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Cooper in wall portraitg with eyes closed

Working with Camera Shy Dogs

When working with shelter dogs, I have come across many personalities and have found many shelter dogs to be camera shy. Who can blame them. They are in a new place, generally with dogs barking all around them only to be put in front of this person that is holding a weird black box with a big hole in it that gets pointed at them. Not only is it scary looking, but they can no longer see the eyes of the person standing in front of them and suddenly this black box is making funny noises. Learning how to handle these situations with shelter dogs has helped me in my business to manage the dogs that come to me for their photo sessions. I have also learned to do it with my own dog who is also camera shy.

Introduce him to the Camera

The first thing I do when meeting a dog is to greet him with the camera down by my side ( or not in sight at all). I spend a few minutes letting the dog greet me and determine that I am no threat. Once that happens and/or he sees the camera, I let the camera on the ground for him to sniff it and figure out what it is. If I feel he is receptive to this, I progress to clicking the button a couple times (with the camera still on the ground) to determine how he will react to the sound of the shutter. I also give some treats at this time to let him know that the click of the shutter is associated with treats.

Give Plenty of treats or rewards

I bring plenty of food treats with me to help provide positive associations with the camera. High quality food treats are a great incentive, but I also try to work other incentives in as well, such as enthusiastic praising and letting the dog play with a favorite toy for a few minutes break during the session. The treats/ rewards keep coming through introduction to the camera through the poses and on to the end of session.

Get him Involved in an Activity

If the dog continues to be camera shy, I may have the owner engage him in an activity. If he is busy having fun, he is often not even thinking of the camera and I can capture some great images as he is playing. I can also make some great noises that will draw his attention to me for a split second to capture him looking at the camera.

Use a Long Lens for the Camera

When I first started photographing shelter dogs, I only had one lens on my camera 24-70 mm which required me to be near the dog in order to create a good picture. While the 24-70 is a great lens, I found that the camera shy dog will do better with a longer lens, like my 200mm lens. In using this lens, I am able to be further away from the dog which decreases the dogs resistance to looking at the camera. There are some dogs that continue to avoid the camera despite the increased distance, therefore I continue to treat for positive reinforcement and ultimately may use one of these other methods.

Have some clever noises ready

Noises are my secret weapon. I have developed some pretty convincing animal sounds that have even fooled the shelter staff. the trick to using the noises is to be ready to take the picture in that split second and don’t use them too often. After a few rounds of noises, the dog has learned your trick and will not respond to you anymore. Not good at noises? you can always purchase an app for your phone such as “Animal sounds”.

Shooting blind with your camera

One of the things making the dog reluctant to look at the camera is that he can’t see your face. try to let him see your face. get your settings ready in the camera, then lower the camera to chest level (or lower) and try to get the dogs attention. You can get some pretty awesome expressions when you do this.

This post is part of circular blog with other Professional Pet Photographers. Our goal is to focus on a particular topic/assignment each week and put our own spin on it. There are photographers from all over the world participating.  Follow the next link to view how the next amazing photographer tackles this weeks challenge.  Follow each link at the end of each blog until you return to me. Then you have successfully completed our blog circle. Enjoy!

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Nicole Hrustyk, of Pawtraits by Nicole in Las Vegas, Nevada shares her 5 tips for a happy and alert dog model

Come and find your Best Friend!
Second Chance has a unique program near Syracuse N.Y. where inmates train the rescued dogs. This program gives both the dogs and the inmates a second chance in life.  Appointments currently required related to Covid-19 protocols.

Aspen the rescue dog

ASPEN is waiting for his forever home.

Please contact Friends of Second Chance.

Friends of Second Chance Canine Adoption Shelter
6660 E. Seneca Turnpike
Jamesville, NY 13078

Capture your journey with your pet. Nancy Kieffer is a pet and nature photographer serving  Central New York, the Adirondacks and Beyond.  Capture how you share your life with your pet! It may be a vacation adventure or curled up on the couch. Travel assignments welcomed.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Darlene

    Great tips for working with shelter dogs – definitely a challenge with with them. I have yet to master “shooting blind” – i might have to get out and practice more!

  2. Marika

    I love your approach to working with shy dogs!

  3. Linda A Perdue

    Shelter and rescue are some of the challenges – I photograph a lot of them too. Great idea to just let them get used to the camera first – we should all probably do that. Love the examples!

  4. Nicole

    Shelter dogs are definitely challenging. Great tips!

  5. Angela Schneider

    Love your alternatives to looking at the camera. It isn’t always a necessity and can render wonderful images from a dog photography session with you!

  6. Ina J

    Great post Nancy! I am still not confident at shooting blind.. I need to give this a go!

    1. N Kieffer

      It does take some getting used too. I close down the aperture a bit to ensure I get a him in focus.

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