Disconnected Ears

The ears of your dog can be a subtle but important part of your dog’s expression.

Some dogs will be very obvious when they’ve “disconnected” and aren’t involved in the photo any more, or they aren’t paying attention to whatever is around them. They’ve switched off. They’re over it. Ears are back or down.

If the ears of your dog are looking like this, I encourage you to re-evaluate the amount of reinforcement the dog has regarding taking photos. Are you putting too much pressure on him? Does he not understand his job? Has he been posing too long or without reward? Or does he not have enough history of reward for the camera and therefore just hates it every time you get it out?

Depending on the situation you may need to go back several steps, to low-distraction environments, and just work on building up his reward history associated with the camera.

If you’re putting too much pressure on him, stop doing that, and let him look around and create his own photos. If he’s been posing too long, make the posing time much shorter and more rewarding!

If he is uncertain about his job, try praising him while he’s posing. Journey’s best alert expressions often come from me enthusiastically crying: “YES! SUPER!!! WOOOOWWWWW AMAZING EARS BABY WOOWWWWW!”. There is absolutely no doubt in his mind that whatever he’s doing at that moment is amazing.

The examples below show some pretty “bad” ears and engagement.

Here is a selection of another 4 ears from Journey, from completely and utterly disconnected, to halfway there, to ALMOST but not quite… and finally, the photo I ended up using. 

The reason I chose the on of him looking up?

First, I find these photos can often tell a more interesting story than another photo of my dog standing and looking at the camera, and second, he is totally engaged in whatever he’s looking at. He’s totally focused. I would much rather this, than a photo where he’s half-listening somewhere else.

Subtle ears

In my eye, the examples above are pretty obvious, but some dogs can be especially subtle in when they’ve “tuned out”. It might be as simple as one ear very slightly rotated away. 

For Journey, this means he’s only half-engaged in what we’re doing – it usually only happens when I’m asking him to look at the camera and he’s a bit over it – and he’s half listening for something more interesting, without moving his head or looking away (border collies are too clever, right?!). These photos have a distinct feeling of “disconnection” about them, and I won’t use them. I would much rather he be looking totally away and be engaged and interested and alert, than bored and disconnected.

The first one is good. The 2nd two aren’t even subtle. 

Good, alert, connected expression on the left photos, ear flick/disconnection on the right. Some are much more subtle than others! Can you see?

Gazing direction

Looking off to one side can often give us a more wistful feeling, like we’ve just happened upon the dog in the woods, or they’re watching another animal, smelling a smell on the wind, or are involved somehow in their own story.

As mentioned elsewhere, we are not a part of this scene necessarily, but we are observers. Therefore, the pose should support this feeling – depending on what exactly you’re going for. If you want the feeling of a dog “in his natural habitat” or as part of his own story, then his posed should be less forced/unnatural. 

If we are showing off a trick or it is part of a bigger story where the dog could have been interrupted mid movement or similar, then the pose can “feel” a bit more staged. Eg., the dog mid-roll, lying on his back and looking up. There are such a huge number of poses and potential options here, that it’s really just a matter of going with what “feels” like it suits the scene.

I would say though that in general, a photo where the dog is looking off to the side should look/feel less posed than one with the dog looking forward at the camera.

Different “angles” of looking will have different effects, too. A 45 degree angle (over one of your shoulder) can be a bit more dreamy. A 90 degree angle has much more of the dog’s focus and intention and creates less connection with the audience: the dog is really involved in their own world.

 Seeing the dog look into the distance asks questions of adventures, or possibilities, or dreaming of things to come. 

Looking up also has an entirely different feeling: dreamy, whimsical, romantic, wondering, or perhaps something joyful if the dog’s face is being “bathed in light”. 

You don’t have to plan where the dog will look, down to the exact angle, but being aware of the feelings of different angles will help you to create that story or mood in editing. Having a small idea of where you want them to look will also help you with composition, as you’ll make sure there aren’t plants or trees blocking their view. 

That being said, if the dog is looking all around… take the photos!! Some dogs will do better without being “nagged” for attention all the time. Let him watch the birds, the squirrels, sniff the breeze, listen to the deer… and take those photos, then create his own story. And when he’s looked around, make a sudden, sharp, surprising noise and be ready. 


I was recently asked how to train a dog to “look up”, and the truth is, that I don’t. While I have taught both my dogs a “look” command, they interpret it to mean “look somewhere else”. 

To get any dog to look up, I rely on one of two things. Either:

  • an interest in birds, squirrels or trees making noises above
  • a helper/owner luring their attention upward

For Journey, he loves looking all around. If I ask him about squirrels, he will look up into the trees. So of course, you could associate a word with looking up FOR something (eg., birds/squirrels) if your dog is so inclined. Just be aware that you are drawing attention to squirrels and you may not want this, at all. 

In that case, your best bet is to use a helper. They can stand close to the dog, get their attention upward while you take the photo. Then, remove both the owner and dog from the scene and take a photo without changing focus of the scene. Use this extra photo to remove the owner in Photoshop.


As you look at the gallery below, think about the way different angles of gazing direction, whether they’re looking slightly up or straight across, and even the way their bodies are shaped or curved, helps to create the mood or story of the picture.

Looking into the camera

Photos where the dog is looking into the camera has a sense of connection with the photographer or the viewer. Owners will tend to choose these photos more often because the connection. 

The means that when setting up the mood or story of the image we need to be conscious of this gazing direction. Photos where the dog is “aware” of the photographer will be less likely to have the feeling of a “story”, but more of a posed photo. This isn’t good or bad, but it’s helpful to keep in mind when making the rest of the mood, and as you head into editing. 

There are some cases where the pose, expression and scene can still give us the feeling of the “dog in the wild” or as a part of his own story, and he just happened to notice us. Usually we want the camera to be “peeking through” some foliage or similar, for the dog’s pose to be not overly posed or forced, and for him to be holding his head and body in such a way that he just spotted us there in the bushes. A true “alert” dog with head up, ears up, looks like it is being asked to look at the camera (which of course, it is).

Aware vs. Unaware. In the first photo, it’s clear Loki has been posed next to this bramble. He looks sweet and compliant and is totally a part of having his photo taken. 

In the second photo, through the ferns, it feels like Loki could have snuck up on us, and is peering at US through the bushes. Of course I’ve put him there, but I wanted it to have the FEELING of being unposed: a creature in the wild. 

These two examples demonstrate how, while a dog looking at the camera usually has a more “personality” or posed feeling, it doesn’t have to, depending on what you want to create. 

Here are plenty more examples of dogs looking at the camera.