What's up with dogs who hate cameras? Today, I received this question: "My dog starts acting oddly the moment I grab the camera and feel in the mood of taking pictures. What makes things worse is that I am a professional photographer and love to take shots when I feel inspired and need my dog to be my muse. Is there anything I can do to make my dog enjoy (or at least tolerate!) getting photographed?"
"All pictures I take of him consists of him either yawning, licking his lips or scratching his neck almost as if he's allergic to photos. And in the worst case, my dog shows his hate for cameras by simply turning his head and walking away!" So what's going on with dogs who hate cameras?
Why Do Dogs Hate Cameras?
If your dog hates cameras, rest assured, you are not alone, many dogs hate cameras! Or at least, dogs give us signs they have a hard time with them. Now, of course, it's not like dogs are camera shy and are afraid to not come well in pictures; instead the issue is more closely related to how dogs perceive cameras.
By putting ourselves in our dog's mindset though, we may gain a better insight as to why dogs behave in certain ways. So why do dogs hate cameras?
First of all, cameras appear a tad bit intimidating to dogs who weren't used to being around cameras all time. A camera appears to the dog as a big eye staring at them, and, on top of that, in order to take a picture you will have to point it towards the dog and dogs don't like having objects they aren't accustomed to placed so close to them.
Also, consider that many cameras have parts that move when zooming and panning and make noises, and then, comes the final flash, which may convince the most hesitant dogs to run away convincing them even more that the camera, is indeed, a scary entity to avoid at all costs!
So unless you exposed your dog to cameras from a young age ever since he was a puppy, there are chances your dog may feel a bit intimidated by them. Some dogs may walk away, others may run, and some others, may decide to stay, but may engage in the several behaviors that you are observing (yawning, lip licking, scratching).
Uncomfortable Dog Signals
All those lip licking, yawning and turning the head behaviors are signaling a dog's discomfort with the whole situation. These behaviors are referred to as "calming signals" by Norwegian dog expert Turid Rugass. Dogs often engage in these behaviors when they feel uneasy, which, in dogs words can be translated into " I'm not feeling comfortable with this whole situation, please help me out of it."
The dog therefore feels better once you move away with the scary object or your dog moves away. "Phewww" your dog may exhale a sigh of relief.
If you ask your dog to hold a stay when you take the picture, your dog may start yawning, turning the head or licking and scratching to manifest his unease, frustration or impatience. He might not be trained to "stay" for that long or he may feel stuck in a sticky situation and therefore scratches himself as a displacement behavior.
There are some things you can do to help your dog like being taken pictures more, but it would involve changing his emotional responses towards the whole situation, so you might have to split things up a bit and work on it. The effort though is likely totally worth it as you may be surprised as well as how good your dog looks after you have implemented these changes.
Now That You Know...
Now that you know why dogs hate cameras, you may be wondering what you can do to make your dog more photogenic. Well, here's a little secret: Dogs hate cameras until you arm yourself with some tasty treats and prove them otherwise. These tasty treats need to be given exclusively for your photo shooting sessions. Here are some tips.
- Start in a quiet room with little distractions. Hold the camera next to you. Let your dog notice when you pick up the camera and toss him a treat. Then put the camera down, treat delivery ends. Repeat several times.
- Aim to create a strong association between the act of picking up the camera and your dog receiving treats. You will know this association has been made once you notice that, upon reaching for the camera, your dog is waiting in anticipation for his treat.
- Progress to the next step, pick the camera, point it slightly towards your dog but not directly, and toss a treat. Then, put the camera down and no more treats. As you progress, point it more directly, but if at any time you notice any signs of discomfort, take a step back and go back to the level he was comfortable with.
- Progress further. Progression would then involve, pointing the camera directly, taking a picture (without the flash at first) and then tossing a treat the moment the camera makes the clicking sound. The clicking sound of the camera may become as powerful as a clicker used in dog training! Then, upon hearing the clicking sound, release your dog ( if you use a release word!) and tossing a treat.
- Create positive associations with the flash. For dogs who don't like the flash, this can be broken down in further steps. Take pictures using the flash pointing at surrounding objects from a distance from your dog and every time your camera makes the flash, toss a treat so that your dog associates the flash with the treat. If your dog still appears frightened, you can try making the flash less salient by taking pictures during the day or blocking it a bit with your hands at first.
- Once your dog learns that the flash equals treats, then you can move forward by following the steps mentioned above.
- Don't forget to add some obedience training. Once your dog is relaxed with the camera, ask your dog to hold a stay. Here is how to train a rock-solid sit/stay or down/stay.
- And don't forget to add a squeaky toy! For a cute expression, squeak a toy that you hold in view. Your dog's pupils will likely enlarge or he may display an adorable head tilt that is worthy of sharing on social media. Cheese!
Tip: remember that your attitude can also play a big role in making your dog love having pictures taken of him! Don't act frustrated or impatient. Your dog can pick up on your emotions. Instead, act happy but relaxed, so that your dog perceives your energy as "this is all good."