As we travel, snapping Ty and Buster’s pictures in the gorgeous places we visit is part of the fun. Well, calling it “fun” might be a bit of a stretch. In those early days “challenge” would have been a more appropriate description of our photo shoots. But the boys learned quickly … and so did we! Now we get these types of comments when people see our dogs posing for photos:
“I’m so impressed that your boys will pose!”
“If I let go of the leash, my dog would be in the next county.”
“Look how well-behaved they are! And how photogenic!”
“Do you know how many pics I’d have to take of my pack to get one that looked this good?”
You Can Get Your Dogs Posing For Photos
If we managed to teach Buster and Ty to sit nicely for a photos, isn’t rocket science. Anyone can do it! All you need is a camera, a handful of treats, and a boatload of patience.
Step 1 – Start With A Solid Sit
To get your dogs posing for photos, the first thing you’ll need is the “sit” command. A trainer who truly grasped my capabilities concluded that it would be best to keep things simple … so around here, sit means sit. When I tell Ty or Buster “sit,” it means, drop your bum to the ground and keep it there until you’ve received another command. We don’t use “wait” or “stay” as commands because they would be redundant. *See, I am trainable!*
Working on your dog’s “sit” is something you can do 100 times a day without breaking a sweat. Just keep some treats in your pocket and every time your dog is around ask him to sit. When he does, release him and give him a treat. We use the word “free” to communicate that our request for a behavior has ended, but any word will work. Over time you can lengthen the duration of the sit, add distractions, and combine it with other commands, like “come,” which will also be handy when you start taking photos.
A (Not So) Brief Aside On Why We’re Constantly Using Treats
This may come as a shock, but dogs are dogs. They like doing dog things … sniffing trees, chasing squirrels, eating things they shouldn’t, taking naps in the sunshine, and romping around. They are not aspiring models and could care less about your photographic ambitions.
When humans do things that aren’t fun it’s called “work.” And we generally get paid for it. So, it seems fair that when we ask dogs to give up their preferred activities and do what we want instead, we should pay them for their time. That could mean treats if your dog is food-motivated, or his favorite toy if he prefers to play. Whatever it takes to let your dog know that you appreciate his choice to accommodate your whims.
Teaching Ty to sit was pretty easy. Given his druthers, the only thing he’d rather be doing most of the time is laying down. Buster was more challenging because he rarely chooses to be in one spot for more than a few seconds at a time. I knew we’d nailed “sit” with Buster when I could roll his squeaky ball past him and he’d stay put.
Step 2 – Training “Pay Attention”
It’s common knowledge that dogs do not like being stared at, and when they are, few dogs will stare back. Usually they avert their gaze, which becomes a problem when you consider that the camera lens looks like a huge eye, and we want the dogs to look at it.
The hoops you will need to jump through to get your dog comfortable with the lens depend on the camera you’re using and the personality of your dog. If you’re taking photos with your cell phone, you’ll likely have an easier time getting your pup to warm up. The lens on a cell phone camera is very small, and our dogs see our phones all the time, so it’s not a new object that warrants caution. If you’re using a larger camera, things might take longer.
No matter your method of collecting photos, you’ll want to start teaching your dog a command that means “look at the camera.” For us, that command is “pay attention.” Get out your treats, start slowly, and reward him as he improves. In the beginning you may only get a small head turn toward you – that’s good, build on it! It can take a little work to overcome his natural inclination to look away from the camera.
Step 3 – Develop Your Patience
The line between fun and frustration is razor thin when you’re trying to get the perfect photo of your dog. Your pup might be having an off day, there could be people be blocking your shot, or your camera settings might be all wrong. There are many things that can go awry!
My best advice when you feel the angst building is to take a deep breath and remember that this needs to be enjoyable. Your dog will sense any irritation you’re feeling and become more anxious. And just seeing your furry buddy doing his best to accommodate your nutty plan should melt your heart.
Step 4 – Practice, Practice, Practice
As with anything a dog learns, the more you practice, the better the results. Start out shooting photos in places he’s not likely to be distracted, and work your way up. If you want your pooch to pose on your next vacation, start taking his photo in your kitchen now.
Ty and Buster may look like professionals, but keep in mind they’re posing for photos several times a week. We ask them to sit while we line up the shot, ask them to “pay attention,” while we snap the photos (sometimes with multiple cameras), and then release them with a “come” to get their payment in the form of several delicious dog treats. The boys recognize this routine, and that allows us to get great pictures on all of our adventures.
Step 5 – Embrace the Imperfection
Sometimes the best shots are the ones I least expect to turn out. Even after all these years, Ty and Buster don’t cooperate 100% every time – and that’s okay. When you’re out there having fun with your pets, the camera captures those feeling in a way I can’t explain. So embrace the imperfection, and be grateful for the fact that you’re out doing this together. Because – no matter how the images turn out – you’ll always have the memories.
Step 6 – Know When To Walk Away
No picture is worth asking more of your dog than he’s able to give. For us, that means never asking Ty or Buster to pose for photos when there are other dogs around. They’re too distracted, and asking them to sit still and pay attention in that situation is beyond their capabilities. Every dog has his limits – just like humans. And, as his person, it’s your job to understand and respect your dog’s boundaries.
And that’s all there is to it! With a little practice, you’ll have your dogs posing for photos in no time! And don’t forget to share them with us! Tag your shots with #gopetfriendly on Instagram so we can follow your adventures.
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