Canine Christmas cards: Dogkey

Photos courtesy of Peter Thorpe

When brainstorming ideas for creative Christmas cards, English photographer Peter Thorpe skips the typical awkward family portrait and heads straight for the family pooch.

For the past 20 years, Thorpe has photographed his faithful dogs in comical, holiday-related situations for his annual holiday greeting. Unsurprisingly, it has become a beloved family tradition as well as a treasured documentation of his dogs' lives.

"The pictures started for my clients and extended to friends and family," Thorpe tells MNN. "They've become a bit of a collector's item, and some friends get the whole set out at Christmas!"

Canine Christmas cards: Little nipper

Although photography and technology has transformed a lot over that time, Thorpe has stayed faithful to the traditional practice of custom prop making and set design — no major Photoshop manipulation involved!

In the photo above, titled "Little Nipper," we find Raggle dressed up as a mouse and eyeing a fruitcake set up on a mouse trap.

"Elderly [and] with a weak heart, she still responds very well to tasty food so we lifted her on set for just a few minutes," Thorpe writes on his blog. "Like a true pro, [she] sat in position and gave a few head and eye line options before returning to her basket for another snooze!"

Canine Christmas cards: Little Nipper, behind the scenes

The aging Jack Russell mix has served as the primary star in all the cards from the past decade, but Thorpe has decided that 2014 will be her last Christmas card appearance. After all, even dogs deserve a good retirement.

Before Raggle, it was another Jack Russell mix named Paddy who graced Thorpe's annual Christmas card. In the 2001 card (below), Paddy was decked out in full choir boy garb:

Canine Christmas cards: Choir boy

These charismatic pups — both of them rescues — are beloved by not only the Thorpe family but the card recipients as well. One friend of Thorpe's friends goes so far as to say, "Christmas starts when Pete's card arrives!"

Continue below for a look at more of these charming holiday portraits of Raggle and Paddy, as well as a few behind-the-scenes shots:

Canine Christmas cards: Penguin

Canine Christmas cards: Penguin, behind the scenes

Canine Christmas cards: Snowbird

Canine Christmas cards: Snowbird

Canine Christmas cards: Bah humbug

Canine Christmas cards: Sheepdog

Canine Christmas cards: Dog roast

Canine Christmas cards: Camel dog

Canine Christmas cards: Fairy

Canine Christmas cards: Lights, camera, action

Canine Christmas cards: Pigdog

Canine Christmas cards: Bouncers

Canine Christmas cards: Rudolph

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Catie Leary is a photo editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.

The art and magic behind one photographer's legendary canine Christmas cards
When brainstorming ideas for the annual Christmas card, this photographer skips the typical family portrait and heads straight for the family pooch.