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How to Photograph Nervous, Overstimulated, and Reactive Dogs

When working with various dogs during a photoshoot experience, it's important to adapt to each dog's personality, training level, age, and confidence. With a few simple techniques, you can tailor the session to suit the individual dog.


Before your photoshoot experience we suggest creating a form to send the owner so you can find out about the dog so you can tailor the experience for them. Questions could include:

  • "Tell me about your dog"

  • "Where is your dog most happiest and comfortable?"

  • "Does your dog have any allergies, injuries or special requirements we should know about?"

  • "What is their favourite thing to do?"

Nervous, anxious or cautious dogs

It's common to encounter dogs who are a bit cautious or even nervous around new people and camera equipment. It's essential to approach with empathy and patience as this is likely a brand new experience for them. Here is how to help them feel more comfortable.

Give Time and Patience: Allow the dog some time to adjust to the environment. Let them sniff around and don't ask them to do anything (like sit and pose) straight away. Avoid looking directly at them or speaking to them excitedly, as this can be overwhelming. Stay calm and neutral, letting them come to you and sniff at their own pace.

Embrace the Use of Treats: The act of eating is naturally calming for a dog so we always bring lots of different types of treats. Sprinkle some treats onto the area in front of the camera. Use your tastiest treats available and allow them to explore, building up a positive association with the photoshoot area. Give them the freedom to walk away and try again if it's too much.

Maintain Calm Body Language: Keep relaxed body language and give plenty of space. Never make the dog feel trapped in the photoshoot area. Position yourself slightly away from the dog, avoiding direct eye contact and allowing them to move away from you if they want.

Consider Alternative Angles: If the dog is struggling, you could try capturing the photo from further away. If you have a zoom lens, position yourself at a distance to give them space and not distract them. See if they will play or interact with their surroundings, such as sniffing in the bushes or playing with a toy.

Choose a Quiet Location: Consider a location that is appropriate for them. A studio photoshoot might be harder and more worrying for a nervous dog because of the new and different surroundings. Visiting them in their own back garden or a familiar local park will likely be easier for them.

Overstimulated, hyper or overexcited dogs (or puppies!)

An overstimulated or overexcited dog can sometimes be tricky to capture because theres a fine line between happy and focussed and stressed and frantic. They can move very fast and can sometimes become stressed if their surroundings are too overwhelming. If you are working with a dog like this, the best thing to do is to act calm and neutral so you're not adding to their excitement. Here are some techniques to try.

Choose a Boring Location: Sometimes, even the smell of other dogs or wildlife in a new place can be enough to cause a dog to completely lose interest in you and any treats you have. Our best tip for this is to allow the dog to fully explore and investigate before you begin, whether this is your photography studio or an outdoor space. If outdoors, mentally create some boundary lines and allow them to sniff and explore it entirely, walking back and forth multiple times calmly. Avoid asking them to do anything and just give them time to soak in their environment. This simple trick gives them a chance to calm down and refocus on you as the photographer as soon as they start to check back in with you or their owner reward this with lots of treats.

The Treat Game: Toss some treats in front of the camera where you want them to go; they will likely go to hoover them up, then likely move away again. Repeat this game and keep encouraging them to go over to the photoshoot area. Once they get the hang of it, call their name or squeak a toy and show them you have another treat, hold this in the air above the camera; they will likely pause momentarily. It's okay if they jump towards you as you can just repeat this game. All you need is a moment of stillness to capture the photo, and most dogs quickly pick up the game.

Encourage Soothing Licking: To slow things down, consider giving them something tasty to lick, like chicken paste. Licking and eating can have a relaxing effect, and the brief moment when they are trying to lick the paste off their nose may be the distraction you need to capture them!

Play with Toys: Introduce a favourite toy like a tennis ball and show it to them; they might pause momentarily in anticipation. However, be cautious as this might make them even more excited for some dogs.

Redirect Attention Game: If they're still a bit wound up and you can't get them to sit still, try tossing a treat towards the back of your photoshoot area. As they go for it, gently call their name or offer another treat to draw their focus back to you; as they turn around and run towards you, that's your moment to capture them!

Reactive dogs

As long as the dog is safe to work with, there are a few things you can do to prepare for their photoshoot experience. If the dog has any special requirements, such as needing a muzzle, discuss these beforehand with the owner and decide what you're comfortable with.

Use a Secure and Safe Area: Ensure the environment you're in is quiet, safe, and secure, whether it's your indoor studio or a secure private field. Keep the number of people to a minimum to avoid overwhelming the dog. If shooting outdoors, consider booking a private dog field with permission from the owner - these can usually be booked for around £10 per hour. This provides a safe environment with minimal distractions and triggers, potentially reducing lead reactivity or frustrations.

Build Trust: As with any dog, it's important to build trust with the dog you're working with. For reactive or nervous dogs the best approach is to simply ignore the dog initially. By remaining calm and at a distance, you can allow the dog to approach and investigate you at their own pace. Avoid reaching out or encouraging them to get closer; let them do it on their terms. Stroking and touching them might be more for our benefit than theirs, so consider what is best for the dog at that moment. You can do the whole photo session without actually saying hello to the dog and the dog might be happier for it!

Food and Toys: If the dog doesn't have any guarding issues around these items, using food and toys can be powerful tools for building trust and rapport, as well as creating a positive experience around the camera and you.

Treat Catch Game: If there are two owners with the dog, ask them to stand a few meters apart. Ask them to throw the dog a treat and let the other person do the same one after another. The dog should quickly learn to run back and forth between owners to get their treat - you can increase the distance between owners once the dog gets the hang of it. This way you can position yourself in different places to capture a running action shot, or even capture the dog looking up in anticipation for a treat, you don't need to be close to the dog to capture their photo.

Lead and Collar: If the dog needs to remain on a lead and close to the owner for everyone's safety, ask the owner to bring a simple, clean, and plain lead and collar. Opting for minimalistic designs makes it easier to digitally remove them later and ensures a more aesthetically pleasing look in the photos where removal isn't possible via editing.


Our best advice is to thoroughly understand each dog's individual needs and tailor the photoshoot session for each pup you work with. By preparing in advance and creating a comfortable environment, you'll be able to bring out the best in them on camera.

If you're a pet parent interested in booking a photoshoot session for your nervous, reactive or overexcited dog, we're here to help! Just get in touch and tell us about your pup!


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