My Dog Hates the Camera: Tips for Photographing a Camera-Shy Dog

Recently I received a question following my post “Q&A: How Do You Get My Dog to Look at the Camera?” It came from one dog mom who shared that as soon as she takes her phone out to get a photo of him, her fur boy looks away, “Even when I’m not trying to take his picture,” she added.

If you’re nodding your head in agreement, let me first say, it happens to all of us–even professionals! I’m sure you’ve heard me joke that Hunter suffers from what we in the pet photography industry call “photographer’s dog syndrome.” It’s pretty much what it sounds like and my guy has a chronic case.

Before you can help your dog smile for the camera, it’s important to understand why he’s avoiding it.

The most common possibility is that he’s straight up afraid of it. Think about it: you’re standing above your dog pointing this strange and intimidating object at him, something we so as so seemingly harmless, but make even the most confident dogs feel anxious and uncertain. There are unusual noises that your camera may make when you’re turning it on  or zooming , and when the shutter opens and closes. We may not even hear them, but if you remember that a dog’s hearing is much keener than a human’s, it’s understandable that those subtle noises may seem scary.

Exposing a young puppy to the camera is one of the most beneficial things you can do to help them feel comfortable with getting his photo taken. Presenting your dog with opportunities to investigate your camera at his own pace, including the noises that come with it, and then rewarding him when he remains calm and positive around it, will help make getting photos of him a stress-free experience for the both of you. Essentially, the younger you start and the more frequently you create opportunities to be confident around the camera, the better.

boxer lab mix happy in the grass at Brady's Run Park in Beaver County

Great, but what if your dog isn’t a puppy and has been terrified of the camera for years?  Pair these tips with a bit of patience (and some treats).

  1. Grab some high-reward treats and get on your dog’s level. I recommend sitting with your camera placed in your lap. Invite your dog over using a calm, happy voice making sure to praise him as he gets closer. Some dogs may run right over, others may come more cautiously at the sight of your camera. Remember, patience is key.
  2. As your dog gets closer, give him a treat. If he’s brave, he may investigate the camera himself; if he’s hesitating, you can place the treat slightly closer to the camera to see if he will inch closer to sniff it out of curiosity. Do not move the camera or do anything that will startle your pup.
  3. When and only if your dog seems comfortable around the camera, slowly raise the camera a few inches off of your lap. While doing so, it is important to watch how your dog responds to this movement. If you notice that your dog is uncomfortable in any way, take a break and start from the beginning, working in smaller, more subtle movements.
  4. If she backs up in fear, you’ve probably raised the camera too high or too fast on your first try, so work in smaller increments. Each time you raise the camera and your dog stays near or moves closer to investigate, praise and treat her. Keep your voice gentle and calm as even the slightest increase in volume or sudden change in tone can startle a camera-shy dog.

The most important thing to remember is that you should never force a scared dog. Doing so  slowly erodes the confidence and trust you’re working to build around the camera and can potentially cause your dog to lose trust around you in other areas of his life as well. Remember: patience, patience, patience. Paired with practice, a little time may be all it takes to have your dog reacting to the camera in a positive, welcoming way.

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