Can I bring my dog?
If you're like me, your pets are a huge part of your family! I often get asked, "can I bring my dog to my session?" It's a reasonable question and as a huge animal lover I always want to shout YASSS QUEEEN! But when I put my professional photographer hat on, I struggle with that same enthusiasm. It's not that I don't want to do it for my clients, it's that it can be pretty difficult to execute perfectly. (So remind me gently dear client, nothing in life is prefect!) Here's more... In the past I've had tons of clients bring their dogs, and I love it. I love the idea of clients bringing their best paw-pals to be photographed! However, most of these moments don't make it into my portfolio because the truth is, it's hard to pull off! There's one family in particular that will always stand out. It's the Howell family pictured above. I photographed them on NYE in 2016. My business was new, so I had all kinds of newbie enthusiasm when they asked to bring their dog. This, coming from the lady who legitimately wanted to bring a kitten back from a tropical vacation; what can I say? I LOVE animals! So on this day, my loving wonderful clients brought their big, beautiful dog Rex with them. I was mesmerized by his expressive eyes, and soft fur! He was such a good boy! But, full disclosure - that session was a challenge! Rex, was in a new place, with new scents and with sprawling fields to explore. He wanted to spend his time exploring, not behaving for a stranger! Still, I managed to get a couple great photos. I even shot a few of just him (how could I resist?!) The next year my client contacted me with the sad news of Rex's passing. (yes, I cried!) When they had their session, they had no idea how meaningful the photos of Rex would be to them. It was one of the few moments they got truly good up-close photos with the whole family! They truly cherish the photos, and for me the decision to keep including the doggos in the photo was a no-brainer. Families who want their dogs should absolutely include them! But I would be remiss if I didn't give you the down and dirty to help you make a decision! Below is one of 30+ outtakes of my own family photo, circa de 2018. As you can see, our two dogs were not at all willing to participate! After countless (and I mean about 30) tries, we did manage to get a decent photo of all of us! However, the amount of time it took really wore the younger kids out. They were just over it. From there, the session spiraled. The photographer, my dear friend Amy was a saint to keep trying though - I'll give her that! In the end, including the dogs far surpasses planning outfits and getting everyone to appear like the happiest family on earth! It's a special kind of frustrating. (hello, worth it but hard!) My dogs were distracted by the process! Think about how often do we sit in the front yard, shoulder to shoulder and all face the same direction...I'll tell you - never! It's not weird for us humans, but dogs must think we are out of our minds! Most of the time our dogs are sitting in front of us, facing us and communicating with their cute little tails, right? Still, I cherish our family photo with our dogs because the tragedy of owning pets is that they aren't here for our lifetime; only theirs! But before I make you cry thinking about the rainbow bridge, let's break down what a session is like if you decide you just have to bring your pup! Remember that in the example below, these dogs live here. They are used to the property, they guard and protect it and they know every inch of land. They're used to the mailman/UPS/Fed-ex, and used to neighborhood kids walking by. They see the same cars daily, but it's still distracting for them. They can sit on command, balance treats on their noses (and wait until I give them the "free" command to catch it), but despite being well-trained, they're still just animals. They don't understand anything outside of the realm of their normal, and they grossly feed on our energy. I've photographed roughly a dozen families with dogs in the past few years, and typically they have all behaved the same. Here is what to expect. When you arrive, you'll bring your dog out if you have a dog sitter (recommended), or leave the dog in the car until you are ready(weather permitting/Air Conditioning). Your dog will spend roughly 15 minutes wanting to explore once they are walked. Whether they're picking up on my cats & dogs, or they're smelling the deer that wander in the pasture (or everything really), this process of getting to know the area can take a while. Once they settle down, we can do our best to reign in your dog for photos. As eluded to above, I recommend having your dog join us toward the end of the session, while an "extra hand" type person walks your dog around the property to relax and get their sniffs out! (this will backfire if small children see your dog as they may want his/her attention).
What to consider when making a decision to include your doggo!
Your dog must be well-trained. If your dog is still learning to obey you, they likely won't cooperate with new people and a new area around. The scents are incredibly tempting for most dogs! Even a "good" dog can be overstimulated and difficult to cooperate in a new setting.
Leashes aren't optional. Your dog needs to remain on a leash for the duration of the session. I understand not wanting to have them on a leash in the photo, but if we can get the dog to settle, you can tuck the leash behind their body to conceal it. This is to protect you from your dog running away during the session. I'll never forget the time a client spent 15 minutes chasing the dog around the farm. It was...awkward to say the least and I felt so bad for him as he was sweating and angry by the time he caught her! (At least the photos turned out cute!)
Small children. I know it seems weird to consider small children in your decision, but remember that some of the same factors that overwhelm your pets, will overwhelm small children (by contrast, older kids think it's hilarious when dogs are running around with the zoomies refusing to cooperate!) Remember, I'm a stranger to both small children and your dog! It's a new place they've never been - the whole process is extremely overwhelming. Once you throw your dog into the mix, it can be next to impossible for small children to recover from the process. Children will meltdown faster than an ice-cream cone in the south in August!
Have realistic expectations: It's really easy to assume that bringing your dog will be a simple process, but please consider that it can be stressful too. As long as you go into the session knowing that your pet may not cooperate, and are OK with that, you'll be better off than the client who demands everything go smoothly.
HELPFUL TIPS FOR A DOGGONE GREAT SESSION!
Grooming - Don't forget to groom your pet before the session! This may mean a full-service grooming salon trip, or something as simple as a quick brush depending on your dogs' breed. Brush their fur, wipe "sleep" out of their eyes and if needed, trim their nails. Don't forget about the hair around the eyes so we can see them!
Wear him/her out! The day of our session, take them for a long walk, put them in doggie daycare, or schedule some time with a dog sitter. You want your dog to be laid back, and not ready for zoomies during the session. This might be tricky because they could get a bit dirty in your mission to wear them out that morning! Make sure you leave enough time to groom your dog after you wear him/her out, while also factoring the time to get your family ready.
Bring treats and toys and clean-up bags. Remember that I, a stranger, will be the one to try to call your dog's attention! If I have his/her favorite snacks, it may be easier! However, this can backfire if your dog is crazy attached to his/her favorite toy! Do NOT bring toys if your dog is hyperfocused to the point where they will have a one-track mind!
Practice commands. In the days leading up to your session, work with them on sit/stay. Practice both on and off leash. Remember to reward them, even if they "know" the commands already. The key is to remind them that listening comes with rewards!
Keep it simple. Consider a simple, nondescript leash and collar. Bright colors are fun, but unless the shoot is for your dog exclusively, it can appear busy and clash in the photos. A small black/grey/brown leash and collar is best. Of course this is aside from any bowties or bandannas you may have your pet wear to coordinate!
Consider bringing someone with you. This can be a friend, neighbor or even a dog sitter. It should be someone who can drive the dog back home if things go wrong, or if an extra set of hands is needed to hold a leash. (remember, it may take a minimum of 15 minutes for your dog to settle down so we can begin).
Energy and Vibe! Remember, dogs are extremely attuned with our emotions and energy. If you become upset, frazzled and stressed during the session, your dog may mimic that behavior. If you don't believe me, take a look at Ruby, my Aussie on the far left of the below photo! Her look says it all! She was reading into the stress of the moment 100%!
When it's all over with, my wish is for clients to have a fun, stress-free session with their dogs. If your pet cooperates, you'll have that picture perfect photo to cherish! Go into the session with realistic expectations and remember, it will take some work to get there!