Do Dogs Know They're Being Photographed?

dogs, photo
The author's dogs (from left): McBeal, Ivy Sue and Sophie Lou. Are they posing or are they blissfully unaware that this one's for posterity? John Perritano

There they were, all in perfect position on the front porch: Ivy Sue, the Great Dane, in the middle towering over McBeal, the English setter mix, and Sophie Lou, the chocolate Lab. If there was ever a Kodak moment this was one.

I took out my phone. "Look at me girls," I barked. Snap! Darn, Sophie turned her head to the left. "C'mon girls, over here!" Snap again! Heads in all directions. Then something caught their attention. The girls turned their heads together slightly to the right. Snap again! Picture perfect. My favorite photograph. It's the wallpaper on my iMac, and the pic on my LinkedIn profile. I want to be buried with that photo.


If there's something that people love, it's photographing their pets. Just check your Facebook feed. But do dogs know when someone is taking their picture? It stands to reason. After all, some dogs know if you have cancer or if you're carrying drugs. They seem to know when you're coming home from work or if you're going on a trip.

But do they mug for the camera? Since there seem to be no scientific studies one way or another on that particular query, we have to rely on anecdotal evidence. An article about Derek Glas, a renowned canine photographer, in Consumer Reports outlines some of the techniques he uses in order to take a portrait, such as getting down on the dog's level and never pointing the camera from on high. Sometimes he has to make a noise to get a pup to stare into the lens.

Photographer Elke Vogelsang in an interview with also says she has to employ a variety of techniques to get the shot that she wants. She uses different noises, words and treats depending on the breed. "Always be calm and make sure the dog feels comfortable," she told the magazine.

All of this suggests that dogs may not know they are being photographed but are only responding to the photographer. On the other hand, photographer Michael Malyszko and writer Judith Hughes seem to believe that their two labs, Betty and Rita, knew when the cameras were pointed on them. The pair took the dogs to Rome, Italy. As the dogs wandered the boulevards, Malyszko and Hughes snapped a series of photographs. "People often ask if the dogs know that they are being photographed," the pair write. "After Rome we can say most assuredly, "Yes."

In a way, it doesn't matter if your dog knows they are being photographed or is simply responding to some stimuli. A great shot is priceless. Ivy, Sophie and McBeal are gone, but that one photograph of all three captures their spirits, their loveliness and their souls, all of which will live on.