Whether you have a DSLR camera or a smartphone, sometimes the act of taking a photograph of your dog can trigger them to become anxious, stressed, or even aggressive. Because these behaviours are usually caused by fear, our goal is to help your dog build confidence and view the camera as a fun and enjoyable experience!
We have combined our knowledge of dog behaviour and dog photography, to come up with our top tips on getting your dog to feel happy and comfortable in front of the camera!
Remember that you know your dog more than anyone else, and you always have to trust your gut feeling. If at any point you are worried or concerned about a certain behaviour your dog is showing, make sure to speak to your vet.
Excess and built up energy can make it difficult for dogs to focus, this can amplify and even cause all sorts of behaviours. Before you bring the camera out, take your dog for a nice walk beforehand so they are calmer and more relaxed. We also want them to be a little bit peckish, so avoid large meals beforehand.
Before you plan to take any photos, try sitting on the floor with your camera and some treats. Face away from your dog and just let them come and investigate the object, but don’t rush or try and take a photo just yet, give them some treats while they are investigating the camera. Let them get used to it in their own time, after a few minutes put the camera away, now play with your dog. There is no rush, we just want your dog to be happy and relaxed around the object.
A positive association towards the camera has already started by using treats, this is really important. We want your dog to learn that whenever the camera comes out, good things happen, and they get tasty treats and lots of rewards. Stay sitting on the floor but hold the camera in your hand and bring it up a few inches, if this doesn’t bother them and they don’t react, give them some treats and lower the camera back into your lap. The goal is to bring up the camera all the way to your face – as you normally would taking a picture, but do this really slowly and in stages. If at any time your dog becomes uncomfortable, simply take a step backwards and go even slower.
Desensitise the Camera
Give your dog something they love, such as a Kong filled with their favourite treat, or their favourite toy. Let them enjoy their treat and simply walk around the house with the camera, don’t try and photograph your dog at this stage, but you can try taking some photos of different things in the house while your dog is happily occupied with their treat – keep the flash off at this stage. This is especially useful if your camera makes a noise – sometimes you can turn your camera to silent shooting, but this isn’t possible on all cameras. Again, there is a positive association being formed, because they are enjoying a tasty treat while the camera is present, but the camera isn’t focussed on them or posing a threat.
Listen and Communicate
Dogs communicate through body language, and when us humans don’t understand or notice, these behaviours may escalate. A simple tail tuck could turn into barking if we don’t notice! Try and look out for any signs of discomfort and act on them immediately, lip licking, a paw lifted off the ground, excessive yawning and panting can all be signs of stress. Your dog is just saying to you ‘I’m not really happy about this, can you stop?’ Observe and listen, this way you can have a conversation with your dog. By putting the camera down, you are saying ‘don’t worry, I am listening to you and you can trust me’ and your dog doesn’t need to escalate their behaviour.
When you think your dog is ready, start by taking photos from a distance and from different angles. Position your own body so you aren’t standing directly in front of the dog. From here you can progress to coming a bit closer, eventually you can ask your dog to pose and look up towards the camera. But to begin with, just build their confidence and help them to feel really happy and relaxed having their photograph taken. Remember to keep using treats every time your dog doesn’t react to the camera.
Ask for Permission
You might have worked really hard to get your dog to feel happy in front of the camera, but sometimes dogs will just have an off day. Just like us! They might be tired or feeling unwell. Even the most confident dog will have a day where they decide they aren’t really in the mood for photos, and that is absolutely fine. Remember to look out for those subtle body language signs, if you bring out your camera and your dog doesn’t want to be photographed, don’t worry and don’t try to force it to happen. Let them walk away and try again tomorrow!
Remember to take it slow, if at any stage your dog shows signs of stress, anxiety or aggression, just simply rewind and go back to the last point where they were relaxed and happy!