Julie Bernier Photography | Blog

Welcome to my photography blog, where I will occasionally share stories about my photographic adventures with and without dogs, and offer tips from my work.  Feel free to leave comments and questions.  I'd love to hear from you!

Rawhide: Our Advice on Which, When and How to Introduce it to your Pup

June 22, 2012  •  Leave a Comment



     Here at Dances With Dogs, we sell ONE type of rawhide chew for our puppy students.  It's unbleached, pressed and 4" in length.  Our research has revealed that unbleached rawhide saves your pup from a lot of added chemicals used to make traditional rawhide bones white in color.  Pressed rawhide is safer than some other types because it's more tightly compacted and holds together longer during chewing, resulting in less risk of your pup choking on small pieces.  We like the 4" bones because they are big enough to satisfy your pup's natural chewing instinct but not so big as to cause digestive upset if used correctly.  These bones are a bit more expensive than some others, but they are more thoughtfully made with a dog's health in mind.  We buy them in bulk and sell to you so that you can benefit from the lower price here at DWD.  Our adult Labs get one bone each morning after breakfast.

You can begin introducing your pup to the joy of rawhide chewing as soon as you'd like after bringing him home.  The key is moderation.  Start by allowing brief periods of gnawing, perhaps 10 minutes at a time, and then place the rawhide in a baggie and store in your freezer between uses.  Brief gnawing periods will ensure that your pup doesn't ingest a lot of rawhide in one sitting.  SInce you don't know how your pup's digestive system will react to dried beef hide, it's best to go slowly and see how things look on the other end as you go along.  It wouldn't be a great idea to allow your pup to chew and swallow an entire 4" bone in one sitting.  Instead, allow your pup to chew for 10 minutes about three times per day and go from there.  Placing the rawhide in the freezer between sessions should keep bacteria from your dog's saliva from multiplying on the bone, and a cold rawhide feels nice against your pup's sore gums when they are teething.  

Today I had four pups in my Intermediate Large Breed Puppy Class, which was a small enough group to be able to properly supervise rawhide chewing.  Rawhide bones, like raw bones or even Nylabones, are a "high-value" item for dogs....meaning they will potentially guard the object from other dogs, or attempt to steal the item from another dog and a nasty fight could easily ensue.  Our advice for those of you who may be having puppy play dates is this:  DO NOT give the puppies ANY high-value items and put away any "special" toys that a pup may want to guard.  Otherwise, you are just asking for trouble.  Instead, keep toys to a minimum and choose an interactive toy like one of our braided fleece tugs that the pups can play with together.  We used the rawhide chews as a teaching tool for the four pups today.  Here's how we do that:

196 First, I chose a space small enough to contain my four students for close supervision.  I gave each of them a rawhide and watched their reactions.  Jesse Golden Retriever took hers and retreated to a far corner where she could chew in peace away from her classmates.  Lily Rottweiler and Ace Yellow Lab settled down about three feet from each other, and faced each other so they could keep an eye on each other while chewing.  Miss Beazy Rottie Mix had a hard time settling in.  She was very curious and interested in the other pups' chews and kept dropping hers and wandering over to Ace to see if she could take hers from her.  Each time Miss Beazy got up and headed toward another pup, I would wave a kibble under her nose to get her attention and would then use that to lure her back to her spot and her own rawhide.  Ace attempted to do the same thing...and I used the same tactic to lure her back to her spot and to her own rawhide.    The three pups who were close to each other ALL kept one eye on the potential competition while enjoying their rawhides.  I kept my attention completely on these three pups so that I could quickly intervene and turn a "stealing" situation around the moment it started.

Most pups have a very short attention span, and thus, they will chew for a moment and then start looking at what the other pups are doing.  If you aren't careful, they'll all start dropping their own bones, going for each other's prizes and then you've got a serious safety situation on your hands.  For the purposes of THIS activity, we don't allow ANY sharing or exchanging of bones from pup to pup.  Using my kibble and my clicker, I keep everyone in their places and focused on their own bone.

When the pups are enjoying a high-value item, it's also a fantastic time to work on the "give" skill with them.  Sometimes called "drop it" or "release," this skill essentially involves letting go of any item when you ask them to.  As with any new skill you are trying to build with your pup, the first question you need to answer for your pup is, "What's in it for me?"  In this case (and most cases when you are training), the answer is "a tasty treat."  Today, I used the pups' kibble and that worked just fine.  With some pups you may need to try something MORE delicious/tasty/worth working for than kibble.

It's important, when approaching a dog with a high-value item like a delicious raw bone or a rawhide chew, that you take it very slow and that you make sure the dog can see you coming.  Don't sneak up or move quickly or you may startle the dog and trigger a guarding response (growling, lunging, snapping at you).  For today's lesson, I approached slowly directly in front of the pup with a few kibble in my outstretched hand.  The pups have a level of trust with me, as I reward them all day long with kibble during training.  I aim my hand toward their eyes/nose (not their mouths) so that they can see/smell the kibble while still chewing on their rawhide.  This triggers their interest in what I have and is less threatening than if I was reaching toward their rawhide.    For several repetitions, I simply feed them the kibble and walk away.  This is building trust in the pup that I mean no harm and that I come bearing gifts of free kibble.

Some breeds are more instinctual guarders than others, and sometimes certain dogs are more possessive than others, so I am used to working with a bunch of different personality styles when building the "give" skill.  Some pups need me to go very slowly and they need many repetitions of "something for nothing"...meaning I give the kibble and don't touch their rawhide, always watching for relaxed demeanor and a trusting exchange and being alert for subtle signs of guarding.

Depending on the pup's readiness, I next move on to touching their rawhide while they are chewing the offered kibble, or holding the rawhide while they eat the kibble, or removing the rawhide.  Again, each pup is different and some progress quickly to the next level and others need more time to get comfortable with the exchange before giving up their rawhide.  If at any time, I get a negative/guarding response from a pup, I will offer a higher value treat such as a chunk of steak or chicken or deli meat.  After all, it has to be worth it for the dog to stop chewing the delightful rawhide in favor of something else.  

Each of the four pups I worked with today were willing to exchange their rawhides for the kibble and I made the exchange many times with each of them, offering kibble...placing a few in front of them...taking their rawhide...and then returning it when they finished chewing.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.  Soon, the pups "got it" and understood the game.  "You give me kibble, I eat it, you hold my rawhide for me while I eat, and then you give it back."  Cool!  Next time, we will add the "give" word to the game and I will use the clicker to "mark" the correct response (dropping it or allowing me to take it from their mouths) but first we'll review what they already know many, many times and THEN add the cue word so they can associate that with the reward.  The goal is for each pup to DROP the coveted item in favor of the reward when they hear the cue word.  Practice makes perfect....and then you can generalize the skill to other things when you are out in the "real world."

More about rawhide...  You can use your rawhide chew as a "YES" or legal chewing item when you catch your pup chewing on a "NO" or illegal item.  Don't chew that...chew THIS.  Your pup has a natural desire to chew and they will go through bouts of teething as they grow, so rawhide has a valuable place as an exerciser of the teeth and aid with teething.  Rawhide should NEVER be given if you can't supervise the whole time.  Small chunks can break off and you'll want to remove those so that your pup doesn't choke on them.

In today's exercise, Miss Beazy either has a stronger chewing instinct or she got a rawhide that wasn't as well-made as the others...or both.  In the photo, you can see how the outer layer of her rawhide peeled off.  I removed that and allowed her to continue to chew on the remaining bone.  My adult Labs can easily chew and swallow all of the small pieces and layers that may peel off quite safely.  Sometimes, though, if they eat the rawhide too quickly, they will throw it up.  If your pup throws up rawhide, it will look soggy and won't be stiff, as the liquids and enzymes in their gut have begun to digest it.  I do let my dogs re-eat it immediately.  Gross, I know, but if I look away while they do it, it's not so bad and my clean up is easier!

Seeing spots of blood on your pup's chewed rawhide is totally normal and to be expected.  They may even lose a tooth while chewing on a rawhide.  This is because they are teething and is nothing to worry about.  In this photo, you can see blood on Ace's rawhide after she'd been chewing it for about 15 minutes.


This is what my four students' rawhides looked like at the end of our lesson today.  As you can see, each pup chewed with their own level of intensity and the results are different for each.  That's why supervising your pup while s/he chews is important.  You can gauge how quickly they go through a 4" bone and plan accordingly.  Some pups will make short work of it and be looking for another one in 20 minutes.  Other pups will work on the same bone for days before finishing it off.  If your pup's digestive system reacts poorly to a rawhide chew, then record that in your food diary and try another item for gnawing next time.  Planet Dog and Fetch have many to choose from and their store employees are well-educated, are dog owners themselves, and will advise you of your options if you consult with them.  They're happy to help!

Ode to Willard Beach

February 28, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Today I am excited to be adding an Ode to Willard Beach gallery to the site.  Since moving to South Portland almost six years ago, my entire family has become enamored with Willard Beach.  This stretch of sandy/rocky coastline offers a salt breeze, a bracing swim, a place for building sand castles, climbing on rocks and contemplating the rugged beauty of the Maine coast, all within a mile of our home.  How lucky we are that it's also a place where our canine companions can romp and play as well!  The word "lucky"  was purposefully chosen and aptly describes the sense of gratefulness and personal responsibility I feel for this wonderful, precious gift our dogs get to enjoy.  

I have been photographing dogs and people at play on Willard Beach (usually with my own dogs in tow) for several years now, and I never tire of this activity.  Looking back over my photographs, which now number in the thousands, several themes speak to me.  Uninhibited joy is a BIG theme illustrated in my work.  Sand flying, water spraying...and dogs leaping into the surf to retrieve balls or sticks....or simply to feel the deliciousness of cold ocean water on a hot day.  These dogs express JOY so well!  Deep relaxation is another lovely theme revealed in my photos.  Look into the eyes of folks strolling at the water's edge and you can almost feel the bliss emanating from them.  The beach is a magical, healing place for many of us...a place for deep breathing, contemplation, meditation.  Community is yet another theme in the photos.  People and dogs together...young and old, spry and feeble...enjoying nature and maybe even each other.  There are people off shore as well...in the sailboats, kayaks, cruise ships and working boats that pass by Willard Beach in the course of a day, adding further to the sense of community.

The history of Willard Beach, and specifically the sharing of it amongst people and dogs, is not without a good amount of tarnish and ugliness.  Occasionally while visiting there, you may rub up against this sometimes unhappy marriage between those who want the beach to remain open to dogs and those who prefer them to go elsewhere to romp.  The bottom line, at least for my dog-owning self, is that rules and the following of them can protect the status quo...and the status quo is that well-mannered dogs are allowed on the beach during certain hours and times of the year.  Going back to my use of the word "lucky" in describing how I feel about the privilege and pleasure of being allowed to romp with my dogs off-leash in the ocean so close to my home, I absolutely DO feel fortunate and blessed.  Each and every time I visit Willard Beach, I behave responsibly and am sure to do more than my part to be a good steward of the beach.  Picking up after my dogs is my duty and responsibility.  Leashing them if they are not behaving appropriately or obeying recall is an absolute MUST.  Beyond that, I deeply enjoy meeting and greeting my neighbors and friends, dog-owning and dogless alike.  We laugh at the dogs' antics, catch up a bit, and often connect with a human touch...a pat on the arm or a simple hug.  It's such a beautiful thing, this sharing of Willard Beach.  I hope you enjoy it in my Ode to Willard Beach gallery, and that it speaks to you as it has to me....of joy and peace and nature and serenity, of community and laughter and the sheer LUCK of living where we do.  Namaste.

Tips for Photographing Your Dog

February 21, 2012  •  Leave a Comment


Chances are good that your pooch is simply adorable.  Capturing with your camera that “something special” that is the essence of your dog’s personality CAN happen.  Dogs are wiggly, squirmy, distracted little beings and it’s true that getting a good photo can drive a human bonkers.  There ARE, however, a few tricks I’ve learned in my five years of photographing the pups and dogs in my school that can up the odds that you’ll be successful.
SHOOT OUTDOORS.  The light is much easier to work with and your photos will look more natural and less “staged” than those taken indoors.  Shoot in indirect light rather than bright sunlight.  I’ve found that the early morning and late afternoon light is softer and makes for better photos.
DON’T DIRECT:  Let your dog simply go about his/her business and try to capture your photos at times when your dog isn’t paying much/any attention to YOU.  If you try and pose your dog or use your voice to get his/her attention, things quickly turn stressful.  Most dogs will pick right up on this and there goes your shoot!
OFFER PROPS:  Using things like a Nylabone, stuffed toy or tennis ball as interactive objects is a good way to capture fun photos, as dogs tend to curl themselves around their favorite toys and just naturally stop and pose while gnawing on a bone.  You can also use the toy or bone as a lure....waving a tennis ball often gets the intense attention of a ball-crazy dog, for instance.  If you can hold the toy in one hand and snap photos with the other hand, you’ll get something worth sharing.  And the dog gets the treasured object as a reward.  Also consider bringing out an old, metal wash bucket or  maybe a picnic basket to use as a prop.  Try placing your pup inside....or simply let him sniff it and see what happens.  You just might get a prize-winning shot if you're patient and open to the possibilities.
USE TREATS:  This can sometimes work to get a dog to sit or lie down, but treats can also elicit the drooling response in your dog, so use sparingly.  Treats can sometimes be too distracting to a dog, as some become more interested in the FOOD than in playing, and play is the thing that makes for the best photo opportunities....so choose wisely.  I often use treats when I am placing a hat or a scarf on a dog and I want to distract them from THAT object.  Sometimes this can be successful...
DOG UP, HUMAN DOWN:  Dogs are short, so make use of places/props in your yard where your dog can be a couple of feet higher than you when you take the photos.  Rock walls, stairways and benches or chairs are some examples of places where you’ll be able to be position yourself more at eye-level with the dog.  You’ll want your camera lens straight-on rather than tilted up or down for the best photos.
LIE DOWN:  Toward the end of the day here at puppy school, all the dogs are tired and they like to lie down on the deck in the shade.  This is one of my favorite times to photograph them.  The light is soft and I don’t mind lying face down on the deck to get close up shots of paws and muzzles and eyes and noses.  The results are often stunning.  I’ve also gotten some really cool photos by lying down in the grass in front of my dogs.
TAKE LOTS OF PHOTOS:  When your dog is in a great position, snap a lot of photos from different angles and focal lengths.  You never know WHICH photo will be the “perfect” one, so work quickly and snap often.
Have fun....and feel free to share your best shots with me by sending them to danceswithdogs@maine.rr.com.  I’ll post them on my Facebook site for all to enjoy!

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