Feature image of Gadot in her striped scarf with Mom's arm failing to put white sunglasses on her face.

Model not formally trained? Don’t worry. I got you.

by | Sep 16, 2022

Does your pet model lack formal training? Are they perhaps a little overly energetic, camera shy or fearful? No problem.

When I say I’m a pet photographer, a lot of people tend to think the same thing. “Oh my dog/cat would never sit still long enough for that.” Well you know what….WRONG! No formal training is necessary. Not even a sit. Not even a stay. Nada. Zilch. Nothing.

All I need is a fraction of a second
to freeze them in all their goofy or glamorous glory.

Once I heard someone say, “You know what it takes to have a beach body? Have a body. Go to the beach.” It’s exactly like that for pets in my studio. Do you have a pet? Do they have a body? Great! They have all it takes to be a model!

Don’t believe me. Ok. Let’s do this.

Case Study #1: The Curious Puppy
Cute Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy with a paw up and a little pink tongue sticking out.
I mean, c’mon! He’s so calm. Definitely not about to attack.

Meet Dabby. Super puppy energy. He was a mere WEEKS old when he came into the studio. And guess what? He was still bonding with his human family and “sit” wasn’t even a thought in their heads yet.

If you’ve ever tried to train a puppy to sit, you’ve seen the move where you hold a treat right in front of their nose as you push it back over their head. The hopes that their nose follows it up and that bum hits the ground. Well. That didn’t work at all here. I think I did a better job of teaching him to jaws chomp!

So out came the toys! Dabby was a puppy after all. Lots of play happened on and around the sweet spot on the backdrop. Then, his big sister (human) and I rolled the ball back and forth to each other over the sweet spot. And repeat. The sits eventually followed. And in the meantime: action shots!

Did his lack of formal training stop us? See for yourself:


Trick: Play, then do something funny noises to get attention. Repeat. Patience.

Case Study #2: The Bouncy Love Bug
Gadot, the brown dog with black muzzle is fashionably dressed in a striped scarf and looking off to the right of the picture on a brown background.
Gadot is all chill and sophistication, right?!

This is Gadot. She’d recently been adopted by her human family. Her favorite thing to do was pogo bounce in the window and bork her brains out when dog friends walked by the window. When her mom asked me if I thought I could get some nice shots of her, I was all: “Oh! Challenge accepted!”

Framed Wall Art
That gorgeous face needs to be enjoyed.

At this point they were working on Gadot’s “stay.” However, with all the excitement of playing dress-up, funny sound effects from me and the camera clicks, she wasn’t interested.

So again, we had lots of play time, with a few snaps of action shots in between. Finally, I tried putting her up on a chair and she was much more into the idea of posing for a formal portrait.

And look. Omgeeee she’s such a calm, poised model (or is she?)


Trick: Play. Lots of quick snaps followed by a big play break. Then, putting her up on something to give her a boundary.

Gilda the lagotto romagnolo with blonde curly fur, a big head tilt to the right and her tongue out.
Shy pup? Still art!!
Case Study #3: Little Unsure about Humans

Gilda’s mom warned me she takes a little warming up to people in general. Luckily, she seems to be less weary of women. And I’m a woman! Phew. Knowing this beforehand, something I always ask of clients before we even meet, I knew to let Gilda have her space.

I ignored her for a bit while I was chatting with Mom and let her have free reign to sniff and explore the studio space. Oh and warm up she did. Quickly! After 15 minutes or so she was giving me power head-tilt realness. Her little tongue made for portraits dripping with cuteness.

LOOK AT THAT TILT!


Trick: Give her space. Delicious treats. Strange noises for the head tilt!

Case Study #4: A Little Mouthy
Hugo mid-shake with a big floppy lip in the air and surrounded by water droplets.
Floppy face madness!

Remember Hugo from my magical Scotland pet photography retreat? Well, he’s definitely a lot of energy and doesn’t like new people petting him. He didn’t seem to be too into the idea of being photographed by strangers (totally understandable – me too, especially if I’m not “camera ready!”).

In order for us to give him some space to warm up, Mom took him off to the side for some fetch in the water. Umm. Wait. Why didn’t anybody TELL us this was his happy place?! All we had to do was have Mom give a good chuck of a stick from behind the camera and we caught him on the return!

Now, due to his EXTREME LOVE (yes, caps justified here) of sticks, when I went in for the stick myself or did too much taunting, he’d go in for a chomp. Mom warned us! But once we got into the groove of Mom throwing the stick over me, it was the perfect setup for an amazing variety of action shots!

And look at that face:

Hugo the Victorian Bulldog on the ride side of a shoot on a grassy lake with a big stick in his mouth.
“Have I died and gone to stick heaven?”

Trick: Finding his true love: sticks. Then letting him run the show while I stood by and caught the action.

Case Study #5: Cat

Cats are a whole different story. Being out of their house, especially if they don’t do it other than to go to that dreaded thermometer-up-the-butt place, can be scary. Yet, with some distance, play and or treats we can get the shot.

Ozzy, a gorgeous young cat at around a year old, really needed the space at first. While I chit-chatted with Mom and Dad, he did his cat thing. I let him sniff and wander around, again, while ignoring him.

He even found some fun dust bunnies under the couch. I swear I vacuumed! Cats and my mother seem to have an instinctual knack for finding spots I’ve missed…

Anyway…

Ozzy the cat in a horizontal photo, sniffing mom's index photo and she has a green ring. Photo is on a clean, modern desk with a plant framing it.
Sometimes catching candid moments of Mom finger sniffs works too.

Before he arrived I put a few spritzes of catnip spray on the paper backdrop around where I wanted to position him. He went right there and gave a few good sniffs. Win.

Once he was coming closer to me, we were ready to start. I brought in a stool with a little more catnip spray on it, for him to sit up on. He definitely jumped off a few times. Mom was right there to set him up on it again just long enough for me to get the shot.

I’d twirl my magical feather stick near him and then float it over to the camera lens to get him to look into the camera.

I even bought these really smelly, chewy tuna treats which seemed to help him get into place by tossing them up on the stool first.


Tricks: Catnip spray on the backdrop. My special feather toy. And patience!

So if this isn’t proof enough then you probably don’t believe in hard science. Unfortunately, I can’t help you there.

What I can say is that no matter the level of obedience or training your dog or cat model has, I’ll make it work. I will get great shots of them in their element that are meant to be art on the walls! Guaranteed!

Is your untrained dog a model? Well, do you have a dog?
Then you have a dog model.

– Apawture Studios’ Mantra


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KEEP IT GOING!

This post is part of a blog circle of some of the most uber-talented pet photographers all over the world. Keep reading to hear about how other pet photographers work with all types of animal personalities.

Up next: New England Dog Photographer Darlene Woodward of Pant the Town Photography shares her tips on how she photographs your rowdy rovers for a fun and stress free experience.

Follow the circle until you land back on this page. Enjoy!

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12 Comments
  1. Cahlean

    Lovely examples of how you capture pets looking like supermodels when they may be less than well behaved!

    Reply
    • THE Carol Mudra

      Having resident models that are pretty high-energy themselves, doesn’t hurt either!

      Reply
  2. Elaine

    Love your case study approach, and that you added a cat!

    Reply
    • THE Carol Mudra

      Yes! Cats are fun, but never having had one myself, it’s a whole different strategy!!

      Reply
  3. Tracy Allard

    “Ball me woman!” I spit out my coffee on that one – hilarious! I love that you photograph cats too, I find them fascinating and love having them in the studio (and also have catnip spray at the ready – it’s a game changer!).

    Reply
    • THE Carol Mudra

      Haha! That little guy was a blast! Nothing beats puppy chasing! And yes! Catnip spray, for the win! I’ve only had one cat that seemed to be completely immune to its powers.

      Reply
  4. Nicole

    hahaha, Carol, I love you! You’re hilarious and sheesh, those final images are gorgeous!

    Reply
  5. Angela

    I love that quote at the end. It makes you legenDARY.

    Reply
  6. Darlene

    Cats are definitely a whole different story! And you did fantastic! Love all of these “case studies”. So much fun to read! I always love your posts, Carol – they make me smile!

    Reply
    • THE Carol Mudra

      Thanks, Darlene! I’m working on getting more cats in the studio. They’re so fun! And their independent, sassy characters really resonate with me!! 😉

      Reply
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