We’ve been working with Dogs for Good for over ten years, initially helping with their photography and re-brand, and more recently with their filmmaking.
We’ve met many human-canine partnerships over that time and never fail to be blown away by the special bond between them. The tasks that Dogs for Good staff train their dogs to do is mind boggling, and ones that I fail consistently to train my own golden retriever to do!
We asked Maddy Phelps-Dogs for Good’s press officer- to tell us a little more about how they use film and photography to help with their storytelling.
Dogs for Good sounds like a charity it would be hard not to love! Can you tell us what you do?
Dogs for Good makes life-changing differences to adults and children with physical disabilities, children with autism and people with dementia and learning disabilities through the help of a trained dog. My role there is press officer, and before you ask, yes, it is a bit of a dream job!
What are the opportunities and challenges for storytelling when you work with animals and how do deal with both?
We believe that dogs are good for us and that amazing things happen when you bring dogs and people together. The opportunities are that we get to tell lots and lots of different and hugely powerful stories to a nation made up of millions of dog lovers. Our stories are uplifting and inspirational and that’s all down to the power of our incredible partnerships.
We put dog welfare at the heart of everything we do and ensuring that this isn’t ever compromised can be a challenge on a shoot. Keeping an eye on so many things at once is a real job ; the merest movement of an ear or an eyebrow can mean the difference between a dog looking happy and a dog looking anxious. You also don’t want to tire the dog so working breaks into your shoot is essential.
What impact has the increased use film had on your audience engagement?
The increased use of film on social media helps to increase awareness of the breadth of services we offer and in terms of engagement, it helps to bring it all to life. Who doesn’t love to see an empowering film featuring a clever, life-changing dog?
We love your social media clips that give a little day to day insight into the work. Why did you decide that the training journey would be part of your storytelling too?
We think it’s important to show the ‘whole journey’ and a big part of this is how we train our dogs. We use positive reinforcement and reward-based training methods and people are endlessly fascinated by how clever our dogs – and trainers – are.
Recently we put up a little clip, shot on a mobile phone, of a golden retriever being trained to take items out of a washing machine. The internet nearly exploded!
How do you decide which films to use an external team for and which to shoot in-house?
We mainly work with Mile 91 on our ‘case study’ shoots where we go to a client’s house and film them and their dog on a typical day and also on educational, training-based shoots. We ask our trainers and kennel staff to shoot interesting ‘snippets’ as they’re out and about with the dogs in training and they do a great job.
What would your advice be to charities who are nervous about making their own social media clips and short films?
It’s OK to be nervous about it – it’s important! But it’s not half as daunting as you think it is. Be clear about what you want to get out of it and how hard you want the footage to work for you. Also, be prepared for things not to go exactly as anticipated – especially working with dogs – and have a Plan B.
You have been working with Ben and Mile 91 for more than 10 years now. Why so long?
A Dogs for Good shoot is a tricky job; mainly because there’s a dog in the mix! However well-trained they are, they’re still dogs and most of them have very cheeky personalities. Ben knows us and our values well, knows how to put our clients at ease and also, he’s got a pet dog and doesn’t mind getting covered in hair!
Finally, how can our readers find our more?
A huge thanks to Maddy for this interview and to all the amazing partnerships featured here.
Want to shoot films yourself for social media? Then why not try our one-day smartphone filmmaking course