Canine Body Language & Dog Photography: Learning to Speak “Dog”

In 2011 I fostered a Siberian husky named Emma Grace for MUSH Rescue in Alpharetta, Georgia. I had only just begun fostering dogs the year before and I didn’t know much about canine body language – and nothing about dog photography. Emma spent the first month as our foster dog living under our bed. She was terrified of people and we had to slide her food bowl under the bed and leave the house for her to eat.

What Emma Taught Me About Canine Body Language

Atlanta pet photographer shares her story of the one dog she couldn't photograph.

Eventually, Emma came to trust us. We could pet her. She’d sit on the couch with us. She played in the yard with the other dogs. But I wonder if we could have helped her faster if we had known more about canine body language.

Emma did go on to get adopted. And I got a super cute photo of her with my phone in the car after she met her forever family for the first time.

But here’s the thing.

After Emma, I knew I needed to learn more about canine body language to be a better foster dog mom (and eventually professional dog photographer.).

How I Learned More About Dog Body Language

Shortly after Emma was adopted I took my first dog training class with my dog Bella. We chose Canine Nose Work with Canine Country Academy in Lawrenceville, GA.

The super cool thing about canine nose work is that it’s really all about the dog – your job as the handler is to observe and begin recognizing your dog’s “tells” when they find the scent.

It’s truly fascinating learning to watch your dog’s body language and knowing when they have caught odor, when they are sourcing odor, and when they are saying, “Hey mom! It’s clearly right here in this box – what’s wrong with your nose?”

I really fell in love with understanding what Bella was saying in class – and I wanted to know more.

I began reading books about canine body language (I’ve included a few of my favorites below.). I attended seminars at the University of Georgia, listened to webinars by trainers like Suzanne Clothier (you’ll recognize her as an author of one of my recommended books), and went to talks about “What Your Dog is Saying” at Canine Country.

Conversations with our dogs - understanding canine body language to improve dog photography.

Why Canine Body Language Matters As A Professional Dog Photographer

Learning about the body language of dogs has done so much more than make me a better foster mom. I’m a better dog mom to my dogs. And I’m a better dog photographer.

Noticing the lip licks and look away behaviors my subject is giving me, I realize she’s telling me she’s a little nervous – and I can do something about it. We might take a break from the camera and play a little treat toss game. Or maybe I can try giving her extra space with a long lens.

Watching her soft eyes and wiggly body, I see that she is inviting play. We can start a fun game of fetch or catch to photograph.

When we can speak the same language, the entire session is easier for everyone involved – humane & canine alike. When it comes to photographing the furry love of your life – hiring someone who understands them should be at the top of your list of requirements.

Photographing dogs is a better experience for everyone when your pet photographer understands canine body language.
Do you know what your dog is saying?

I hope I have inspired you to learn a little more about canine body language.

This blog is a part of a blog circle with pet photographers from across the globe! This week it’s all about canine body language – and several of the professional pet photographers in circle are also certified dog trainers. You won’t want to miss this week!

Next up Jemma Martin of JM Photography looks at dog body language and what we can look out for in our dogs when they are trying to communicate with us.

Be sure to keep clicking the link at the bottom to complete the circle until you wind up back here!

What to read next?


  1. Nicole

    Wow, how awesome that nose work was your first training class! It’s such a great activity to start with for both the dog and the handler.

  2. Elaine

    Your story of emma reminded me of our Danny. Although we started out fostering him, we ended up adopting him, as it was clear his rehab into the world of trusting humans again, was going to take a very long time.

  3. Tracy Allard

    I always have to explain why I’m not throwing myself at my training class students lest people be offended that I don’t want to pet Fluffy. I read the body language and in many cases, fluffy wants nothing to do with me in that moment. My goal, and it often happens this way, is that fluffy can’t wait to be petted by the end of the class series – and that’s because I listened to the body language and let the dog set the pace of interaction. So important that we also do that as dog photographers.


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