Good posts dude,
you really have a thing for Sparth eh?
Channeling him isn't a bad idea I guess, can only hope that something springs out of emulating him for you.
2 things i'd do, more concrete shadows and placing speculars, you have to be quite precise about the lighting but i think it's worth it to really make things pop and give them depth.
Some good ideas floating around anyway.
p.s. how the hell did you get your dog to pose for you ? xD