Camera Phobic Dog
February 13, 2005 7:40 PM   Subscribe

DogCameraFilter - our somewhat newly adopted mostly Australian Cattle Dog is literally terrified of cameras - digital and cell phone. She'll run, shake, and avoid them at all costs. Any ideas why, and what we can do to assure her we just want to show her off to friends and preserve her cuteness for wallpapers and memories and the like? It's nearly impossible to get a photo of her where she doesn't look scared shitless.

I kid you not. We were sitting on the couch watching the Grammy's, and I turned the camera on (a good four feet away from her) and her head popped up with fear. Any suggestions for helping out here?
posted by tr33hggr to Pets & Animals (21 answers total)
You tried to shoot her when she was a pup, didn't you?

Kidding, of course. Is it the noise of the flash charging that frightens her? Can you turn the camera on in another room and then bring it in later, or does she freak out if you point it at her? What about pointing a camera at her that's not turned on?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:00 PM on February 13, 2005

Well crash, you got me. I did try to shoot her. :)

I've turned it on in another room, but as soon as I point it at her the fear kicks in.

BTW, she was abused by her former owner, and she's come a LONG way in terms of confidence, but it may play a factor.

Haven't tried it without the camera on, but I suspect it would be the same. I'll give it a shot though, and see if we can wean her into being comfortable with it.
posted by tr33hggr at 8:09 PM on February 13, 2005

Well, nope. As soon as I picked up the camera she got scared. And she's such a sweet little girl . . . dammit.
posted by tr33hggr at 8:12 PM on February 13, 2005

First, relax and decide that you will not try and take any pictures of her for at least the next month, in fact you're not even going to point the camera at her for at least that long. I'd start with just having her gradually accept being in the same room as a camera (not with you holding it, just the camera sitting there). Start in the biggest room you have (or outside in a fenced area). Praise her and feed her something extra good (grilled chicken, steak, cheese, whatever she likes) for even darting a look at it, and end the session before she gets stressed. Do this a couple of few times as day, without her getting nervous. Food is not only useful for reward, but the act of eating can actually calm a dog and make them feel better (a really stressed dog won't eat), and this can in turn help them start changing their emotional associations with something (this is classical conditioning). If she's play-oriented then use tug or fetch (or whatever she likes) as a reward as well as food. Just go slowly, ignore fearful behaviour (don't reassure her unless she's freaking out, and that's a sign to put the camera away and do something else for a while. Don't cajole her or try and force her), reward bravery (no matter how slight). Very gradually work up to you touching, then holding, then pointing the camera at her, and go back a step or two if she gets really nervous again. Dogs sometimes have these weird phobias, and there's really no way to figure out where it comes from (and that's not really useful anyway, you just have to work with the dog you have in front of you today). She may always be nervous around cameras, but you can probably help her be less so if you gradually desensitize her to it. I would also increase the amount of exercise and training she's getting, dogs who are thoroughly well-exercised (mentally and physically) have a lot less energy to spend on being nervous.
posted by biscotti at 8:21 PM on February 13, 2005

my dog is the same way.
posted by glenwood at 8:21 PM on February 13, 2005

Good advice biscotti, thanks. We have increased her daily physical activity, as well as switched to an all-meat holistic diet, and it has improved her confidence. And the approach you suggest is right in line philisophically with her obedience trainer (all positive reinforcement). I'll give it a shot.
posted by tr33hggr at 8:30 PM on February 13, 2005

I have no idea where a dog's (or cat's) visual spectrum starts/ends.

But could it be that the infrared focusing device is flashing/causing part of this?

In reading this Howstuffworks "How Autofocus Cameras Work"

Some autofocus cameras worked with sound. Could be the abuser used one of those?
posted by filmgeek at 8:43 PM on February 13, 2005

You mentioned cell phone cams. I'd be interested to know how she learned to associate cell phones with cameras, and if she shows the same fear when you're talking on the cell phone (if you have any ideas).
posted by samh23 at 9:14 PM on February 13, 2005

I knew someone whose Rottweiler was like this. Not only terrified of the camera, but wary of the person who had wielded it. (Ya never know when she might whip it out again.)

I believe, in the case of this dog, that it was the flash itself that scared her, and once she understood that camera == flash == the Terror, there was no shifting her opinion.
posted by SPrintF at 9:21 PM on February 13, 2005

My dog is afraid of the camera too, and she's a cattle dog. Maybe it's a cattle dog thing. I don't know how she knows it's a camera, or what I'm trying to do, but even if I sneak around whistling with it behind my back, she hides behind the bed with her ears down. I've had her for eight years now, and she's still pathetic. The remote for the tv, though, she loves. Go figure. You may have to just accept your dog is going to look beaten for ever on in photos.
posted by dness2 at 9:48 PM on February 13, 2005

My parent's border collie was the same but would start barking and try to attack the camera if the camera was switched on. I think the noise it emitted affected him rather than the flash. Never got a decent photo of him but their new border collie doesn't turn a blind eye when using the same camera.
posted by floanna at 2:06 AM on February 14, 2005

Biscotti's advice is spot on. We used a similar method with our dog, who was simiarly afraid of the vacuum (although to a slightly lesser magnitude than what you're describing), and it worked wonderfully. He still doesn't jump for joy when it's turned on, but at least he doesn't sprint out of the room. The most effective part we found was the treat combined with gentle reassurance; we found that having one of us petting and relaxing him at all times helped a great deal. Good luck!
posted by boomchicka at 3:28 AM on February 14, 2005

When we were kids my little sister was terrified of cameras until about age 5 or 6. My grandmother had one of those twin lens reflex cameras where instead of putting it up to your face you look down into the top- a Rollieflex. My sister didn't even realize that it was a camera or that it was pointed at her. Those were the only pictures we have of her at that age. A digital camera with a tilting screen that doesn't look like it is being pointed at the dog (hold it close to your body not out in front of you) might work until you can recondition the dog ala biscotti's advice.
posted by caddis at 5:31 AM on February 14, 2005

Maybe it's something about your posture - looking intently at her and holding a thing, tensing yourself to hold still, might resemble her former owner staring angrily and tensing to hit. Alternate explanation here, but the suggestions on desensitizing sound right on - just consider your own posture during the process.
posted by lorrer at 6:41 AM on February 14, 2005

Also, some abused dogs are particularly afraid of people of a certain gender or age. Might try having someone different handle the camera. I also second that sound might be a factor as well - her old home might have had one of those squeely TVs or other similar high-pitched electronic noises and she might be flashbacking. Or, you know, just afraid of the creepy unfamiliar noise.
posted by lorrer at 6:46 AM on February 14, 2005

I hadn't thought of that lorrer. Quite interesting.

She doesn't mind if I'm talking on the cell, just when it's pointed right at her.

Thanks folks, all around! And Happy Valentine's Day. Smooch someone!
posted by tr33hggr at 6:47 AM on February 14, 2005

Try with the camera on a tripod - perhaps even leaving it on the tripod unused for a while to allow for acclimatisation.

See if you can get a remote trigger for the camera, so that the dog doesn't associate what you're doing with the funny box that makes noises/flashes.

I've known dogs (or rather, I've known people whose pet dogs) can't handle people wearing spectacles - normal, or sunglasses - or even people with hats on.
It's down to the perceived shape of the person, I suppose - the dog sees a scary different shaped creature looming up at them :-)
posted by Chunder at 6:47 AM on February 14, 2005

Don't assume that your dog was previously "abused." One of the training books that I read before I got my puppy said that many dog owners unconsciously use the "abuse" excuse to write off dog behavior that arises from other sources, that the owners could easily train away. Biscotti's advice is perfect, we have used a similar technique for brushing our dog, and we are going to start the same for nail clippers.
posted by MrZero at 6:55 AM on February 14, 2005

She was abused. She was rescued by the local Humane Society, so there's no question about it. She spent the first year and a half of her life outside with only an old hollowed out air conditioner unit for shelter. And she was beaten.
posted by tr33hggr at 7:01 AM on February 14, 2005

Can you point anything at all at her without frightening her? I hate to say "go on and scare her some more", but what happens if you hold a TV remote or soda can or stapler and take a pretend picture? That could at least give you a clue whether it's the body language or some kind of light/sound issue.

As part of your positive reinforcement routine, you may want to lay down at her level and take pictures (real, pretend, disposable camera, whatever works) of her, so you're not pointing something at her from a dominant position. If that works out for her, you should also get some really nice photos; that's always a great angle for dog portraits.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:29 AM on February 14, 2005

Can you point anything at all at her without frightening her? D'oh! That seems so obvious, and yet we've never tried. Good thinking Lyn . . .
posted by tr33hggr at 7:33 AM on February 14, 2005

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