When trying to get the attention of my subjects, particularly of the canine variety, I will use just about any means possible to hold their attention. This set of suggestions is for a dog on a leash with a handler. The rules change in different environments. I will follow up with different scenarios in future posts.
I like to shoot outside in the natural elements the best. The lighting is usually fantastic. The dogs are happy to be outside, cause that is where all the best stuff happens. The dogs can relieve themselves, which is actually an issue. With my own dog I know her signs when it is time to go out. But with a dog I just met the signs can be so subtle that I don’t always get it until it is too late. With some of the dogs they are house trained and will do about anything to not relieve themselves in some of the covered and indoor spaces that we use. This can create quite the anxious and unfocusable dog. Taking the time to give the animal a potty break prepicture session is always a good idea. But if we are outside, that just isn’t a problem.
To keep the dog’s focus while the handler is doing their very best to stay out of the line of sight, I like to use a variety of temptations. First I try the simple voice command. Surprisingly, some dogs come in pretrained and will sit and stay. This is not the norm. Next comes the treat. And what I have learned about treats is that the smellier (no that isn’t a real word, but I like it) they are the better they are. I like to make sure that the dog realizes that I am the one with the treat and get them to focus on me (ie the camera) After all, this is the goal, getting the dog to look directly into the camera lens. I usually raid the treat room before a photo session. I look for either the bacon type or soft kind of treats. One of the fine RVSPCA staff educated me this week that dogs don’t actually taste much and it is the smell that they identify with more so than taste. Interesting factoid… look it up.
Show the treat, pull it back and let the dog be a good dog and earn the treat. This is good for a few shots at least. Do this as long as it amuses the animal. I will warn you that if you don’t give up the treat some of the dogs will just move on and figure you aren’t worth your word. So for the skeptical ones you must make them a believer. Very few dogs don’t want treats, but there are some.
After treats comes the squeaker. I like to use the squeaker to grab the dog’s attention and expression. So be ready, palm the squeaker and give one blast while you are looking through the camera with your finger on the shutter release. See what the reaction is from your subject. Most will perk up and give you a priceless glance at the noise. Just remember that too much of a good thing can be annoying for everyone, once the dog is over the squeaker lose it. For everyone’s sanity, move on.
At times I can sound like a one man band whistling, popping, giving smoochy noises and a few squeaks and toss in a few treats and I am sure the dogs are quite entertained. Almost like dinner and a show if you ask them. We try not to take ourselves too seriously and have a little fun along the way.