Understand How Dogs Communicate during Photo Sessions
Even though dogs can’t talk, they have plenty to tell you, as long as you know how to listen. They’re keen observers, interpreters, and givers of nonverbal cues. They know how to read energy, and they say a lot with their faces and body posture. Knowing your pooch’s cues is invaluable to your efforts in photographing him.
Ignore his cues and one (or both) of you can end up hurt. Even if he’s never so much as growled at you before, be humble and cautious. Sticking a camera in his face for the first time can prompt aggressive behavior to surface (like growling or biting) that you’ve never seen before. To keep both of you happy and safe, read his body language so you know when to stop before things escalate to a dangerous level.
Ears: Ears that are perky signal that your dog is relaxed or interested. If your dog’s ears are flattened against his head, that probably means he’s scared or stressed out. If you see flattened ears during your photo session, stop what you’re doing and take a break.
Eyes: Dogs naturally see eye contact as threatening, but eye contact is a little different with your own dog because you’ve built up years of trust, and he understands that you aren’t challenging him with innocent eye contact.
Still, try not to hold his gaze for minutes on end as you adjust every little setting on your camera to get exactly the right shot. Try looking at his nose when you’re giving him commands and getting him to hold his pose. If he won’t look at you straight-on at all, that could be a sign of fear or discomfort.
That sideways glance when you see the whites of his eye is dubbed the whale eye and usually signals insecurity, so you may want to take a few steps back until he’s more comfortable with the camera.
Mouth: The mouth is where a lot of action happens. You’ll most likely use a lot of treats to reward your pal when you take photos of him, so be on the lookout for signs of thirst, like panting and the slow licking of the chops. Be sure to have plenty of water on hand.
50mm, 1/1600 sec., f/1.8, 100
This photo of Mac was taken on a hot summer’s day, which is pretty obvious from the looks of his tongue! Repetitive and excessive lip licking is a sign of discomfort and stress. This differs from hunger or thirst lip licking in that it’s a quick, almost lizard-like licking.
Also, if your dog exhibits any growling, snarling, or snapping, take it as a sign that you’re moving too fast. If your dog isn’t typically touchy, you probably don’t have to worry much about this, but this is a new situation, so don’t take anything for granted.
Tail: Hopefully, your dog’s tail is wagging a lot. A wagging tail makes for a happy dog. A nice, relaxed tail that’s just hanging out is a good sign as well. You know there’s trouble if your dog tucks his tail between his legs. If this happens, he’s not digging the situation, so call it a day.
Fur: Similar to the mouth, the fur gets a lot of rewards by way of pets and scratches. It’s also a good fear indicator; the fur on your dog’s neck and back can stand on end when something alarms him.
If you see this, stop and figure out what’s making him upset. It could be the weird-looking camera, a strange position you’re in to get the shot, or something (or someone) else nearby.
Nose: The only thing you have to know about your dog’s nose is that his sense of smell is amazing (as if you didn’t know that already), so sometimes, just the smell of a treat is enough to draw his attention.
Other times, the smell of a treat is enough to send a treat-crazed dog into a tizzy, so be sure you know where your pooch’s nose sits on the smell-o-meter and plan your strategy accordingly.
Although every dog communicates a little differently, these body language cues are basic ones to be on the lookout for. As you become more in tune with your own dog’s communication habits, your photo sessions will gradually become easier.