I used to be that person … the one who would rush up to unsuspecting dog owners with a “don’t worry, dogs love me!”
I hate that I used to be that person now.
After working with reactive dogs as a pet photographer in Spokane and North Idaho, I know better now.
So much better.
How I learned
My first dog, Shep, was a gregarious fellow. He welcomed the touch of strangers, even allowing children to hug him on the hiking trail.
Many saw it in his eyes or smile and would be well on their way to touching them before asking permission … and while I was lining up the most exquisite long-exposure of a waterfall. I always wanted to make a T-shirt that said, “YES, my dog is friendly … but I’m not.”
Fast forward to the Bella years and she is a prototypical Maremmano, suspicious of strangers, wary of their half-sized friends who tend to be as noisy as they are unpredictable.
When she was younger she would pull away from approaching humans, even turning and bolting as she dragged me at the end of the leash.
I had to learn to become her advocate.
“No, thank you,” I had to say strongly to people drawing near with their hands outstretched, eager to have her sniff them. “She doesn’t like strangers.”
I firmly believe the more I practiced this, the more Bella learned to lean on me and trust me, our bond strengthening each time. And I learned how to approach dogs myself, which translates well into experiences working with reactive dogs.
Find the right spot for working with reactive dogs
My friend Lindsey and her boy Griffey were the first participants in the Paws of the Panhandle book project. She warned me in advance her extra-large-sized cuddle bug was reactive around other dogs.
The project, however, entailed epic scenery at a North Idaho location. I chose a spot I’d been several times and encountered no one.
I wasn’t entirely surprised to see other cars in the parking lot near Higgens Point at the end of Coeur d’Alene at the end of North Idaho Centennial Trail. Many cyclists use the area as a starting point on the Centennial Trail.
But I remained confident we’d be alone on the beach and the trails.
We did have the entire beach to ourselves. Griffey, a 7-year-old Lindsey rescued from the Whitman County Humane Society in Pullman, was thrilled to be out and about, jumping in the water and chasing his own splashes.
Griffey was enthralled with my squeaky rubber chicken.
Lindsey prefers to keep him safe in her own yard, since he’s been attacked by other dogs twice. He sees other dogs nearby and turns fearful, barking, kicking his paws back and snarling.
And I saw it in action when we went back up the hill to a rock I hoped would be a great spot. That’s when we saw people.
And other dogs.
Griffey went into full freakout mode. I relied on my experience advocating for my own dog to call out, “Hey, would you mind controlling your dog, please? He doesn’t like other dogs.”
The older couple, I recall, looked at me like I was the asshole. It’s a leash-required area, folks.
We got peace and calm restored to Griffey’s world and we got the shot I wanted but then we had to make our back to the cars. The docks were populated, the trail was busy with two- and four-legged creatures.
Lindsey and I looked at each other, our WTF look scrawled all over each other’s faces. Why aren’t these people at work?
We assumed because it was a Monday morning, we wouldn’t encounter so many people.
It was April 5. Easter Monday.
Lindsey and I work together. Our shifts start at 3 and we work weekends. Public holidays are blips on the radar.
Luckily, we were able to get Griffey back to the car without further incidence but it set that flag in my brain to be extra conscious of locations when I’m working with reactive dogs.
And now I’ve found one of the greatest spots ever.
Our own private park
I have a dream to win the lottery, buy my own acreage and set up an outdoor studio.
In the meantime, I have to rely on the incredible locations around Spokane and North Idaho to backdrop my gorgeous canine clients.
If, however, we’re looking for a safe space where we’re guaranteed to encounter no other dog, I have this little Sniffspot in my back pocket now.
Sniffspot is an Airbnb-type website that allows dog lovers to rent property. Carol Lewis and her husband have turned the front 2 acres of their Palouse property into a puppy’s paradise, Dawn To Dusk Doggy Domain. It’s fully fenced and it’s equipped with:
- Poop bag dispensaries with trash cans
- A full water cooler
- An agility area
- Sitting spots for humans
- A picnic area complete with a barbecue (extra rental fee)
Carol is charging only $5 an hour. Every time we go with Bella, she comes out for a chat and I wasted no time asking her how much extra she might want if I wanted to rent it for a session.
Nope, no extra, just book on Sniffspot and pay your five bucks.
It’s ideal for any session but particularly when I’m working with reactive dogs. And if we book your session right, we can end up with a gorgeous Palouse sunset.
Ready to get started with your one-on-one consultation?
All around the circle
Working with reactive dogs can look different every time. Your dog might be reactive to other dogs, loud noises, new humans — even me! — or the sight and sound of my camera.
That’s why the one-on-one consultation is vital to getting us all prepared for an epic session that results in one-of-a-kind portraits of you and your dog on adventure in the Inland Northwest.
Now let’s go see how my pet photographer friends around the world are working with reactive dogs.
We’re going to start by heading across the puddle to my friend Jemma of JM Photography, an award-winning pet photographer in Suffolk, United Kingdom.
When you get to the bottom of her post, click the next link in the circle and then keep going until you find yourself back here to working with reactive dogs at locations in Spokane and North Idaho. That’s when you know you’re home.
Right where you belong.
And if you have a reactive dog and need some advice on how to handle them while you’re out and about, read The Spokesman-Review story in which I interviewed author Jen Sotolongo about being an advocate for your dog.