SAF Sep 2024 DRAFT

SAF Sep 2024 DRAFT


September 2024  Volume 43  Number 8

Scene Around Fearrington:

Augie: The Photographer That Takes Selfies

By Donald Lokuta

Photographs by Augie


Click on any photo to see an enlarged view. If necessary, right-click and select “Open link in new tab”.

Dogs eagerly pay attention to us and need little encouragement to work on tasks that we present to them.
Frans de Waal, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?


Augie is a Bernedoodle. His father is a Bernese Mountain dog and his mother is a Standard Poodle. Melissa and I have lived with dogs before, but Augie is nothing like the dogs we were familiar with. He’s gentle like a Bernese, and super-intelligent like a Poodle. He’s very easy to train, and difficult to keep up with. Since we first saw him, at the age of three weeks, his energy level has remained over the top.

Melissa and I shoot a lot of photographs. I’m a retired university professor (fine art photography) and Melissa is an accomplished photographer. When Augie became part of the family we made hundreds of photographs of him. I thought, “I wish he could take his own photographs”, then wondered if it were actually possible. I tried several possibilities, and opted for a foot switch with a modern mirror-less digital camera. I also purchased an electronic flash and a small tripod. We were ready for Augie to make self-portraits.

The problem was, he wasn’t interested. I taught him to “target” the pedal, and I was very patient, but after days of failure I began to believe he wasn’t smart enough to make photographs. I put the idea on hold.

I later spoke to a professional dog trainer and explained what I wanted Augie to do. When I told her he was a little over a year old, she said, “Forget about that idea until he’s at least two.” She explained that the usual puppy tricks are easy, but what I wanted to do would take a little more maturity.

Augie at Home

When Augie was a little over two, I placed the foot pedal in front of him and said “photo.” I lifted his paw to help him tap the pedal, then gave him a treat. We repeated that many times. After a break, I brought the pedal out again and set it in front of him. Without touching his foot, I said “photo” and he tapped the pedal on his own. This was the beginning of Augie’s photography career.

Later that day, Augie sat at the entrance to the kitchen watching us make his dinner. I quickly set the camera on the tripod and connected the cord from the pedal to the camera. I placed the foot switch in front of him and said, “Augie, photo.” He stepped on the pedal and made his first photograph.

The camera was set on a three-second self-timer, giving him more time to look up at the camera after he tapped the pedal. He made photograph after photograph without a treat in sight. For the next month, we practiced almost every day, moving to different rooms and making photographs outdoors.

In the Front Yard

Self-portrait with Vietta

Although it was a good way to get him focused at first, he didn’t always want treats. He worked for praise. He didn’t need the self-timer either. He learned to look down to locate the pedal; when it was time to make the photograph, while looking directly at the camera, he stepped on the pedal. Sometimes he wouldn’t wait for my prompt—he often made the photo before I got out of the way! When the flash fired, he knew his task was complete. We realized that he looked forward to making photographs.

Augie’s 6th Birthday

With Wendy, Doug and Milo

Stanley and Augie

We were not interested only in the mech­anical aspect of Augie making self-portraits; we were intrigued by his expressive emotional responses at different times and in different situations. Nor did we didn’t want to use Augie as a prop, dressed up or posed in a studio environment.

Self-portrait with Bev, June Bug, and Oreo

With Twins, Ruthie and Winnie

With Twins, Robert and William

We want Augie’s photographs to show something about his life. We want them to be a self-portrait. In a photograph, if Augie wants to sit or lay down, that’s fine. If he wants to stand, that’s okay too. He most often uses his left paw to make photographs, but occasionally it’s his right—sometimes both at the same time. We want Augie to participate in his own way.

At the Duke Canine Cognition Center

Truist Bank, with Joe, Eric, Cameron and Ray


Augie watches us very care­fully. He studies our every move and recog­nizes body language, and has adapted to our lifestyle very quickly. He’s eager to work on tasks, is very expressive, and very communicative. Augie engages in a lot of steady eye contact.

Frans de Waal said, “Dogs are good at learning the things they need to know.” He added, “if reared by another species, they are prepared to imitate that one as well.”

With Augie, we really do question if we are smart enough to know how smart animals are.

FHA Board Members

Our Fearrington Home­owners Association (FHA) is a volunteer, non-profit organization dedicated to the health, safety, and welfare of residents. In addition to fostering resident participation, the FHA is res­ponsible for maintenance of common property and covenant enforcement. For additional details, including job des­criptions, visit the FHA tab on our webpage,

PresidentSteve Stewart
Vice PresidentAmy Ghiloni
SecretaryJudy Graham
TreasurerTony Daniels
CommunicationsTony Carroll
Community AffairsRuth Ann Burk
Grounds and FacilitiesPatrick McGahan
Health, Safety and SecurityWarren Ort

The Belted Gazette

The Belted Gazette is produced by the Fearrington Home­owners Association (FHA), by and for the residents of Fearrington Village in Pittsboro, NC.

Newsletter Staff:
Copy EditorDiane Frazier
Features Editor & Copy EditorJackie Walters
FHA AdvisorTony Carroll
Graphic DesignerLeslie Palmer
Photo EditorGordon Pitz
Production EditorJan Kowal
ProofreaderJenny Walker
Contributing CorrespondentTad McArdle
Web Page
Alison TozerSteve Anderson
Printing and Distribution
Carol KurtzBarbara Amago


The Belted Gazette contains community news, reports from the FHA Board members, items of interest to residents, and announce­ments of club and neighbor­hood activities.

Content deadlines are the 15th of the previous month. All persons submitting content will receive a confirmation email.

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The Belted Gazette is published electron­ically 11 times a year (July/August is a combined issue). A link to the current issue is emailed to all residents who have an email address in the FHA Directory. A PDF copy of the current issue and back issues can be found on the FHA website (