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How to Photograph Nervous Dogs: 5 Tips and Tricks

You would be forgiven for thinking that the dogs I work with are all trained models, and resign yourself to thinking that you’ll never get perfect portraits of your nervous pup. After all, they won’t even pose for you, their owner! Well, let me assure you, the dogs I work with come in all shapes and sizes, and less than about 10 percent would be what I call trained models…

Bocky the rescue boxer dog sat smiling and posing in a field with sunny skies.
Bocky the rescue Boxer dog, who started out petrified of the camera

It’s true, nervous dogs can make it even more difficult, but it’s far from impossible. So don't worry, with a little (or perhaps a lot of) patience and a few tips and tricks, here’s how you can get the perfect shot of your nervous pup.

A quick story...

"I once worked with a rescue dog called ‘Bocky’ in a field for four hours one evening before he was comfortable with the camera. Bocky had been badly treated in his early life and he was deeply fearful of many things. He had quickly learned to trust me, but the camera was a different story. It was so alien to him and he was petrified to begin with. With the sun having gone down two hours earlier, we just sat there in a field, setting the camera and flash off and replacing his fear with love and treats…lots of treats! He came back a week later (in the daylight) and I genuinely thought they’d brought me a different dog! He was instantly happy with the camera and we had a great photo session…so it can be done, even with extreme cases!"

1. Introduce the camera gradually

If your dog is nervous around cameras, it's important to introduce them gradually. Start by placing the camera on the ground and letting your dog sniff it. Then, pick it up and hold it out for your dog to see. I usually introduce training treats to this process. At a small distance, release the shutter (which may startle the pup) but immediately offer a treat. Repeat this process until your dog is comfortable, and bring the camera a little nearer. Keep repeating this until they are basically eating treats off of the camera (or very close to the camera if you don’t like your camera covered in slobber!).

2. Use positive reinforcement

Carrying on from tip 1, whenever your dog looks at the camera or poses for a photo, reward them with a treat or praise. This will help them associate the camera with positive experiences. If you keep saturating their camera experiences with calm positivity, they’ll get it by themselves. There’s usually a specific moment, like a light switch in their minds, where it all becomes fine for them.

3. Be patient

This one is SOOOO important. It might take some time for your dog to get used to the camera. so be patient and don't rush them. Avoid forcing them to look at the camera or pose for a photo if they're not comfortable with it. Forcing any part of the process too quickly can often set you back hours. Stay calm, give them time…they will get there eventually.

4. Find the right lighting

Bright flashes and flashing lights can be overwhelming for some dogs, so either find natural or a soft, diffused light to avoid causing distress. Or if you’re using flash, reduce the power and point the flash away from them until they’ve become familiar with it, similar to tip 1.

5. Take breaks

Take the whole thing slow, and take breaks if needed. If your dog becomes overwhelmed or anxious, take a short break and try again later. It's important to respect your dog's boundaries and not push them too far out of their comfort zone. Gently push, don’t break!

Bocky the rescue boxer dog sat smiling and posing in the lake with sunny skies.

Photographing nervous dogs can be a challenge, but with patience and positivity you can not only capture the perfect picture of your furry friend, but help your pup expand their comfort zone, a little at a time.

EXTRA Tip! - Try a professional!

During a Bounders Experience, I can work with you to help your nervous dog feel more comfortable in front of a camera. As well as the photo shoot, we'll spend time together to talk about the best tips and tricks that work for your dog so you can take great snaps yourself. Book your Bounders Experience here.

Do you have a nervous dog? Share with us in the comments any tips which have helped you!

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