Photo of Golden Retriever dog playing in the creek.

How to know if your dog is too crazy to be photographed.

by Kris Phillips

In my last 13 years as a pet photographer there are two comments I hear from pet parents over and over again.
The thing I hear more than anything else; “My dog would NEVER sit still for pictures like that!” And I’m guessing that often leads to the second thing I hear most “I wish I’d done professional photos of my last dog.”
I think for sooooo many people it’s the anxiety that their dog wont perform well in a photo session that stops them from even trying. And ultimately costs them those precious memories. It’s ok, your dog doesn’t have to be perfectly behaved to be picture perfect. 

I know this because it’s a conversation I have with almost every single client I work with about almost every dog I photograph. We all want our pets to be well mannered, especially around people we don’t know. And while everyone has a different idea of “perfectly behaved” I can almost guarantee your dog wont quite meet it in a real wild world filled with strangers with flashy-clicky boxes, enticing smells drifting on the wind, other meandering dogs, and of course the insanity inducing SQUIRREL!!!

I’m here to tell you in no uncertain terms: IT’s OK! Your dog doesn’t have to be perfectly behaved to be picture perfect. 
White Golden Retrievers at Coot Lake, Boulder ColoradoDuring my photo sessions I always try to reinforce that I don’t expect any kind of performance from your dog. Very few dogs have had professional modelling experience after all. But I never really understood the anxiety my clients felt until I took my own wild puppy outside my comfort zone and tried dock-diving for the first time. Yvet at Jasper’s Splash Zone was absolutely amazing!
She was kind and gentle with Freki and explained everything step by step. Reassuring me that some dogs take a while to grasp the concept. But as my little Tasmanian devil ran amok and refused to release the toy or even come back when called, I couldn’t help but cringe a little inside. For some internal reason I was embarrassed that my puppy didn’t magically know everything he needed to perform right out of the gate, or off the dock as it were. In that moment, as I tried to wrestle his new favorite toy away for another throw, I knew how every client I ever worked with felt when their dog refused to sit or stay. I could  tell from Yvet’s friendly guidance that she certainly didn’t expect my puppy to be perfect. So I had to let go of that mindset and just enjoy the experience.
Your dog does not have to be perfectly behaved to be picture perfect. I’m saying it again because it’s important. Right about now you might be thinking “yeah, she says that now because she’s never met MY dog.” No really, there isn’t much your dog can throw at me that I haven’t seen at least once in the last 13 years.
Since I would never ever breach dog-model/ photographer confidentiality I’m going to instead play a game with you. In the collection of photos below is at least one well-behaved dog, but I’m not going to tell you which one it is. There are also several who were…well, let’s say more challenging to photograph. I’m not going to tell you which ones they are either. Can you tell from the photo which dog is which? I’ll never ever tell who is who, but I promise these behaviors are real.
In no particular order: One of these dogs was the perfect gentlemen. One of these dogs was nearly impossible to pry off his Mom’s lap (extreme separation anxiety). One of these dogs slipped his collar in the first 5 minutes of our session and made a break for the nearest interesting thing prompting yours truly to make a diving tackle. And one of these dogs was so anxious about strangers he had to be photographed with a long zoom lens from 30 feet away.
One of these dogs was perfectly mannered. One of these dogs had “never been photographed awake” because she’s so high energy and constantly in motion. One of these dog had to be photographed with a zoom lens from at least 15 feet away because of the tendency to guard Mom. One of these dogs started his session by immediately grabbing his leash and walking himself back to the car. He gets very nervous in new environments around new people, but warmed up after I sat with him and shoveled a few handfuls of treats his way.
Ok, last grouping. One of these dogs is a service dog and extremely well mannered. One of these dogs flipped over backward and threw herself on the ground any time she didn’t get her way, like full toddler tantrum style. One of these dogs was initially terrified of the camera and took a good bit of coaxing to relax. And one of these dogs was just super high energy and never really stopped moving.
I’ll bet unless you know them personally, you have no idea which is which. My point here is not to call out any of the pet parents who’ve trusted me with their dog’s legacy, but to let you know that when I say your dog doesn’t have to be perfect I really, truly, from the bottom of my heart mean it. 
Please don’t let anxiety about your dogs performance rob you of the opportunity to create some really phenomenal artwork that you will cherish for years to come.
PS. Only 3 of the dogs featured here were ever off-leash.

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