Skinny Puppy?

Yesterday, I posted an article about the new laws for e-collars in Quebec. As usual, I shared the link to the article on various social media platforms and discussion forums. Overall, the article was well received. I got some positive feedback and many 'thanks!' for explaining the nuances of the laws.

But, surprisingly, I also got some very negative feedback about the photo (below) that I posted to illustrate the article. 

The photos is of my dog Henri on an intense point in the middle of the hunting season. It is from a burst of shots that I took machine-gun style as he pointed a covey of nervous sharp-tailed grouse. When I got home and looked at the series, the one I finally chose was the frame of Henri inhaling deeply, taking in a huge gulp of scent. I felt that the shot really showed Henri's muscles, his lean, fit build and the intensity of the point. I then did more than my usual amount of post-processing to the shot, increasing the contrast, clarity, sharpness etc. to add drama and definition to Henri's physique. 

I've used the photo before in other contexts and I've received a lot of compliments on it from people who are used to seeing super-fit field trial dogs or hard core hunting dogs on a super intense point, sucking in scent. But when I posted it yesterday, it seems that some folks only saw a dog that, to them, looked like it was 'starving', 'ill',' or 'abused'.  

And that is fine. I believe that everyone is entitled to an opinion. If they feel that they are able to judge the weight and fitness of a dog in a single photo, then so be it. But basing an opinion on a single photo is almost never a good idea. And if the opinion is backed up by nothing more than a profound lack of knowledge about how hard-core, high-performance dogs actually look when they are doing what they are bred to do in the field or how photos can be 'tweaked' to exaggerate a certain look, maybe that opinion should remain private. Just sayin'

But post they did. Some folks made comments suggesting that I should immediately double or triple my dog's daily food ration to 'put some weight on him'. Others thought I should never hunt a dog in such 'poor' shape. So I thanked them for their concern (sincerely, I am sure they mean well and only want to help) and then I proceeded to explain why they were wrong:

First of all, as mentioned, the image is part of a series of about 15-20 shots taken over the course of maybe 5 seconds, as Henri was pointing a nervous covey of sharp-tailed grouse. Whenever I shoot a series like that, I weed through them after the shoot, deleting the less-than-great shots and only keeping the 'keepers'.

Here is a shot of Henri taken on the same day. To my eye, he looks anything but 'starving'. 

And here are some photos of Henri taken just minutes before I took the series of photos of him on point. 

But the one I kept, tweaked and them posted was this frame taken as Henri inhaled deeply, drinking in a huge gulp of scent. Here it is before any real 'tweaking' in Lightroom and Photoshop:

And here is the shot that was taken half a second later as Henri exhaled. Note how the muscles all look the same, but the ribs are less prominent. 
Obviously not a 'keeper'!

But that is not the only reason the ribs in the posted photo are so obvious. By adjusting the contrast, clarity and other things in the image, all the lines of the physique are enhanced. Here is a comparison on the 'inhale' shot, before (top) and after Lightroom and Photoshop tweaks (bottom):

So another step in the process made the ribs even more apparent. Personally, I like the look...but maybe it is because I like my dogs to look like Georges Saint Pierre (and my wife wishes I looked like Georges...)

But I can understand why some folks might look at the shot and think WOW, what a skinny dog! Maybe they are just not very familiar with the kind of athletic build many of us prefer, and maybe they are not aware of just how much a photo can exaggerate things. 

Take a look at this photo of an all-age Pointer. I took it during a field trial in Manitoba. Does his food ration need to be doubled? Or is he fit to run in the national championship? (the answer is the latter!). 

And take a look at this historical photo of a Weimaraner in Germany. Is it 'starving' or just really, really fit?

And if you want to see what Henri looks like in action on sharp-tails and snipe, and also see the effect that sucking in scent has on the appearance of the rib cage, take a look at this video. It was taken a day or two before the photo of Henri on point. Watch as he breaths in, you will see the ribs appear..and disappear.

And finally, here is a shot of the actual covey of birds Henri was pointing that day. SHARP-TAILS!!

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  1. Obviously you have very fit active weims!! Most people don't know what that is and most dogs are very overweight!! I don't understand why the vets don't say anything to them other than they may quit going to them. It is a huge disservice for them to let them "think" they just have a large dog!

  2. Lovely, lovely dog. People should really educate themselves before commenting on working dog photos . . . Ooops, I suggested education before knee-jerk responses. Oh, silly me...

  3. well donne! u dont really need to explain anythink, but good job!

  4. i am glad I read this. I did not know about the breathing in scents and the difference in his body. he is a gorgeous dog. my dog does not hunt and does not have the same look. thanks for the piece and educating people.

  5. Your dogs are gorgeous. I follow your blog because I have such admiration and envy for the birding and pointing opportunities you provide to them. Just point the people with negative comments to your Tribute Post to Henrito and Souris-Manon. After they see your beautiful pictures over the years it is clear to see your dogs are living the dream :)

  6. This is a dog at a good healthy working weight. Most people's dogs are grossly obese as they are not used for their intended purpose, rather they languish indoors being stuffed with treats.

  7. People that know nothing about the dog will always have an opinion. I live in Quebec with a 3yr old male Westwind/Hillhaven GSP who weighs only 50lbs. Although I don't hunt him, spring, summer, fall, we are out anywhere from 3-5 hrs/day hiking, running, etc. and he eats double the amount of high quality Acana food plus organic "snacks" during this time & I still have trouble trying to keep weight on him because of the amount of energy he expends. He is 50lbs of pure healthy muscle, and yes, his ribs show.

  8. Oh, were you talking about dogs?

    I only saw George St. Pierre....such a sexy man