Do let them warm up to you gradually, and give the shy, anxious, fearful ones time to trust you and your intentions. Spend several minutes letting them check you out, sniff you and your gear, and get to know your camera before taking any pictures.
Do remember that if you plan to get dynamic playful shots and you are part of that play, you might get jumped on or have your jeans grabbed or pushed or shoved, or even have your hand bitten by accident. Dogs can get rough when playing, and you can get some of the most fun shots this way, but sometimes it’s at the price of a few bruises to your person and your gear.
Do ask the owners to tell you what their dog’s personality (behaviour) is like before the shoot so you can be really prepared. I talk more about this later in this chapter in the section “Learning About the Individual.”
Do exhibit your own relaxed, confident, and happy posture when meeting a dog and during a shoot. For the duration of the shoot, you are its leader. Take charge and act the part, but be calm and relaxed while doing so.
Do be firm with your commands. Your role is part pet photographer and part dog trainer. When giving commands, be clear and firm, and don’t give rewards until you receive the behavior you want. With new dogs who don’t exhibit fear or aggression, I usually meet them, say hello, fawn over them for a minute, and then pull out treats and immediately start a little training session, asking them to sit, then down, then shake or any other command they know. This shows them I'm in charge and sets the tone for the rest of the shoot.
Do be the one controlling the dog during the shoot. Usually, the less involvement on the part of the owner, the more successful the shoot will be. An overly involved or anxious owner barking commands at their pet is a sure-fire session killer. The best way to control dogs is with what motivates them. Use positive rewards to keep them in check.
Do remember that dogs have a short attention span. Sitting in one place for more than a minute is like a lifetime to them. If you do very controlled shoots (a lot of sit/stay commands), break it up frequently by letting them run around so that you don’t lose their attention or they start yawning, panting, or blowing their coat.
Do let dogs be dogs. The more you try to control them and their behaviour, especially if positive rewards are not given freely, the less inclined they will be to listen to you or enjoy the experience.
Do remember that dog behaviour is often a reflection of the owner’s behaviour. Neurotic human? That often means a neurotic dog. Aggressive and dominant humans that like to fight with others? Don’t be surprised if their dogs are a nasty biter. And so on, and so on.
Do get as much information as possible on the individual before the shoot so that you know what motivates the pet and know what to expect.
Don’t call the dog’s name unless you want it to come to you. We have trained our dogs to come when called. They hear their name, they come. Great dogs! Try using noises instead and get out of the habit of saying a dog’s name to get it to look at you. And don’t let the owners call the dog’s name either. After Fluffy has heard her name 18 times in a row, she will tune her parents and you out and you’ve lost her attention for good. Don’t crouch on the ground or kneel unless you are absolutely ready to capture the shot, because a dog will usually come to you when you crouch. The same goes for lying down.
Don’t yell “no” at a dog. Th is can be confusing and won’t produce any desirable behaviours. Try a sharp “eh-eh-eh,” instead, and only if and when the dog’s safety is at risk.
Don’t put your hand up to pet a dog that might be aggressive. In this case, definitely keep your hands to yourself.
Don’t get in there with a bold “Hey boy, how ya doin??!” and a pat on the butt with a dog who is fearful, unless you want to scare the poor thing half to death. If you see the fear-based behaviour that was described earlier, go slow, be gentle, be soft , be quiet, get down, and make yourself small. (I’ve been known to lie completely flat on the ground in a client’s house upon meeting a very fearful dog for the first time. Of course, if the client also has a very dominant male dog, that dog might come over and urinate on you, but that’s the risk you run to gain the trust of the scaredy-pants pup).
Don’t get low and put your face near the face of a dog that might be aggressive. Dogs can snap quickly, and you want to protect your most precious resource. No, not your camera, silly; your face!
Don’t forget to love the dog! You can take many breaks to pet and snuggle and play with them for a few minutes. This only serves to enhance its experience, which will show in the shots you capture. This is the best part of the job!
Don’t let your desire for the perfect shot cause you to ignore important dog communication cues, such as if a dog is anxious or fearful. A dog’s health and wellbeing, including its emotional wellbeing, are more important than any shot you can capture.
Don’t allow a dog that has known dog-aggression tendencies (aggression toward other dogs) off - leash for one second when out in public. All it takes is for one little Pomeranian to come walking around the corner and it might end up to be lunchtime for Bruno.
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