Traveling for ten years with Ty and Buster taught me a lot about how to get a dog posing for photos. But it wasn’t until our puppy, Myles, came along that my skills were really tested!
Snapping and sharing pictures of Ty and Buster in the gorgeous places we visited was part of the fun of traveling with them. Well, calling it “fun” might be a bit of a stretch. When we first started out “challenge” would have been a more appropriate description of our photo shoots. But we figured out a few tricks to get a dog posing for photos! And soon we were getting these types of comments:
“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?”
After Ty and Buster passed and Myles came along, teaching him to pose for photos was a priority. Testing my theories on our new pup as convinced me I’m on the right path. Myles already loves the camera, and you can judge how his photos are turning out!
You Can Teach Your Dog To Pose For Photos
Teaching your dog to sit nicely for a photo isn’t rocket science. If we can do it, anyone can! All you need is a camera, a handful of treats, and a boatload of patience.
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Step 1 – Start With A Solid Sit
To get your dog posing for photos, the first thing you’ll need is the “sit” command. A trainer who truly grasped my capabilities concluded it would be best to keep things simple … so around here, sit means sit. When I say “sit,” it means, drop your bum to the ground and keep it there until you’ve received another command or been released. We don’t use “wait” or “stay” commands because they would be redundant.
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, practice in new environments, 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 couldn’t care less about your photographic ambitions.
When humans choose to set aside their heart’s desire and do something else we call it “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 how much you appreciate his choice to accommodate your whims.
Step 2 – Training “Watch Me”
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 realize that a camera lens looks a lot like a huge eye, and we want our dogs to look at it.
The effort it will take to get your dog comfortable with the lens depends on the camera you’re using and your dog’s personality. 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 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 “watch me.” 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.
We practice “watch me” every time we feed Myles. After setting his bowl down, we ask him to maintain eye contact until he’s released. He learned that one really quickly!
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. So many things can go awry!
When you feel the angst building, take a deep breath and remember that you’re out having fun. 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.
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Step 4 – Practice, Practice, Practice
As with anything you teach your dog, the more practice he gets, the better the results. Start out shooting photos in places with few distractions and work your way up. And if you want your pooch to pose on your next vacation, start taking his photo in your kitchen now!
Because we’re always sharing our pics, Myles is posing for photos several times a week. We ask him to sit while we line up the shot. Then, depending on the picture, we sometimes giving him the “watch me” command while we snap several photos. Then we release him with a “come,” having the treats ready as his payment. He’s started recognizing this routine, and that’s allowing 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 their years as models, Ty and Buster didn’t cooperate 100% every time – and that’s okay. When you’re 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 experiencing the world 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. Myles is just a puppy, so he’s easily distracted and not completely reliable with his “sit” and “come” yet. Ty and Buster had their own behavior challenges.
The point is, 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 can have your dog posing for photos in no time. And don’t forget to share them with us! Tag your Instagram posts with #gopetfriendly so we can follow your adventures.