You have the most beautiful dog in the world, right? He’s much handsomer than any of those dogs in the pictures you see in ads and on dog food bags! In fact, with the right agent, and his “stage mom” or “stage dad” backing him, he could probably become a dog supermodel! Then you could just sit back and live off his earnings, right?
Well, maybe. Dog modeling can be a tough field to break into, and while some people can earn a nice second income at it, I wouldn’t exactly advise you to quit your day job just yet. Not every dog is going to earn a place in front of the camera, but if you really want to take a shot at it, it’s best to go into this sort of venture with a fair bit of preparation.
Here’s what you need to do to get your best buddy started in the fun field of dog modeling.
Train Your Dog
I’m often amazed, when I’m wandering past the kiosk at the mall where parents bring their kids to be photographed, at the incredible patience required of the photographer. Just getting kids to sit still can be difficult enough, and then there’s the matter of getting them to look in the right direction, smile, and generally behave in a way that’s going to result in a half-decent shot. There are always kids who see “photo” day as the perfect opportunity to channel their inner demon, as well.
Untrained dogs can be a lot like unruly kids, and they’re no more of a pleasure for a photographer to deal with. If your dog barks at anyone and everyone, jumps on people, or refuses to sit still, you’re going to have to do some work. You want to make it easy for a photographer to get good images, so at the very least, your dog should know how to sit and stay.
You might also consider investigating agencies that offer training for dog models.
Create a Portfolio
I highly recommend hiring a professional photographer to help you create a portfolio. A good portfolio is vital, because it’s going to be the first impression that potential clients get of your dog. A poorly done portfolio can be the kiss of death for your dog’s modeling career.
If you’re determined to go it alone, though, there are a few things to keep in mind when taking photographs of your dog.
1. Use a Good Backdrop
What this means is that you should use a backdrop that emphasizes your dog’s best features. At its most basic, this means that you shouldn’t position a white dog against a white backdrop, a black dog against a black backdrop, and so on. White dogs generally photograph best against a dark grey backdrop, and black dogs look good against a light grey backdrop. In fact, various grey tones are usually best for almost any color dog.
You should also avoid “busy” backdrops – if you photograph your dog against a wall that’s covered in floral wallpaper, for instance, the pattern is going to detract from the appearance of your dog.
Also, make sure to hang the backdrop a couple of feet above your dog’s head. If possible, allow it to hang on the floor as well, so that your dog can sit on it.
2. Look After the Lighting
It’s best to photograph your dog in natural light, if possible. If not, then you may have to rent some professional lighting – the flash on your camera isn’t going to be enough.
3. No “Blurries”
You should only include the very best images in your dog’s modeling portfolio. People who are looking for dog models want to see perfectly clear images.
4. No “Red Eye”
Most cameras have features built in that will reduce red eye. If your camera doesn’t have this feature, or if the feature doesn’t work all that well, you’ll need to use a photo editing program to remove the red eye. There are tons of programs you can choose from, and many are even free online.
So, those are the basics. Now, if you want to switch things up a bit, consider taking photographs that you can use if you’re trying to get work with a particular company. Pose your dog with a toy, treats, or food made by the company you’re targeting. That way, you’re showing the company how your dog will look when paired with their product.
You can also go online and search out other dog portfolios, so you’ll have an idea of what’s generally included. You might be able to send an online portfolio to the company you’re considering – most companies will find this perfectly acceptable, but make sure that you have a few “hard copy” portfolios done up as well, just in case.
Get Your Product Out There
Now that you have a portfolio, you need to start shopping your dog around. You might choose to hire an agency to represent your dog, but if you’re on a shoestring, you can do it yourself. You’ll need to find companies that are likely to be interested in using your dog as a model, and then find out how to contact their advertising department.
Once your dog’s portfolio is in the company’s hands, give them some time to review it (usually you should give them at least a week), and then follow up with a phone call to make sure they received the portfolio.
This is probably going to be one of the hardest things you’ll have to do. It’s not likely that a company will get back to you right away, and in fact, sometimes, it might take months.
Resist the temptation to keep calling over and over. If you do, you’ll be running the risk of having the company tag you with the “nuisance” label, and they might decide that they don’t want to use your dog at all.
Remember, you’ve done all you can, so rather than obsessing, use some time to take your dog for long walks, enjoy some playtime, and maybe even do a few things for yourself. You may have become so focused on beginning your dog’s modeling career that you’ve stopped enjoying life’s little pleasures.
These suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg. You can also find tons of information online about training, photographing your dog, and modeling agencies for dogs.
A Success Story
Most dogs will never achieve this level of success, but if you’re looking for inspiration, you’ll find it in the story of Bodhi, a Shiba Inu who makes $15,000, in a good month, from modeling. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that no matter how hard I work, I’m never going to achieve that level of income.
Note that I said “in a good month.” However, it’s worth pointing out that according to Bodhi’s owners, David Fung and Yena Kim, they can’t recall the last time they earned under $10,000 per month.
Bodhi is probably better known as “Menswear Dog,” and he’s been contracted to such brands as Salvatore Ferragamo, Brooks Brothers, Coach, Revlon, Victorinox Swiss Army, The Tie Bar, Ted Baker, Hudson Shoes, American Apparel, ASOS and Polyvore, as well as the dog food manufacturer, Purina. He also makes guest appearances, and is featured in sponsored posts on Instagram and Tumblr.
Bodhi’s owners say that his success isn’t really the result of any finely crafted business plan – one afternoon, they were a bit bored, and decided (as many people have, when there’s not much else to do) to dress up their dog.
I suppose I should point out here that I’ve never dressed up any of my dogs, because generally speaking, I don’t think dogs much like it. It’s probably more along the lines of something that dogs tolerate because it pleases their humans. That said, though, there’s always the exception that proves the rule.
As an example, in 11 Things That Dogs Would Rather You Didn’t Do, I talked about hugging, and the fact that most dogs don’t like to be hugged, but they’ll do it because they love you. I also told you about Dallas, my friend Neila’s dog, who thinks there’s nothing better in the world than putting his paws up on Neila’s shoulders and having her hold him close. I think Dallas would be heartbroken if Neila stopped hugging him!
Bodhi is apparently the exception to the “dogs don’t like being dressed up” rule, because as soon as his humans started trying out all manner of different clothing on him, he started showing off, and that made for some great photos!
Then, when they posted his shots online, they didn’t really have to do much of anything – fashion brands started contacting them, saying “Can we use your dog? How will you represent our brand?” Without any effort at all, they suddenly became agents for a dog model.
It’s gone beyond modeling, too – Bodhi now has his own line of doggie clothing in the works.
Ultimately, Ms. Kim and Mr. Fung quit their full-time jobs, and began devoting themselves entirely to managing Bodhi’s career.
A Word of Caution
Keep in mind, though, that Bodhi is very much the exception. Very few dogs are going to achieve the fame, and earn the fortune, that Bodhi has. Your dog might enjoy a passably good career, but think of it this way – how many guitarists are in the same league with Keith Richards or Eric Clapton? How many golfers are in the same category as Tiger Woods? How many actors have the incredible range and talent of Robert De Niro or Tom Hanks?
You see where I’m going with this. Bodhi is beyond photogenic, and has a genuine love for dressing up and mugging for the camera. Not all dogs enjoy doing this, and even if they do, there’s no guarantee that the camera will love them as much as they love the camera – what is very pleasing in person often doesn’t photograph well.
I’m a prime example of this. I’m not the most attractive person in the world, but I’m not repulsive, either. The problem is, when I’m photographed, I just look so awful that I invite comments like “Somewhere, a village is missing its idiot.” No matter how good the makeup, the clothing and the lighting, and no matter how good the photographer, I just don’t look good.
You might have the most beautiful dog in the history of dogdom, but if he doesn’t photograph well, his career as a dog model is going to be over before it starts. So be realistic – take a good, hard look at the photographs you’ve had done, and ask yourself, “Would I buy a product endorsed by this dog?” Be brutally honest. After all, you don’t want to spend a small fortune on something that’s just never going to fly.
Another Word of Caution
It hurts me to even say this, but sometimes, the careers of even the most successful dog models don’t last all that long.
Why is that?
Because dogs get old and die.
They’re not like human actors, who can enjoy roles as leading men and women for a number of years, and then move into character roles. You can probably take it on faith that no dog food company is going to want a picture of an aging, decrepit dog on their product. Most likely even Bodhi’s career is going to come to an abrupt end when he’s too old to look really good in the menswear that he models.
Think of the Bud Light dog, Spuds McKenzie. The campaign originated 23 years ago, and the original Spuds has long since passed. Other dogs have taken his place, and used the name.
You might be heavy into breeding, and if your dog becomes famous, you might very well be able to produce other dogs that can carry on the appearance and the name. But, will they have the same “sparkle” in front of the camera as the original dog?
Maybe not. Now, you might be able to trademark your dog’s name, and receive income even though you’re not actually providing the company with a dog model, but realistically, this is unlikely. You’re probably going to get one shot at fame with your dog, and once he gets old or passes, that’s it.
So, if you have an outstanding dog who’s likely to be an outstanding dog model, don’t consider what you’re making as being income for the rest of your life. Unless, of course, you get your dog’s image on a product or food that’s going to be produced for many years to come, and the actual existence of the dog doesn’t matter.
The Final Word
Not all canines are cut out to be dog models. But if you think yours is, follow the suggestions outlined above. You might not achieve overnight success, but if you’re serious about dog modeling, and persistent, you just might carve out a niche for yourself in the highly competitive world of dog modeling.