Q&A: How Do You Get My Dog to Look at the Camera?

Not long ago, I asked my Instagram followers and Facebook fans to share what they’ve always wanted to know about pet photography. The first question: “Do you have to hold a ball or anything over the camera to get [the dogs] to look?”

I’ve covered this a bit in past posts like “How To Get Your Dog to Rock a Head Tilt,” but I thought I’d share a few more of the attention-grabbing tricks I use to get your dog to look at the camera and a few tips on how you can do the same.

Say Whaaat?!

From what-was-that?! noises to familiar phrases, sound works wonders in getting your pup to look at the camera. My clients joke that I come armed with all sorts of bells and whistles—‍literally—‍and they aren’t joking! I almost always get a laugh when I whip out my crazy noise-making lanyard that holds my go-to collection of everything from hunting calls and whistles to ear-piquing squeakers. (It’s black and gold because as every loyal Pittsburgher knows, you just can’t go it any other way!) Add to that a puppy whine sound effect from a favorite app and even my own voice, and unusual “meeps” and barks and we’ve got ourselves a party.

a small white senior with her beautiful human in the leaves during a backyard Rainbow Session near Pittsburgh

Listen Up

If you don’t have a slew of animal calls, noisemakers, or sound effect apps, you can turn to fun noises like the shake of a treat bag, the crunch of an empty water bottle, the squeaker in a favorite toy, or the jingle of the car keys. Be careful not to overdo it on any one particular sound though. Once your pup catches on to what the noise is or where it’s coming from, he’ll likely lose interest.

Do You Want…?

Another trick you can try is to ask questions and use phrases that typically elicit an excited or curious response. Common ones used by my clients are “Do you want to go to Grandma’s?,” ride, walk, cookie, “Who’s there?!,” “Do you want a treat?,” etc. Vary your noises and inflection as well as the volume and pitch of your voice to keep your dog interested.

Bichon Frise, Italian Greyhounds, and a Glen of Imaal Terrier at various locations near Oakland and Schenley Plaza in Pittsburgh

The one word not to say if you want him to stay in place for a photo? His name. Why? Think about what happens when you call your dog’s name. Unless you’ve got an ultra-stubborn pooch on your hands, he likely comes to you, right? Think about that before you turn to call your dog’s name to get his attention, especially if you’ve got him right where you want him for a photo…unless you’re down with having to lead him back to your desired photo spot over and over.

Say “Cheeese!” (or Treat…or Cookie)

For food-motivated dogs, those high-reward treats work wonders in getting your pet to sit, staaay, and smile! Among my four-legged clients most popular delicacies are hot dogs, cheese, and cookies. (Hunter personally loves anything from Three Dog Bakery in Sewickley and cheese. That boy has got to have his cheese!)

To get your cookie-loving friend to look your way, start by giving him a whiff of a favorite treat in your hand. Once you catch his sniffer and attention, slowly bring your hand back toward your camera and snap away while his focus is on you (or the treat, but no one has to know the real trick, right?). Just be sure to reward your furry friend once you get the shot. And do so in the place where he is so that he learns that staying in a certain spot for a photo means the treat comes to him. Allowing him to move toward you to receive his reward will only reward him for moving out of place, which is no bueno.

There is one thing you want to be aware of when using food to photograph a treat-motivated dog: treat face. Does your dog get that crazy-eyed, gotta-have-it-now, super-focused look when he sees his favorite food coming his way? Well, then you may be working with a case of treat face. If that’s not a look you love, you have to be careful with this approach. Try combining a surprise sound or new noise as he’s looking at the treat to temporarily break that obsessive expression, but be ready to snap your shot because you’ve likely got a split second to do so.

Incorporating Toys

Toys can be a blast to work with, but you do have to be cautious when using them as a sole attention-getter. A ball-crazy dog can easily become fixated on chasing and playing with a tennis ball, for example, and may not want to drop it altogether, making getting a toy-less portrait of him difficult. I recommend holding back on whipping out a toy that you know your dog is going to be obsessed with until near the end of your session or saving that beloved ball for helping capture action shots.

What About Photographing Blind or Deaf Dogs?

Blind or deaf dogs present their own unique set of challenges when it comes to getting them to look at the camera; however, appealing to the senses they do have is a great place to start. Deaf dogs, for instance, will need more visual or scent-based techniques, such as seeing the bounce of a ball from someone standing next to the photographer or the smell of a deliciously stink treat using the same trick you can use on food-motivated dogs. Blind dogs, on the other hand, will likely respond to noises fairly well, but you can also try using treats and guiding their gaze toward the camera. (I mean, who doesn’t like food?)

What have you found that helps get your dog’s attention? Share your secrets in the comments below. And if it’s nothing, let me help! Choose your adventure below to begin.

2 thoughts on “Q&A: How Do You Get My Dog to Look at the Camera?

  1. Amy T says:

    Ah, such fun and helpful tips! I photographed a family this weekend with a dog and toddler. Fun times! I will be keeping these tips on the back of my mind for next time!

    • Bark & Gold Photography says:

      Oh man, dog and toddler?! Major props to you! Pet photographer or not, anytime a dog is included in portraits, these will definitely help mitigate frustrations and that distracted doggie look.

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