People often ask me how it’s possible my dogs pose so patiently for my camera. My three rescue dogs are conditioned to know that photos mean fun and rewards. When I get my camera out or prepare the studio, they come running. Especially, my once camera-shy rescue mix Scout is the world’s most patient and eager poser now.
She was found with her siblings next to her dead mother somewhere in a field in Spain before she was brought to Germany to find a home with us when she was 5 months old. There were lots of situations she found intimidating or obtrusive. Children, leaf blowers, lawn mowers, nighttime, balloons, planes – all suspicious or even scary. She would stop cooperating immediately if she found something too horrible. She was not entirely fearful but insecure and on guard. She didn’t dare to jump on things, play tug of war or take center stage in any other way.
Whenever she dared to do something she found scary, we applauded her and cheered her on. You could see how she straightened up and was pleasantly surprised about our elation. Other rewards were food treats and running together very fast or a play to shake off anxiety and release energy. We challenged her frequently. The challenges were only minor, though, nothing too spooky, just little tasks, which, nonetheless, cost her a little effort to overcome. She gradually became more and more self-confident. I do think that photography played a major part in her turning into a relaxed and brave dog. She learnt to enjoy being photographed in fun, short steps. She even proposes photo locations and poses and has the most amazing steadiness.
If you have a camera-shy dog and would love to take pictures of him, you might find some useful information in the following.
Dogs couldn’t care less about having their portrait taken. Therefore, they need a motivation. Of course, every dog is different and every individual needs a unique approach. For a few dogs being photographed might just never be the right entertainment. Always make sure you don’t hassle your dog. But there are some ways you can try to teach your camera-shy dog that it can be lots of fun being photographed.
- Make sure the sessions are short and fun for you and your dog. Think of it as bonding time and entertainment for the both of you.
- Be patient – always.
- An assistant is of help. He or she could entertain the dog while you record the action unfold.
- If you don’t have an assistant, make sure your sessions are even shorter to make sure your dog doesn’t get bored.
- Make sure there are no other distractions.
- Don’t bore the dog by fiddling with your camera. Know your camera and have everything ready.
- If your dog feels very intimidated, start by just rewarding the presence of the camera and the click of the shutter. That way your dog will connect the click of the shutter with this reward.
- Reward frequently. Find out what your dog likes the best as a reward. Some dogs might do anything for praise or treats, others love to release energy by a play or running.
- The treats should be special, not the usual kibble. Cheese, sausages, marmite, liver paté, etc.
- Some dogs are better photographed outdoors where they’ve got lots of space. The sounds and lights of studio equipment can be very intimidating. Choose a place the dog knows and feels comfortable in.
- Again, be patient.
- If you realize that the dog is more relaxed and even started taking an interest every time you pick up the camera you can try to extend the sessions.
You will see, after a while your dog learns to love being photographed and you will be able to get pictures to cherish forever.
The key is patience, trust, repetition and lots and lots of bribery.