Tricks to Get Dogs to Look at the Camera

The first rule of pet photography club is we don’t talk about pet photography… oh wait – that’s a different movie.

The actual first rule in pet photography is to deliver an image with the dog looking directly at the camera, but that can be a little easier said than done right? In this blog, I’m sharing some of my top tricks to get dogs to look at the camera!

Took our 2 dogs for photos. Let’s just say , they were …insane! CM Bryson pulled out ALL the stops to get great shots!” – Dina Parise

Learn why a sunrise session might be perfect for your dog with Atlanta pet photographer CM Bryson
Model pups lends a helping paw to create a great brand for Atlanta dog walking service.

Different Strokes for Different Folks – Different Tricks for Different Dogs

As a pet photographer, I usually meet three types of dogs. 

  1. The Unicorn
  2. The Squirrel Patrol
  3. The Nervous Nellie

Not much reason to talk about the unicorn in this blog post – that dog looks at the camera like it’s a juicy T-bone steak with their name on it. I usually meet this type of once a year. Most dogs that I photograph have some obedience basics like “sit”, but their real super powers are the love they give their family. 

The squirrel patrol dog and the nervous Nellie make up about 95% of the dogs I photograph every year and they each require different tricks to get these dogs to look at the camera. 

So whether your dog is avoiding the lens because the world is way too full of fun and exciting things to look at or because the stranger with the cyclops eyeball (that’s me & the camera) are just too scary – I have some tricks up my sleeve to deliver beautiful images where you can look directly into the eyes of your dog. 

Tricks to Get Hyper Dogs to Look at the Camera

If your dog’s greatest pleasure is scanning the world for marauding chipmunks – getting her to focus on look in just one direction for any length of time can seem like an impossible task. But, I have a couple tricks I rely on to get the squirrel patrol dog to look at the camera. 

  • Unique Noises
  • A Quick Game of Clicker Training
  • Cat Toys for Dogs

For the majority of dogs sitting in front of my camera, a unique noise can direct their gaze right at that crazy sound! And while I consider myself an introvert and a bit quiet, I spend a lot time rolling on the ground making bizarre squeaking, whistling, meowing, and other noises that defy description getting the attention of dogs – and lots of strange looks by passersby – to get your dog to look right at the camera. And if my own ridiculous noises don’t work to get your dog to look at the camera – I also come fully equipped with a variety of game calls. The distressed rabbit or the turkey warbler is often a sound your dog has never heard before, and few dogs can resist a quick glance to see just what is making that noise!

If noises aren’t your dog’s thing – I can also use a little quick positive reinforcement training session. Do you know what a camera shutter sounds like? Yep, a clicker used in training dogs! I can usually teach your dog that it pays to look at the camera with just a few tiny treats and a couple repetitions of camera click & treat. I lure their gaze to the camera lens by holding a tasty morsel right at my lens, click, give treat. Pretty soon your dog is looking right at the camera waiting on that magic noise that means a treat is on the way!

I also keep a stash of cat wand style toys in my bag at all times. Flicking a feather toy over my head and then dropping it behind the camera gets a lot of dogs to look directly at the camera while they search for the “bird” that just flew behind me. 

But what if your dog is my shy than hyper? Don’t worry – I’ve got some more tricks up my sleeve. 

Getting hyper dogs to look at the camera can require some special tricks - professional Atlanta pet photographers shares her secrets.

Tricks to get Nervous Nellie Dogs to Look at the Camera

When you are shy, timid, nervous, or anxious having a camera in your face isn’t exactly comforting. A lot of dogs (and people) need a little time to get comfortable and figure out exactly what we’re asking them to do during our session. I have three main tricks I use to help these dogs get comfortable looking at the camera. 

  • Pregame
  • Give Space
  • Get Stinky

If you’re worried that your dog’s anxiety will make it hard for them to look at the camera – be sure to bring it up during the planning questionnaire so we can prepare together to set them up for success when preparing for your session. For dogs that are very nervous, I’ll plan to “start” our session 30 minutes early. While we won’t actually start photographing before the light is ready, your dog will have time to sniff me & my gear with zero pressure & plenty of tasty treats. Often just spending a little time pre-session can reduce your dog’s anxiety making her more comfortable through out the session. A comfortable & confident dog will be much more likely to look at the camera. 

The next trick I have for shy dogs is giving them some space. Me & my camera might be really scary 5 feet away from them.  But if I’m 25 feet away? Suddenly I’m something interesting to look at. Using a  telephoto lens like my favorite 70-200 mm or 105 mm lets me capture really gorgeous images (even close ups) while never invading your dog’s personal space. In fact, even for dogs that are pretty comfortable with me right from the beginning, I almost always start my sessions with a long lens to give everyone some time to get to know each other before I ask them look at the camera when it’s too close. 

Getting stinky might sounds like a weird trick to get dogs to look at the camera – and I promise to wear deodorant to our session. What I mean is that I use super stinky treats that dogs love. Your dog’s nose is roughly 40,000 times more sensitive than yours – and she’s likely a master at following that incredible canine nose. By using super odiferous treats like tuna, peanut butter, hot dogs, and liverwurst we can help point that nose (and eyes) right where we want them!

Favorite parks for dog photography from Atlanta to Athens Georgia by professional pet photographer Courtney Bryson.
The Number One Trick to Working With Dogs

The very best trick to get dogs to look at the camera?

Patience.

This blog is a part of a blog circle with pet photographers from across the globe! This week we’re sharing our best tricks to get dogs to look at the camera. Next upTerri J Photography in Toronto discusses why you don’t need to worry about your dog not looking at the camera during his/her pet photo session.

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

What to read next?

7 Comments

  1. Nancy

    Ilike how you named the treats trick to getting stinky

    Reply
  2. Nicole

    Love how you broke this down – and the photos – Oh MY gorgeous!!

    Reply
  3. linda perdue

    I love the way you broke down the types of dogs, then broke down different ways to get the dog looking – great photos to show the concepts. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  4. Terri

    Love that idea of using cat toys. It’s one thing I have never tried!

    Reply
  5. Angela Schneider

    I love the bit on clicker training. It gives me ideas …

    Reply
  6. Darlene

    Your work is gorgeous! “Get stinky” made me laugh -as it seems I’ve been rolling around in so much lately during photo sessions haha! Great descriptions and 100% agree with the importance of patience.

    Reply
  7. Tracy Allard

    I love the idea of classically conditioning the shutter click and a treat – brilliant – can’t believe I haven’t thought of that (but I do regularly use cat teasers, especially with puppies, to hold their attention)

    Reply

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