Skip to content
Tips for Creating Realistic Dog Drawings

Tips for Creating Realistic Dog Drawings

I love my golden labrador retriever, and I always feel it’s the cutest dog. I love taking his portraits, but that doesn't satisfy me, like drawing and seeing him from my artistic perspective. But drawing is not as easy as I thought. When I started this journey, my drawings were out of proportion, and I ended up with a weird-looking thing.

After many trials and errors, I have finally cracked the nut. I’ll give you the best tips for creating realistic dog drawings from simple circle shapes. I’ll also list the needed materials and give you a step-by-step drawing guide. 

Tips for Creating Realistic Dog Drawings

Research by Jessica Myrick, a professor at the University of Indiana, shows that looking at pets activates the brain. Cortisol, the neurochemical that causes stress, decreases. As a result, you feel contented, relaxed, happy, and hopeful.

At the same time, oxytocin and dopamine chemicals increase, making you feel a stronger bond with your Fido. Another exciting American Art Therapy Association research shows that art lowers stress and helps navigate future problems.

So, there’s no better way to lower stress and stay healthy than to combine looking at a dog you love and using your creativity and artistic skills to draw it. But, like anybody else, you’ll feel happier when your end drawing looks like a real dog. Let me walk you through tips for creating realistic dog drawings, the needed materials, and a simple drawing guide.

Base the Drawing on a Real Dog

For the dog drawing to look realistic, it must be based on a real dog. So, the first thing you need when drawing a dog is the dog itself. That way, you won’t mix the physical attributes of different dog breeds in the same drawing. For example, imagine mixing the narrow head and oval-shaped eyes of a Saluki with the lion-like face of a Chow Chow.

The result will be a mysterious, never-seen dog that’s crazily unrealistic.  But, with a drawing based on a real dog, viewers can tell the exact breed. Remember that you can’t have the dog sit or stand in the same position until you’re done drawing.  The best thing is to take a good photo of the dog.

  • Make sure the dog is in good natural light, without hard shadows.
  • If you’re taking the photo indoors, turn on the lights
  • Hold a toy above the camera to capture the dog’s attention.
  • If you’re using a professional camera, increase the shutter speed so the photo doesn’t become blurry if the dog moves while taking the photo

Know the Proportions

The first drawing tip for making the dog look realistic is keeping things in the right proportions. For instance, narrowing the head and pointing at the muzzle of a Saluki so much makes it look like a maned wolf. In the same way, it’s out of place to draw the body structure of a Basset Hound but with long legs like those of the Great Danes.

There’s no hard rule here. It’s about looking at the photo and trying to replicate the proportions of the different body parts. If you get the proportions right, you can also tell the dog's breed by looking at the sketch's skeleton.

Consider the Appearance of the Dog Breed

Different dog breeds have different physical attributes. For example, Giant Schnauzers have cropped ears that fold forward, while German Shepherds have large, triangular ears that stand erect. The same applies to the type of coat.

For instance, Great Danes have short, smooth coats, while the Great Pyrenees have long, fluffy coats. Make sure the size and type of coat match the dog breed. Also, don’t forget the colors. Play around with the different shades of gray to bring out the color patterns of the coat.

For example, if drawing a Bernese Mountain Dog, play with the pencil's softness and hardness to highlight the three shades of black, rust, and white. Imagine it like taking a black-and-white photo.

If you have no idea how to go about it, I suggest shooting one photo in black and white or uploading your colored photo to a platform like Canva and changing it into black and white. This will give you an idea of how the different colors look on grayscale.  

Things You Need to Create a Realistic Dog Drawing

There’s a connection between quality art and the quality of the materials. Even with good skills, you won’t create a realistic drawing without the right tools.  Here are the best materials you need to make the dog drawing look realistic        

  • An HB graphite pencil: HB stands for Hard-Black. This pencil is in the middle of the hardness scale. You’ll use it for sketching, drawing construction lines, and some light shading.
  • A soft graphite pencil, like 4B or 7B: This pencil has darker tones and richer blacks. It creates dark, bold lines with a smooth and velvety texture shading. You’ll use the pencil to shade the medium to dark values
  • A solid plastic mono eraser: You’ll use it to erase large parts of your drawing that don’t require precision erasing.
  • A kneaded eraser: This eraser is made of a moldable, putty-like material. You’ll use it for precision erasing. For instance, you can mold it to a sharp point to erase individual dog hairs. The good thing about this eraser is that you don’t need to rub it. It’s about pressing and lifting, and you’re done.
  • Sharpener: When working with graphite pencils, you need a sharpener. I recommend metallic sharpeners because they don’t break easily.
  • Smudge guard: A smudge guard prevents smudges from crossing your hard work. Just use normal paper to prevent your hand from rubbing it. Get a smudge guard glove if you don’t want to keep moving the paper.
  • Sketchbook: I mean a book you don’t worry about tearing or scribbling in. You’ll do lots of practice work here. I recommend a sketchbook with thick sheets. The best way to know how thick the sheets are is to look at the indicated weight. Go for a sketchbook weighing 50-60 pounds. Make sure the book is acid-free to avoid yellowing and fading.
  • Drawing pad: The drawing pad is for the final drawing. The pages are thicker and withstand abuse. They also don’t wrinkle easily. Choose your preferred texture. For example, a smooth or fine tooth gives a smoother end product. A medium tooth gives you the freedom for heavy shading.
  • Blending tool: The tool helps make your shading look smooth. It can be a Q-tip or a soft tissue paper. For precision, you’ll fold the tissue paper to get a sharp point.

Step-By-Step Guide to Creating a Realistic Dog Drawing

The general drawing tips are good, but you need a step-by-step method. A simplified drawing guide uses basic circle shapes and some guiding lines.

Draw a Sketch of Circles

I like to reduce the dog's body structure to simple shapes like circles. The size and arrangement of the circles determine the dog’s proportions and three-dimensional structure.

You’re aiming to capture the dog’s head direction and position in relation to color, shadows, and light. The first circle is for the dog’s head, and the other two bottom circles are for the body. Generally, if the dog faces sideways towards the left, you’ll have the top small circle.

Below it and a little on the right, you’ll have the larger circle for the dog’s chest structure. You’ll have the medium circle for the dog’s hind quarters on its right. You’ll then join the three circles to form the complete structure.

On the other hand, if the dog is directly facing you, you’ll be able to view the face, neck, chest area, and legs. That means the circles will be arranged more vertically, with the medium circle for hind quarters missing.

In our case, we’ll draw the dog facing us, down to the neck, just as the dog portrait of my Golden Labrador looks. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown.

Draw the Head Circle

Begin sketching this circle at the center of the page. When drawing this circle, make sure it reflects the size of the dog’s head. Hold the HB pencil in a side grip, and use the flat edge of the pencil to draw short, choppy lines starting from the top, around the left, going all the way around, and back in towards the middle.

Then, work your way around the right side. You’ll keep going back and forth, readjusting the circle to smooth out the edges. After drawing the circle, add guidelines to help you with feature locations such as eyes and nose. Draw a straight line coming down the center of the circle, starting from the very top down to the bottom of the page and back towards the top. 

Add another guideline on the side of the circle, going straight up, and then bring it down to the same height. Now, add some guidelines across the page from left to right in the center. Add another guideline at the top of the circle and another across the bottom.

Add the Eyes

By now, the inside of your circle is divided into four chambers by the guidelines. On the upper left chamber, sketch a circle on the center guideline in the middle from left to right. Just use the sketching techniques you used when drawing the larger circle. Draw a similar circle on the right upper chamber.

Draw the Nose and Mouth

Go halfway between the center of the circle and the bottom and draw the edge of the nose. It’s just like a horizontal line, but you curl it up and down. Connect the ends of this line with a half circle down and then back up. Go to the bottom of the circle and draw the mouth, angling down and out toward the left with a straight line. Do the same on the right.

Connect the ends of the mouth with a curve going up above the nose. Please start with the left and go out to bring it out towards the middle and back down on the right like you’re drawing a half circle. Connect the bottom corners with a curve that goes down and back up.  

Go to the side of the muzzle and draw a straight angle line going up and out toward the left and right side. From the outside line, draw a straight line coming down on both sides.

By now, you’ll have a big circle with eyes and nose and a smaller circle outside the bigger circle for the muzzle. Outside the muzzle circle, near the vertical guideline, curve the body going out and down.

Add the Ears

As I said, the exact drawing depends on the dog breed. For example, the ears of a Golden Labrador are flappy, with a triangular shape and rounded tip at the end. They are generally medium-sized and proportional to the head. They are high on the head, right above eye level.

Start on the left side of the circle, curve the ear going out, and then down toward the center line. From this point, curl the line down and towards the circle, but end it at the right angle of the guidelines’ triangle. Do the same on the right. By now, you have a good skeleton of the dog’s head.                 

Add the Details

Start by sloping down the eyelids. Start from the top of the eye’s circle, curl out, and then down toward the center line. Add a fold along the inside of the eye by curving up and out around the bottom corners of the muzzle. Blend the bottom of the neck into the body by curving down and then out.

Now, erase all the guidelines except the vertical line inside the muzzle circle. The drawing is now clean, and the dog already looks realistic. An experienced dog owner can already tell it’s a Golden Labrador Retriever. 

Shade the Eyes

Like in portraits, the eyes remain focused when looking at a dog drawing. It’s time now to add the little eye details. Let’s start with the left eye. From the inside of the eyelid, curl a thick black line out and down. Make the lower side a little more curved. Then, at the top of the pupil, add a smaller one.

Shade is used to fill the pupil's inside. Then, using the flat edge of the pencil, add a little bit of shading around the eye. Darken the center of the iris. Do the same for the right eye. Retouch the eyes to try and replicate the exact looks of your dog.

Shade the Nose

The nose is one of the prominent parts of a dog and captures people’s attention. Return to the nose's perimeter and make it dark and bold, except for the vertical line we never erased. Shade the inside of the nose with a dark color, trying to mimic the looks of a real dog nose. 

By now, you’ll have a faint muzzle around the nose and a faint vertical line running from the muzzle through the nose, between the eyes, to the top of the head.

Shade the Muzzle

Slightly shade the area between the bottom of the nose and the top of the muzzle. Bolden the perimeter of the top part of the muzzle with a dark color so it looks like an inverted letter Y from the nose.

Create the Fur Effect

From the ends of the letter Y, go around the muzzle, bolding short lines that bend in to create a fur effect. Do the same for the circle that represents the head. Extend the fur effect from the top of the muzzle circle up the vertical line slightly.

Create a more faint fur effect curling from the inner side of the eyes, extending down towards the outer side of the muzzle circle. Go around the perimeter of the ears, adding the same fur effect but bolder, like the outline of the muzzle fur effect.

Use the same fur effect around the perimeter of the neck. Once done, lightly shade the inside of the ears and the neck. Congratulations! You have a realistic dog drawing.          

Final Thoughts

The first step for creating realistic dog drawings is to take a good photo of the dog and base the drawing on the photo. Make sure the proportions of the different body parts in your drawing match the proportions of that dog breed. Practice on a sketchbook before making your polished drawing on the drawing pad.