As a pet photographer, my clients can’t speak to me, well not in English anyway. (well their owners usually can). This means I need to be mindful to look for other cues the animals I work with may give me. In this instance lets focus on dogs. As a dog trainer also I suppose I am lucky that reading dogs body language comes naturally to me so it is almost as if they can speak. But, for those that maybe are not so fluent in dog, lets find out a bit more.
So what is dog body language?
Unlike humans alot of the dogs communication is non verbal and they communicate a great deal with humans and other animals using body language. Unfortunately alot of the time humans are pretty bad at reading their dogs and miss alot of cues.
What are the main types of body language dogs display?
These are the main body parts that a dog uses to communicate with its world.
Lets start with the eyes. The eyes are known as the windows to the soul and with dogs this is definitely true. You can tell a lot about how a dog is feeling by their eyes. Are they fixed and staring? This could be an indication that they have spotted a threat or prey at a distance and are getting ready to move.
Alternatively if the dog has a locked stare on you, this could mean the dog sees you as a threat and if you come too close will either run away or right. It is not always the case but bare this in mind, especially if it is not your dog. An indicator that people often misinterpret is what is known as “whale eyes”. This is when the dog shows the whites of it’s eyes. You often see it in dogs that are enduring an overly tight cuddle from an enthusiastic child. When dogs who are displaying whale eyes are ignored they often up the behaviour to growling or biting. Look out for this one.
The ears are great indicators of the mood of a dog. Pricked ears show the dog is alert and interested, equally a dog will usually have relaxed ears when taking some down time. A dogs ears may go back if if they are worried or anxious, however extreme excitement can also make dogs ears go back. It goes back to knowing the dog in front of you. This is why as a photographer I try to collect as much information from the owners before getting started.
Everyone knows the obvious cues dogs give with their mouths, like snarling and baring their teeth. A dog doing this is likely to be scared and or aggressive. Do not approach a do doing this, especially if they are cornered. So what are the more subtle things a dog does with its mouth to communicate? Yawning is a give away that a dog is stressed about what is going on and is trying to calm itself. That isn’t say dogs don’t yawn just like humans do and it’s even been proved they can catch yawns like we do. Dogs will also lick their lips and nose if they are feeling anxious or worried.
A dogs tail gives us some obvious cues, such as wagging when excited and happy. A dog may hold its tail stiff and upright when it is aroused, this often happens when dogs meet new dogs. When a tail is held rigid and over the dogs back this may be a sign of dominance and aggression and conversely a dog that tucks its tail under its body may be fearful or anxious.
A dogs posture is often much easier to read as it is similar to humans in a way. Stiff and upright would mean the dog is aroused and possibly displaying dominance or aggression. Equally a dog that is unsure about a situation may slink to the floor and stay low avoiding eye contact.
These are just a few brief cues that dogs offer us that we can look out for.
Dog body language and photography
As a dog photographer it is important for me to be aware of all these different body language cues dogs display as I rarely know the dogs I am working with. At least having an understanding of body language gives me an insight into what the dog is experiencing.
If I see a dog is getting anxious or worried about a certain shot, I can try something else or find a way to make it more fun for the dog.
Anyone can call themselves a pet or animal photographer but I believe having the extra training with not only dogs but horses as well makes me understand my subjects better and in turn get the best out of them.
Around the circle
I am part of an amazing group of pet photographers from around the globe that participate in this weekly blog circle. Simply click on the link and go on a journey from blog post to blog post until you end up back here.
Next up is Elaine Tweedy of I got the shot photography.