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Talk to Me, Pooch: Being Maverick's Wingman. Dogs and their fears.

(Approx 8 min read)

Boxer Dog bounding through a field in the English countryside with bright blue sky, Derbyshire.
Maverick the Boxer dog - Delightfully playful, boisterous and goofy!

Why I’ll never stop learning from rescue dogs.

Working with a rescue dog can often be a bit more of a challenge than normal, especially those who’ve clearly had a terrible start in life. So it may surprise you to learn that these regularly turn out to be my favourite and most memorable experiences. They always find a way to teach me something.

Recently I had the pleasure of photographing a big boxer dog. Boxers are among my favourite breeds to work with, and you would have thought with a name like ‘Maverick’ this lad would have feared nothing. His sheer size would back up such an assumption, and I’d even been warned that this powerful boy could be a bit of a handful. But the following story goes to prove we can never really know what’s happened in the previous chapters of a rescue dog’s life.

It All Started So Well…

He began the photo session in great spirits, delightfully playful, boisterous and goofy, but less than 20 minutes later he turned into a petrified pooch with shell-shocked fear in his eyes, looking for a way to escape.  

Despite all my experience, tips and tricks, I couldn’t find a way to bring him out of this state. It certainly didn’t make for good photographs. Just beautifully lit images of a cowering dog with a look of terror on his face. I often see this look in portraits of dogs taken in a studio environment, where they are clearly scared but the photographer has failed to recognise that their subject is very uncomfortable. This happens to be one reason I always work in the great outdoors, where your dog can be at their happiest.

Maverick, the Boxer Dog exploring in a field in the English countryside with bright blue sky, Derbyshire.

What Was He Scared Of?

“But what could possibly have happened to trigger such a change?” you may ask. An off-lead dog rushing over to us? A walker with a big walking stick? Although we knew these things would have upset Maverick, and we were prepared for such an event, it wasn’t either of these. The answer? Over a mile away, in a farmer’s field, a bird scarer just went off. 

This distant bang, and a second bang moments later, was enough to put him into a state of full alert. The silence that followed must have been deafening for him. What was it? What was he supposed to do? Where could he run?  

What could I do to help him? Nothing was working. I’m never one for just giving up, but on this occasion I was strongly leaning towards the idea of simply trying again another day, somewhere far away from the boom of a bird scarer.

Why I always listen to what the owners say.

I proposed the idea of a reshoot to Maverick’s owners. “He loves the water” they said. “Maybe we could try that?”

“Perhaps” I thought, but it was a 15 minute walk to the lake where I usually go in with them, and with the state he was in my experience made me very doubtful it would work. Also, it would mean going closer to the bird scarer, and it was likely to go off again while we were down there, making things even worse.

But that wasn’t the only body of water near us. Close by was a tiny man-made waterfall and stream that overflowed from one fish pond to feed another lower down the hill. I never use either of these ponds, as the sides are steep and could be unsafe for smaller dogs, and don’t make for the best of photos. The stream between them though? That might just work…

We headed over there, if only to let Maverick have a drink and a paddle. The sound of the water rushing over the rocks bounced off the walls of the channel the stream ran in, creating a reasonably loud white noise effect. I think this must have overloaded his oral senses, making him forget about the scary bang, because within a short time Maverick was returning to his old self and playing in the stream. It was a joy to see, and made for great pics, including the final one my clients chose for their wall. 

Boxer Dog 'Maverick' playing in a stream in the English countryside with bright blue sky, Derbyshire.

Does Your Dog Suffer From Single Loud Noises?

Perhaps with hindsight I should have thought of this sooner. Afterall, my own dog Scrooby gets worked up about fireworks, and often is much worse if it’s a single bang, rather than a full display. I guess it’s the stress of not knowing what could be coming next. But if there’s lots of fireworks it appears to normalise the situation, and Scrooby is less worried. We put on loud music to mimic lots of loud bangs which helps to mask any further rogue fireworks that might come later.

Helping nervous dogs overcome their fear of the flash.

I even apply this same principle to dogs that are scared of the camera flash. It’s quite an alien thing for them, and understandably they can become nervous and standoffish. Gently, but regularly I’ll set off the flash, positively reinforcing each pop of light with treats and praise. I reduce the distance between camera and dog each time, encouraging the dog to come closer to the camera to investigate for themselves. It’s a slow and patient process, sometimes two inches closer followed by one inch back. 

But won’t it scare my dog more?

It may seem counterintuitive to expose your pup to the very thing that scares them, but I’ve found that if I’m gentle, patient and make it a positive experience for them, it has always worked for me. They reach a point of acceptance, sometimes suddenly, like flicking on the lightswitch, everything is alright again.

The one overriding lesson I’ve learnt from rescue dogs is…it takes time.

In Maverick’s case the serenity didn’t last very long. Sure enough, the bird scarer returned to do it’s job and frighten all the birds, as well as poor Maverick. The relief was long enough though, and we got some good portraits. We didn’t want to put him through it all again, so we called it a day. When it comes to dogs and their fears, it takes time. His owners are friends of mine and have already worked wonders with him. I’m hopeful that with some more work and exposure, Maverick will become less fearful of loud bangs.

"Thanks Mav"

Thanks to the amazing work Rescue charities like Notts and Yorkshire Boxer Rescue (NAYBR) do around the country for dogs like Maverick, things will only get better for him now following his poor start in life. It was awful to see such a majestic creature become so withdrawn and scared, but a privilege to be able to witness and capture his happy side. And it was also nice to know that even after working with over a thousand pooches, this old dog (me) can still learn something new. Thanks Maverick :)       


Nervous Boxer Dog in a stream with blue sky, Derbyshire.

Is your dog nervous?

Has this ever put you off getting portraits of your dog? Please read on…

If I had to guess, I’d say well over a third of all the dogs I’ve ever worked with have shown signs of being nervous, or are perceived to be ‘nervous’ by their owners. Many come with ‘issues’ that have made their owners hesitate before booking. It’s much more common than you might imagine, and seems to have gotten worse following the Covid years. 

99.99% Success Rate.

Yet only a handful of those cases have ever turned out to have really difficult issues, and of those handful, only one in nine years has ever left without portraits they were genuinely happy with. 

“This one time, at Bounders…”

I guess you all want to know about the ONE time, huh? Well, for the sake of full transparency, I’ll tell you. It was a pretty extreme case where the newly-rehomed rescue dog would simply shut down and freeze, pretending to be invisible every time he saw the camera. I simply wasn’t prepared to push him, for fear of causing distress for the poor pup. It just wasn’t the right time. We just went for a nice walk instead and got to know one another... Hopefully, when he’s ready, they’ll come back for their free re-shoot.

I’ll Never Give Up On A Dog, Even If It Takes A Second Photo Session.

So I guess what I’m saying is, please don’t be nervous about your nervous dog. They will be fine. I am likely to have seen much worse, and they will generally do much better than you could ever imagine them doing. We will get those amazing portraits for you to remember them by forever, and we will all have a fun time doing so. And if you don’t believe me, please read my hundreds of 5 star reviews. And if that’s not enough, we have a full money-back guarantee. And if that’s still not enough, just call me, I’m happy to chat through any concerns you may have. I know these are your babies, that's why I treat them like mine.

 Here’s a recent review from just the other day…

“Well what can I say, we had the absolute best time with Bounders Dog Photography

The day from start to finish was just the best experience, the dogs and us were made extremely comfortable from the off by Joe. Maxi being quite a nervous dog, I was sceptical about how he would be, but he took it in his stride and played and bounced around with Joe all day.

Joe truly is a dog whisperer and to see Maxi and Molly having such a good time but also getting the best photos was honestly more than we could ask for, I can’t thank the team enough. And the best bit, they slept for 2 days after!” 

- Katie Cooper -

Two Cockerpoos posing on a log in a field for Bounders Dog Photography
Katie Cooper's Cockerpoos, Molly and Maxi from a recent photo session.


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