Poop. It happens.

[Helpful note: I’m a portrait photographer who works a lot with people and their pets, who are mostly dogs.]

photo © david b. sutton

I used to joke that I lived in a world of poop.

At the time, I was living with my dog Zane!, our two cats, Tigger and Scout, and my infant daughter. Between poop bags, litter boxes and diapers, that’s just how it felt. It turns out it was good training.

I was reminded of this recently while working on a portrait involving a teenaged boy, his adolescent sister and an aloof Labrador retriever. The dog was fidgety and uncooperative, and I couldn’t get a read on why.

At one point, Mr. Lab seemed to be checking the room’s perimeter, nose down. I had a strong hunch.

I asked the owner whether the dog had been walked that morning. People occasionally overlook this step — they have a lot to think about on portrait day, like convincing a teenaged boy that this activity is a good use of his Saturday.

It had been raining that morning. Just as the owner was beginning to describe her dog’s reluctance to get his paws wet, I heard a teen voice crying, ”OH NO!”. I turned to see their dog in that familiar, awkward posture dogs assume when they poop.

These incidents really upset my guests, but after twenty-two years of photographing families with their pets, I am pretty relaxed about it.

The sequence of events is predictable. Dog starts to poop. Owner panics, shouts, and tries to get the dog to stop (good luck with that). I intervene, calmly urging everyone to remain quiet and to stay put. “Let him finish,” I often say. You see, when you scream and charge at pooping dogs, they will (sensibly) move away from you, trailing poop as they go, perhaps even stepping in it for good measure. What might have been a localized incident can then become more widely distributed.

I convince everyone to let the dog finish its job, wherever he or she happens to be, even if that happens to be on my pricey, hand-painted backdrop.

Clients are understandably aghast that their dog pooped in the photographer’s studio. Most owners offer to clean up the incident themselves, but I wave them off, explaining that the job must be done just so. Improperly handled, the incident becomes an olfactory social-media post that other canine visitors might feel compelled to comment on.

I destroy the evidence, dispose of the poop, wash my hands, apply air freshener, and then we all get back to work as if it never happened.

I still want you to walk your dog before your sitting, I really do. But if your dog poops in my studio, take heart. You are not just working with a portrait expert, you are working with a Zen master of remaining calm when poop happens.