Being a photographer much of my focus is on the eyes, whether they be canine or human, for it is our eyes that connect us and give us insight in to what the other is seeing and feeling.
My Lacie Girl is no exception. I love her eyes and how expressive they are.
I have been a volunteer / photographer at Winnipeg Animal Services for over 8 years. The experience has taught me much about dogs and how they interact with their eyes. I have come to realize that making eye contact with a dog is a complete different experience from making eye contact with a human. People make eye contact to connect and show interest… with dogs its a whole different story.
For many dogs direct eye contact is not something they seek. And for the fearful dogs who somehow have found themselves in a noisy and scary shelter, eye contact is often strongly avoided… so much so that they will turn their heads and even their entire bodies away in their attempt to avoid interaction. In their minds, direct eye contact has come to signify a threat or a challenge and they have no wish to be on the giving or receiving end. Their safe place is found in appearing non-threatening and invisible.
I have come to greatly respect a dog’s eyes and what they are trying to tell me. This is something I consider each and every time I enter into a “new” dog’s kennel.
A dog’s stiff stance and hard stare at the entrance of the kennel will have me back off and try again later. But I may slide a cookie through the bottom of the kennel gate as I leave.
A turned away gaze or diverted eyes will have me pause and assess before opening the kennel latch. Once inside, I turn away my own eyes and crouch low if it is safe and possible to do so. Soft words, slow movements and a few tossed treats often work wonders in these situations. But I am always mindful not to push their limits and to respect what they are experiencing and expressing.
For the most part, these scared dogs simply need a little more time to adjust to their new situation. Hard to believe but this next photo is this same dog a few days later and away from the kennel environment.
I love these dogs and I love being able to work with them, the end goal being to find them homes. To do this I need to present them in their best possible light, sometimes not easily done in a shelter setting. Fortunately Animal Services has an outdoor enclosure that I use for the photo sessions. Once outside and away from the kennel environment, the scared and fearful dog persona often simply drops away and we get a glimpse of the real dog… the one that loves to run and loves to play. Throw in a toy and more treats and we have a photo session in the making. Their seemingly innate ability to be happy in the moment is awesome. These dogs teach me every day.
For the still fearful ones we take it slow, let them sniff and give them a little more time to hopefully relax. For these dogs the camera itself can be seen as a threat. It’s almost as if they perceive it as another eye staring back at them, only this one is very big and very black. They quickly revert to turning away their eyes, their heads, their bodies. Not the best circumstances for getting a good adoption photo. This is when a zoom lens and lots and lots and lots of treats comes in handy.
When the dogs appear more comfortable, I once more focus on their eyes. Not only because they are so very beautiful but because eye contact takes on a whole new meaning in an adoption photo. Now we are hoping to stir an emotion, to make a connection and give to the dog what they need the most, a second chance.
Four years ago Lacie was one of these fearful dogs, cowering at the back of her kennel, tail tucked, eyes averted.
Today her story is different, she feels safe and she is loved. Thanks to the shelter dogs I realize what a special gift I have been given when I look into her eyes and she looks lovingly back into mine.
“An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.” ~ Martin Buber
Project 52 _______________________
This post is part of the Pet Photography Project 52 blog circle. To see what the next photographer is sharing for the weekly theme, “the eyes have it”, visit Tracy Allard of Penny Whistle Photography fetching portraits in Coppell and surrounding communities in the Dallas – Fort Worth Metroplex. Continue to click the link at the end of each post in the blog circle until you eventually find your way back here. Enjoy!