Elephant, gorilla, pandas, horse, birds - animal tattoos always look great, and are unique. While people images keep attributes of actual person, animal tattoos are a bit more abstract in meaning and universal.
Photo reference for this tattooing is as important as in other realism work. Also decision about color or monotone tattooing should be made in relation to animal we are going to portray. Toucan should be executed in color, as well as black panther (surprisingly!) - as those animals without use of color may appear without depth or lifeles.
Artist must represent high level of knowledge to execute anatomy different to human. Also proper size of the tattoo matters. Cat can be small, but tiger shouldn't.
Animals are usually well connected to certain area, land, or country. It is not rare to choose specific animal in relation to its habitat. This might be related to favouritte country, where important part of life was spent or to someone important in our life.
Wolf is along the most often choices for tattoos in western tattooing culture, and not without a reason. He can be chosen for its relation to nature. Tattoos with forest, full moon or mountains are good examples. I also feel that wolf nature is very important to people who decided to brand their bodies with it. Showing teeth may be sign of aggression or second nature, almost second face. Calm wolf with closed mouth is often chosen to say: "I stand the ground, my will is strong, but do not play with me". Some customers choose wolf with pups for relation with children and caring aspect of this tattoo.
Personally I think wolf is such a classic, that will always look good. It's nature is so close to our culture, that it is pure fun to tattoo.
At the beginning of my tattooing career i enjoyed mostly those strong appearances. So wolf had to have open mouth, be scary and powerful. With time we change and so did I. At this moment I did so many different tattoos, including animal tattoos, that I believe I can truly appretieate different aspects of each design and its meaning.
Big cats - so panther, tiger or lion tattoos are another very powerful animals having a strong tradition in tattooing. At this point probably everyone has heard about the famous crawling panther or Japanese tiger tattoo. I dreamed for a long time myself about tiger backpiece. Heavy in meaning, strong in appearance, always will make your friends say 'wow', when seeing such a tattoo.
Those animals I believe are often chosen for their lone predator nature. Lonesome hunter, staying true to one's own believes or just saying "I am the best" are usual messages behind those tattoos. Tiger traditionally is depicted with bamboo leaves.
It is worth to mention that those tattoos look best when done big. Arm size, in my opinion, is an absolute minimum. Done too small and occupying the only portion of given "canvas" may appear more like a kitty than a noble creature.
Bird animal tattoos are another well-known area in tattooing. Some birds represent freedom, knowledge and intelligence (owl). Other are proud and stay for honor (eagle), or just look great on the body. Some will relate to a specific country or land, like magpie, toucan or flamingo.
Dog animal tattoos are always very personal. Usually, they are used to depict exact animals, our beloved pets. Whenever possible I try to take pictures of animals by myself, as it is usually very hard to find pictures valuable for tattooing in our phone collections.
The situation gets harder when a pet is not alive anymore. That usually means for me working from mediocre quality pictures. But this is where drawing and painting skills make a huge difference. And sometimes I am able to tattoo what was missing in the reference picture.