and watch a dog mom get all Mama Bear when her pup gets picked on by the canine bully! 

14. Moms have taken to spelling out words to keep their kids from going B-A-N-A-N-A-S! How often have you heard her say W-A-L-K or C-O-O-K-I-E??? 

15. Most moms complain that their house is never clean enough. At some point they just realize it doesn't matter that there are toys strewn all over the place, nose and finger prints on the windows and dust (fur) balls in the corners of the rooms. A messy house is a sign of a well loved home, right?

15. And finally, when moms dread having to have that heart to heart conversation and tell their kids that they aren't their real mom. But that they were adopted!!

And there you have it, why all moms should be celebrated! On a serious note, there's no role more important than the one of a mother. To all the women out there, whether you are a grandmother, aunt, or friend who have been like a mother or is a mom to someone special - Happy Mother's Day!!!! 

Golden Retriever and owner






To sleep or not to sleep with your dogs?

There's a lot of debate on whether we should or should not let our dogs sleep in bed with us. Studies have shown there are a lot of benefits to spooning with our furry best friends. According to statistics at least half the pet owners share their bed with a pet. Now, that's a lot of snuggling!

So if you've ever wondered if that foot warmer really did make your nights better, you're right! For one thing, they make us feel safe. Many people agree they sleep better when their dog is even in the same room. It's reassuring knowing they will wake up and bark if they hear something or someone that is alarming. It's easy to feel vulnerable when it's dark and quiet thus making it hard to get a good night's sleep.

In addition to making us feel safe, they also have a calming effect on us. Simply petting our dogs releases Oxytocin, a hormone associated with affection and happiness. That right there is all the reason I need to let my dogs sleep in bed with me!

Who can deny that dogs also make great bed warmers? I can't! I especially like it when my feet are cold and I can put them under Izzy's belly warming them up in no time! The sooner my feet feel warm, the faster I'll fall asleep.

Finally, even if your dog is a pillow thief, there's no denying that snuggling with your dog at night will help you develop a stronger bond. While there is proof that dogs have been sleeping in our beds for centuries, modern day folks say one reason they encourage this is because they are so busy during the day with work, they don't feel they spend enough time with them.

Despite the fact that dogs can also disrupt our sleep, most people agree that the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Even when you don't want to roll over because you know it will wake your dog up! Who else is guilty of this too?

Kita sleeping in bed

My dog would never sit still

When I tell people I am a pet photographer, most of the time they whip out their cell phones and show me photos of their fur kids. Then they'll share stories of cute little things their dogs do like tucking a paw over their eyes when they take a nap. Or how they tilt their heads when asked if they want to go out for a walk? Inevitably, most people will also tell me their dog would never sit still long enough to get good photos. And I tell them they are wrong!

Part of the process of a custom pet photography session with me includes a pre-session consultation. This is when I come over to your house, meet you and get to know your furry family members better. We talk about your goals for the session as well as your pet's likes, dislikes, fears, and what motivates him. I learn what you love most about your fur-kids and why it is important to you to have photos taken of them at this time in their lives. 

All of this helps prepare me for what tricks I will use during your session. It takes just one oh so brief moment to capture your pet doing what he does best. Being himself. Whether it be treats, words, sounds, toys, belly rubs, a quick game of fetch or all of it, there's something that works to capture every pet's attention and capture some great images.

So yes, your dog may be active and always on the go. That's ok. In that case, we'll start your session by capturing some action shots perhaps of your dog retrieving a tennis ball. Maybe you have a puppy who is curious about anything and everything but can't focus for very long. Well, then, we'll explore the world around her and when she tires out a little, we'll capture those calm, relaxed moments. If your dog is nervous and anxious then I'll invite you to cuddle and reassure him thus creating some fantastic images showcasing the bond you two share. 

I believe there is no such thing as THE perfect shot as it's all about capturing the essence and personality of your pet. And no dog or cat can fail to do this. Sure, it may take a little time and patience, but it will happen. After all, it's not every day your pet gets to be in the spotlight! 

German shorthair pointer with cows