Whether you’re a pet owner, Instagrammer or pet photographer, it’s so important to be able to get our pet’s attention for their photoshoot. But you might be wondering, how can I get my dog’s ears up for their photos. Here you’ll find my top tips for getting your dog to look at the camera, so they look their best.
Imagine the scene: you’re walking with your dog in a nice location, and a perfect photo opportunity appears out of nowhere. Maybe there’s a cool tree, a mossy log, a water feature, maybe some lovely flowers you just can’t wait to use in your photos. You get excited, and try to position your dog and take a photo… only for the dog to be equally as excited as you are and be looking everywhere except at the camera.
We’ve all been there. Sometimes, the dogs just don’t want to cooperate right away, and that is perfectly ok. Luckily, there are some very easy tricks you can use to maximise your chances of success.
Have your camera or phone ready, at the right angle, composition, settings and so on. Then try one of the methods below and take the picture the second those ears go up! Avoid asking for attention again, and again, and again, and again, especially in interesting or exciting environments. Some dogs will switch out the more you ask for their attention! So be ready to make a noise, or a movement or do something exciting one time and capture the shot in that moment.
Even better, have your camera on burst mode, use Back Button Focus, and fire off a few shots the moment you begin to try and get their attention.
But don’t nag them. Some dogs find that really boring and stupid – learn what works best for your dog and if one method isn’t working, try something else!
Treats are a very natural first step to grabbing your dog’s attention. They are one of the tools dog owners use to train the dogs and in general so it’s natural to use them as a way of grabbing the dog’s attention while you’re trying to take a photo. Use the treat while posing the dog to guide them into a stance that works/that you had in mind. Then, compose the shot in camera and bring your hand that’s holding the treat to your lens (that may require some practice, bigger cameras can be heavy and hard to balance one handed so you may need to do some precarious balance work), take the shot. Don’t be afraid of trying multiple times if it doesn’t work the first time, as always, practice makes perfect!
Be careful though, some dogs may be extremely food motivated and can get overly excited and focused on the TREATS only, so use them wisely. Equally, some pups may not be food motivated and will not care about the treats at all.
If you’re taking photos of your own dog, you already have a good idea of what works best for them, but when you’re working with clients, it helps to talk to the owner to find out whatever you can about the dog and what makes that specific pup tick.
It also helps to pay your model frequently and handsomely! If your pup loves treats, then this is his preferred currency! Reward, reward, reward. Posing should be a well-paid job!
Sounds and Noises
There’s so many different sounds that can grab the dog’s attention and get them to perk up and look alert, so why not try using that to your own advantage and make some sounds yourself?
Remember, you can do any sounds you think will work so anything is fair game: calling their name, whispering, low and high pitch noises, making popping or clicking sounds with your mouth, imitating dog whines, barks or howls, just have fun with it and see what works best. The more ridiculous you sound, the more successful you’ll probably be. The added bonus of all these: your hands are free to operate your camera.
Some dogs respond better to sounds, words and noises they know well, others perk up to more unfamiliar noises. Try them out! Generally though, don’t try to use the same sound too many times, if it doesn’t work, move on and try a different one.
Some dogs also may feel under some “pressure” to do a command that they don’t understand, if you’re constantly saying words and making noises. If you notice them switching off and looking away, try a more passive approach such as….
Dog Sounds App & YouTube Videos
There are a lot of different dog sounds apps for your phone out there. Download some and see what works best. My favourite is literally called “Dog Sounds” and has a picture of an Aussie puppy as the cover. You can also search for “sounds dogs love” on YouTube and play videos from there.
In most apps, there will probably be some howling noises, whines, barking, maybe some people noises, doorbell sounds, birds chirping, squeaky toy sounds and the like.
Like with the treats, you will probably need to do some serious multi-tasking and balancing between handling your phone and your camera to get the shot ready, but when you figure out what works best, boy will you be rewarded.
I often balance my phone on the top of my camera and lens, screen up, so I can jab randomly at one of the sounds, and when it goes off, the dog looks directly at the camera.
The best part of the dog sounds apps is that you can very quickly switch between different sounds, which will hopefully prevent your dog from getting bored of modelling too quickly. Not only this, but sounds are much more passive than you constantly asking for attention. So dogs who are more sensitive won’t feel like they’re supposed to be doing something, but instead can just listen to the sounds.
Dogs like toys.. At least, some dogs do. Some don’t care for them. As with literally everything, you need to experiment and try it out with your adorable model yourself.
Sometimes, it helps if the toy has a squeaker, so you can get the pup’s attention with the sound it makes and then keep its attention on the toy. For best results it’s helpful to figure out what kind of toy the dog likes and be careful not to use it too much or too early or it can lose some effect.
As a bonus, when you move on to experimenting and taking photos of the dog looking away from the camera, you can always move the toy around or throw it into the bushes to get some different angles.
Get Help - Find an Assistant!
Sometimes, what works best is to have someone there to help you get the dog’s attention, while you, the photographer, deal with setting up the shot. Anyone can do it really, they only need to be prepared to be silly enough for the dog to go: “What is up with that person there??”
If you’re taking photos of your own dog, don’t hesitate to ask your friend or partner for help in creating a masterpiece, and if you’re working a shoot and all your other tricks fail, try asking the owner to help you catch their dog’s attention. They should be as invested in the success of this photoshoot as you are.
If you or the owner has more than one dog, you can enlist the other dog to help, too! Many dog siblings are especially interested in what their sibling is up to. If the owner plays with the other dog, or you throw a toy or food into the bushes for your other dog to find, the dog modelling will almost always want to see what they’re up to.
In this case, they are usually looking to one side, rather than directly at the camera, but it can be fun to mix things up.
Keep it interesting - and fun!
The thing with dogs is that they’re living creatures. What has worked once, may not work ever again, the dogs might get used to all the sounds in your dog sounds app, they won’t enjoy their toy anymore and they will not care for any of the noises you (or your assistant) can produce. So, to be successful, you need to be able to adapt and try new, weird, maybe even stupid things.
If none of the things seem to be working, try doing star jumps, or bring a plastic bag and wave it around like a flag, or get some sticks or leaves and make some noise with those. Have your friend-turned-assistant try clapping, snapping their fingers, star jumps or even cartwheels, just don’t be afraid to try the silliest things, you might be surprised how great they actually work.
At the end of the day, though, the dog doesn’t need to be constantly staring into the camera. Some of my best photos (especially of Journey) have come when the dog has been watching birds overhead, or paying attention to people walking past on the trail. Relax, let them look around. They don’t have to constantly stare at you for the entire shoot.
Often by letting them relax, they’re more willing to tune back in when you ask for their attention again!
If I had been constantly fighting to get his attention here, I would never have been able to achieve this photo. Some of the most beautiful moments and storytelling images come from letting our dogs just be a part of their environment.
But of course, when you do want those photos of the dog looking into the camera, just remember, pose the dog, set up the shot, then make some silly noises and be ready to snap the photo as soon as you see those ears go up!
We have even more lessons on posing, capturing expression, teaching a stay, and all the behind-the-scenes elements of pet photography in the Improve Your Pet Photography course.
Make sure you check it out if you’re ready to take even better photos of your pets!
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