Owner Of World's Most Adventurous Dog Says He's 'Just Genuinely Happy'
In the age of touch-ups and Photoshop, it's easy to see a photo this perfect and be skeptical about whether it's even remotely real. But it's that organic connection between photographer Hunter Lawrence and his dog, Aspen, that makes his photos resonate with so many fans.
The photos capture Aspen as he really is. "We're not doing something to make him smile," Lawrence, who runs an Instagram account with more than 160,000 fans, told The Dodo. "He's just genuinely happy."
Lawrence, better known as Aspen the Mountain Pup's human, spoke with The Dodo about trust, human-dog eye contact and what he thinks Aspen's thinking when modeling for one of the many stunning photos for which he's grown famous.
As perfect as Aspen's photos appear, Lawrence and his wife, Sarah, were uncertain whether they wanted to use Instagram to share photos of their dog, but when they saw how the photos turned out, they convinced themselves that the images were worth sharing.
"We had taken beautiful photos of him in some wild places, and we thought, 'Hey, I think we got something here,'" Lawrence recalled. "Let's just share them with our friends and family to show where we're taking our dog.
In addition to the colorful Colorado landscape that frequently works as a backdrop, Lawrence's photos are known for featuring Aspen's incredible focus and eye contact, which is sometimes stoic and sometimes joyful, but, as Lawrence put it, always "organic."
"Aspen's as organic as it gets. Camera or no camera, it's the same dog," he explained, noting the difference between working with a dog and a human as a model. "There's always the risk as soon as you pull out a camera that people will get shy." But when it comes to being photographed, Aspen couldn't care less. "He's fully secure. There's just this connection between he and I."
That connection is in part due to their history together. Lawrence has cared for Aspen for four years since he was "a tiny, little ball of fur," he said. "He's always been the same cuddly pup over the last four years."
Even back then, Aspen sported his signature stare - straight into the camera - that Lawrence explained comes naturally to the dog. "His eyes are constantly on me and Sarah," he said. "Sometimes I won't even put the camera up to my eye. I'll just look right at him and hold the camera low. I can see it in my viewfinder. I don't even need to put it up to my eye and sever that connection."
About a year ago, Lawrence, Sarah and Aspen moved from their home state of Texas to live in Colorado, where they're better able to travel for work, as both Lawrence and his wife are professional photographers.
"We're always up in the mountains for those, or we're traveling by car up to places like Canada or Oregon," Lawrence said. "He'll come along for the ride."
"We don't even take him on a leash anymore," Lawrence said. "He'll just go run up a mountain or jump into a freezing cold river." He always comes right back, Lawrence added.
Lawrence attributes the trust he's built with Aspen to the years of spending time with each other and deciding to train him. "They're only as good as you're willing to put in effort and time," he said.
It's the trust and understanding that allows Lawrence to take photographs of Aspen in situations where most dogs would be running around, overly stimulated by their surroundings.
"He's well-trained, so if I tell him to place, he's not going to leave until I tell him release," Lawrence said. "I can see it in his eyes; He's thinking, 'Come on dad, can we hurry this up? Can I get back to what i was doing? Can I get back to digging in the snow or can I get back to jumping in the water?'" Lawrence imagines. "But I don't think he minds too much."
Thanks to Lawrence, Aspen has seen more nature in a year than some house dogs get to see in a lifetime, but that's only part of the reason Aspen loves going on hikes and adventures with Lawrence and Sarah. The other reason has to do more with something that all dog owners can relate to, no matter where they are.