Photography Sessions for Reactive Dogs: 4 Questions People Should Ask But Don’t

Would you believe there are people out there longing for a pet photography session yet haven’t moved forward because they have a reactive dog? Maybe you’re one of them. If so, this post is designed to assist you not only in creating a positive experience for your reactive dog’s photography session but in helping you find the best photographer for it should you find the experience to be a good fit by knowing the right questions to ask prior to booking.

Before committing to a session, it’s important to ask yourself if doing so will be a positive experience for your reactive dog. You know your dog best, which automatically makes you his best advocate. With that, comes the responsibility of helping create a positive photography experience for him, which often begins with asking the right questions—but first, let’s briefly acknowledge the misconception of reactive dogs.

The Misconception of Reactive Dogs

Throughout this post, I’m going to use the broad term “reactive” to describe dogs who meet iSpeakDog’s definition of reactivity: those who are reacting from “barrier frustration” and those who do so from a fear-base.

An important distinction to note is that a reactive dog is not always an aggressive dog.

“‘Reactivity’ means, quite simply, that the dog reacts to another dog, a person, or an object,” explains iSpeakDog, a collection of resources to help you learn how to understand your dog and live together more harmoniously. “Essentially, something or someone triggers the dog to do things like bark, growl, and lunge—which can look like the dog is being aggressive.”

Creating a Positive Photography Experience for Your Dog?

Here are four questions people booking a photography session for a reactive dog should ask but don’t. What others can you think of? If you have unaddressed concerns or additional questions not answered below, I invite you to connect with me via email or by scheduling a no-obligation consultation call using the buttons at the end of this post.

1. How can I ensure everyone involved is safe and comfortable?

While there are many ways to keep everyone involved in your dog’s photography session safe and comfortable, it can be difficult to implement the best practices without open communication of his needs. Please, don’t feel embarrassed or that you need to justify your dog’s behavior or quirks. Unfiltered communication is what allows your photographer to choose the most effective lens, suggest an appropriate location, provide adequate space for your dog to just be a dog, and even bring along an assistant with whom he’ll feel most relaxed around. It’s always better to share more than you think than to hold back important details in fear of judgment.

My pre-session consultation and questionnaire are two prime places to let it all out. Understand that any of the information you share, including any prior incidents of biting or showing aggression of any kind toward any human or another animal, does not disqualify you for a session but rather helps me to take steps to keep myself and your pet safe and comfortable.

2. What if my dog needs to remain leashed during his session?

The short answer: yours and everyone else’s!

Seriously though, don’t let the reality that your dog needs to remain leashed during his session deter you from booking. Your dog has only one job: to be a dog! I’ll take care of the rest. Years of experience and patience in working with a variety of personalities and behaviors—along with my own bag of tricks—means there is no need for anyone to be an obedience school superstar or even leash-free to have a successful session or to create the images you’re dreaming of!

From rambunctious to reactive, I take a no-pressure, relaxed approach to our time together. Your session never requires your dog to sit, stay, and behave for hours (or even minutes) on end. One of the benefits of hiring a pet-specific photographer is that we know how to work with all personality types and still deliver gorgeous portraits, jam-packed with expression and connection. Your dog is not the only one who has some tricks up his sleeve!

woman using a wacom tablet to edit a finished signature wall art piece

Almost every dog I photograph is leashed during our session, whether to keep him safe or due to location requirements. The reason you don’t see any in my final images is because they’re removed during post-processing with a touch of magic (orrr Photoshop…but that can be our secret).

3. Are there certain locations better suited for photographing reactive dogs?

Some dogs are just DINOS, am I right?

Hearing that, are you thinking back to those shark-toothed months of puppyhood, but I’m not talking about those Tyrannosaurus-sized bites your pup left all over your inner forearm. (Oh, was that just mine?)

DINOS stands for “dog in need of space,” a term coined by Jessica Dolce of Dogs In Need of Space and denotes just that: that a dog simply needs a little more space. It does not mean that the dog is poorly behaved, untrained, or dangerous. Much like some people prefer more physical distance when socializing than others, the same is true for our dogs. (I should know. Hunter is one of them.)

“At one time or another, every dog will need space. DINOS is a term that serves as a reminder that not all dogs are comfortable or able to interact with unfamiliar dogs or people. That’s perfectly normal,” Dolce elaborates. “DINOS helps to bust the common misconception and unrealistic expectation that dogs can and should tolerate the actions of other dogs and people at all times, under any conditions. Dogs aren’t robots. It’s perfectly normal for dogs to have varying tolerance levels for other animals and unfamiliar people. Humans don’t like everyone they meet. And we certainly don’t like rude, uninvited attention (especially when our personal boundaries are violated) and neither do dogs!”

Are some locations better suited for DINOS and reactive dogs? Absolutely, and you should definitely seek the guidance of your photographer in choosing the most appropriate one.

Imagine taking a nervous DINOS to a crowded downtown location that’s bustling with people and other dogs. He may feel fearful of these unfamiliar sights and sounds crave distance from passersby. Physically, he may tuck his tail between his legs, raise his hackles, avert his eyes, cower, repeatedly yawn or lick his lips, or flatten his ears, none of which I’m assuming fit the way you hope he’d look for his portraits. And if your dog is at all uncomfortable, stressed, fearful, or frustrated, that will 100-percent come through in his final images and there’s no amount of Photoshop that can fix that.

With your photographer’s familiarity with various locations and recommendations to meet your dog’s needs as well as your desired look for your portraits, you can trust that you’ll be setting your dog up for success from the beginning, resulting in beautiful artwork in which he looks confident and happy.

4. Is your photographer confident and experienced with photographing reactive dogs?

Perhaps secondary in importance only to determining if your dog will truly enjoy a photography session is a trust in knowing that the photographer you’ve hired is both confident and experienced with photographing reactive dogs. Keep in mind that proficiency does not always equal expertise. This is why it’s advantageous to work with a pet photographer specifically. Sure, there are family or portrait photographers who feel comfortable incorporating pets into their clients’ sessions, but finding one who possesses the necessary skills, awareness, capability, and patience that photographing reactive dogs requires is not always as easy as you may think, and it’s important to distinguish between those agreeing to work with your dog versus those fully capable of doing so.


Are you keen to learn more about the Bark & Gold Photography experience and if it’s a good fit for your reactive or nervous dog? Choose your adventure below to begin.

Did you enjoy this post? Great, there’s more coming your way because it’s part of a photography blog circle featuring photographers specializing in a variety of niches! To see more content like this and what the next photographer is sharing for our weekly theme, “Questions People Should Ask But Don’t,” check out Gretchen Decker with Gretchen Decker Photography, sharing the questions people booking a wedding photographer should ask but don’t. Continue to click the link at the end of each post in the blog circle until you eventually find your way back here.

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