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Our meet-cute: The No. 1 key to handling dogs with anxiety during a photo shoot

    I love dogs. All dogs. Every dog.

    You might think I’m one of those people who just runs up to every dog and starts loving and hugging and saying, “It’s OK … I’m a dog whisperer. All dogs love me.

    I don’t. I’m not that person. Truth be told, that person annoys the eff out of me.

    It’s only because I was blessed with one of the many dogs with anxiety in this world. And I am ever so grateful for the things Bella has taught me.

    Raising my own reactive dog

    Shep was the kind of dog who loved everyone.

    Other dogs, people, kids, everyone. No matter what kind of mood I might be in on any given day, if someone said, “May I pet your dog?” I had no choice. By the time a word was forming on my lips, he was already accepting pats, scritches and hugs.

    Then came Bella.

    An outstretched hand. An exuberant child. A strange face leaning in.

    She reacted.

    She pulled away. Ran away.

    I had to learn to advocate for my dog.

    “No, she doesn’t like new people,” I would say. Of course, I was the asshole. Because what dog doesn’t love pats and scritches and hugs from strangers and children?

    Bella didn’t.

    In the last year, she has done a lot of growing up. Those fierce yellow eyes have softened.

    headshot of a maremma sheepdog
    Her “fuck off” eyes, circa 2019

    She comes when she’s called (most of the time). And she welcomes the approach of strangers.

    Hell, she drags me over to see some people now.

    But because of her, I have completely changed my approach to meeting dogs, especially dogs with anxiety.

    Greeting dogs with anxiety

    I run into dogs with anxiety frequently.

    Some need to be kept away from other dogs. In that case, we’ll find a more secure location where we can all be safe from the distractions of other canine threats. Particularly ones with rude owners who don’t use their leashes where required.

    dogs with anxiety need special care
    Griffey, reactive to other dogs

    Some dogs aren’t fond of strange humans. And trust me, I know I’m strange. Like, weird even. I have this big black box that sits in front of my face and makes tic-tic-tic-tic-tic sounds. Sometimes there’s a big flashy light thing that not every dog loves.

    But one of my mottos is to A.C.T. — always carry treats. And that makes me some quick friends most of the time.

    HOWEVER.

    Thanks to Bella and her idiosyncrasies as a puppy, I know not to bombard any dog with my love right away. Not just dogs with anxiety, all dogs.

    It’s the trust factor

    Dogs learn to trust their humans. They look to us for guidance, not just shelter and food. That’s why the foundation of dog training with my friend Stephanie at Pawsitive Connection is communication.

    Thus, when Bella meets someone new, I tell them, “Don’t pay attention to her. Engage with me and let her learn that I trust you to be in our sphere. She will decide when it’s the right time to let you engage with her.”

    There is no shoving a hand in her face. There is no “oogieboogiewhosagoodgirl.”

    There is only respect for her space.

    And that’s something dogs with anxiety require: space.

    You might see me wiggle my butt a little, since it’s the way dogs say “HI!” and I like to communicate in their language.

    You might see my hand dig into my treat bag — but only after you assure me it’s OK and there are no allergy or stomach sensitivity issues.

    Every step of the way, there is respect.

    We cannot have a successful photo shoot without it. Your dog must feel comfortable, safe and respected.

    If we need to, we can have a meet and greet at a safe place before I even send you an invoice for your session. That way, we can give your dog a chance to warm up to me, almost guaranteeing a fantastic gallery from which to create your incredible home decor.

    We did that with this beautiful boy:

    blue the german shepherd, a dog reactive to new people

    All around the circle 

    Hey, look, once your dog gets to know me and is comfortable in my presence, all bets are off. You’re going to see me act a fool.

    I’m going to be rolling around on the ground, always forgetting to check for goose and dog poop. I’m going to be making weird noises, propping myself up on rocks and jumping into the freezing-cold water of the Spokane River if I need to.

    It’s going to be a hoot, I swear.

    Get on my calendar for a consultation and let’s talk about it some more:

    Your dog’s safety and comfort are always a priority, though. We aim for a great photo shoot within the boundaries of respect, leashes and social distance from other dogs or people — especially for dogs with anxiety./contact

    My friends in the worldwide pet photographers blog circle are all focused on safety this week. Let’s start with professional dog photographer, Terri Jankelow, of Terri J Photography in Toronto and the measures she takes to ensure your dog’s safety during their photography session.

    When you get to the bottom of Terri’s post, click the next link in the circle and then keep going to magical places like Atlanta, Wyoming and Syracuse, until you find yourself back here to my list of adventures with your dog.

    That’s when you know you’re home.

    Right where you belong. 

    nv-author-image

    Dogs. Adventure. Outdoors. These words set Angela's heart afire. Angela Schneider, an award-winning writer and dog photographer, documents the story of you and your dog and the adventures you take together. Your portraits will be a statement piece in your home, art that will make your friends and family beg to hear its story.

    4 thoughts on “Our meet-cute: The No. 1 key to handling dogs with anxiety during a photo shoot”

    1. avatar of cahlean

      Tons of awesome information about anxious dogs. Those who haven’t owned or interacted with many of them may not have the insight on how much they are different and need a different approach in many scenarios for their safety and comfort.

      As always, a delightful bantering read!

    2. avatar of courtney

      Great post. Just earlier this week I had to practice my dog ignoring skills until Wyatt decided I was safe and my camera shutter worked like a training clicker to signal delicious treats coming from his mom. As much as I’d love to live on all the dogs – working and living with anxious dogs helps you learn to love from afar – with respect like you said.

    3. avatar of nancy

      For sure! I Used to be one of those people as well that would go right up to the dogs. But my own hair has taught me the same thing. It’s amazing what our dogs can teach us

    4. avatar of tracy allard

      A.C.T. – love it, might borrow it from time to time :). I too have a “no thanks, I’d rather not, I have all the friends I need” kind of dog so have learned to be her staunch advocate!

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