I was a dog trainer before I took the leap into full time pet photography. I will always be a dog trainer first, and my main goal is always the safety of dogs during a photo session. When it comes to working with fearful, anxious, and reactive dogs, it’s not about becoming their “friend” – it’s about making them comfortable and to have an enjoyable photo session! This week I’m sharing some tips that I use when greeting a new dog, and I hope that you will find this beneficial, too! Having my own dog with a small “circle of trust”, I admit to being much more cautious when meeting new dogs.
1. Always Ask For Permission
I can’t say this enough! Always, always ask the owner for permission to greet their dog. Their dog may look sweet and approachable, but that may not always be the case. I also start with a “may I say ‘hi’ to your dog?” And on the other side if it is your dog someone is asking to “say hi” to, it’s ok to say “no” and be your dog’s voice. Remember, we have to be advocates for our dogs. My dog, Kota, draws a lot of attention and children always want to pet her. Kota isn’t comfortable with that, so I make sure we always have the bubble of space to keep everyone safe. I’ve learned that communicating this with children is so important. Also, the dog may usually be happy-go-lucky and friendly, but may be feeling ill that day and he/she may need some extra personal space.
2. Avoid Eye Contact
Try NOT to stare at the dog. Do your best to ignore them. Stay calm and relaxed. Turn slightly to the side. To a dog that may be a little anxious or worried, that direct eye contact may seem threatening to them.
3. Let The Dog Come To You
Never reach out and NEVER hold a treat out for a fearful dog to come to you. Sometimes people think that treats will make them best friends with a dog. When you hold out a treat for a dog that is fearful, you’re then putting them into a challenging situation to make a decision – they might be afraid to say “hi” … but there is a treat involved, too! That’s not fair to the dog. Let the dog come to you on his/her own terms and pay attention to the body language – are they relaxed and wiggly? I recommend this with meeting any new dog.
4. Pet UNDER The Chin
You might be inclined to want to stick your face right in the dog’s face and accept those licks and kisses. Remember… I’m about safety first! Be gentle and reach your hand below the dog’s chin, where he/she can see your hand. You may also be inclined to pat the dog’s head, but once your hand reaches over the head, they lose sight of your hand and that might be scary for them. Think about if a random person came to you and started stroking the top of your head…. or what if someone you didn’t know come up to you and gave you a big bear hug? I bet that would catch you off guard and you might swing a fist!
5. End The Greeting On Their Terms
Always let the dog end the greeting. They will let you know! Try not to get offended 🙂 The more space you give a dog, the more likely they will trust you.
Hope you enjoyed these tips! This post is part of a blog circle from pet photographers around the world! Next up my friend Tracy Allard, the dog trainer behind the lens of Dallas-Fort Worth’s award winning pet photography studio Penny Whistle Photography, shares how to greet a dog the correct way.