Having a well-trained dog is important for any pet owner, but it becomes absolutely crucial if you plan on having your dog participate in photo shoots. An untrained dog that is overly excited, jumpy, or unruly can completely ruin a photo shoot and make it impossible to get any good shots. Investing the time into proper training and socialization will help ensure your dog stays relaxed and attentive when cameras are present. This will result in better photos and a much less stressful experience for you, your dog, and the photographer.
Start Training and Socialization Early
The best way to have a calm, well-mannered dog during photo shoots is to start training and socialization from a very young age. Puppies that are exposed to a variety of sights, sounds, people, and experiences from 8-16 weeks old grow up to be more confident, relaxed dogs. Use this critical socialization window to get your puppy comfortable with things like cameras, flashes, posing, staying in place, and being handled. The more situations you can expose your puppy to in a positive way, the better behaved they will be during photo sessions.
Teach Basic Obedience Commands
Solid obedience training is the foundation for a dog that stays calm and focused during photo shoots. At a minimum, your dog should know commands like "sit," "stay," "down," and "look." Practice these commands at home, out in public, and in distracting environments. Reward and reinforce your dog every time they obey a command. Keep training sessions positive, short, and engaging. With regular practice, your dog will learn to tune into you and follow commands, even when cameras and new people are present.
Use Positive Reinforcement
Dogs learn best through positive reinforcement training methods. This means rewarding desired behaviors with treats, praise, playtime, etc. Punishing or scolding unwanted behaviors is ineffective and can actually make your dog more nervous and unpredictable. Whenever your dog stays calm, focused, or follows a command during training sessions, give them a high-value treat right away. This reinforces the good behavior and motivates them to repeat it. Stay patient, consistent, and generous with rewards.
Introduce Cameras Slowly
Don’t expect your dog to calmly pose for pictures without proper desensitization to cameras. Introduce photography equipment gradually and in a positive context. Let your dog inspect and get used to the sight and sound of a DSLR camera. Have treats and toys on hand to turn it into a fun experience. Once they are comfortable around a camera, start giving photography-related commands like "look," "stay," and "smile." Take it slow and give rewards. Eventually, your dog will make the connection that cameras = treats and be eager to participate.
Practice Photography Sessions
Set up mock photo shoots at home to get your dog used to the process. Have a family member act as the photographer and run through a full session start to finish. Practice common commands and poses. Use positive reinforcement to keep your dog engaged, distracted from the camera, and having fun. The more photo shoot simulations you can conduct, the more confident your dog will become. This experience will reduce stress and prevent misbehavior during real photo shoots.
Dogs get easily distracted, especially in new environments with new people. Make sure to bring your dog’s favorite toys and treats to photo shoots. Use them to immediately redirect attention back to you if your dog gets distracted mid-shoot. Offer frequent rewards for participation and listening to commands. Having toys and treats on hand will motivate your dog to focus and make the experience more enjoyable.
A high-energy dog that hasn’t had sufficient exercise is unlikely to calmly sit through a long photo shoot. Make sure to walk, run, or play with your dog vigorously for at least 30 minutes prior to any photo session. Getting their energy out ahead of time will make them more mellow, attentive, and likely to relax. Time exercise so that your dog isn't overly tired, but rather settled and ready to enjoy some quiet time posing for pictures.
Choose Locations Carefully
Look for photo shoot locations that will be relaxing and low-stress for your dog. Loud, crowded places with unpredictable noises and activity are sure to overwhelm your dog. Instead, seek quiet parks, trails, or studios with few distractions. Familiar places will also help your dog feel more comfortable. Scope out spots ahead of time if possible so you know what to expect on the day of the shoot. This will set everyone up for success.
Read Your Dog's Body Language
Pay close attention to your dog's body language throughout a photo shoot. Signs of fear, anxiety, or stress include flattened ears, tucked tail, tense muscles, lip licking, yawning, and avoidance behaviors. If you notice these, immediately give your dog a break with toys, treats, and affection. Don't force them into poses or situations that make them nervous. Read your dog and adjust as needed to keep the experience positive.
Use Pet-Safe Hand Signals
Verbal commands aren't very useful during photo shoots, when you want your dog to be quiet and focused. Instead, train your dog to respond to simple hand signals for common commands like "sit," "stay," "down," etc. Subtle hand signals allow you to communicate silently with your dog while the cameras click away. Just make sure the photographer knows what your signals mean!
Let Your Dog Take Breaks
Even well-trained dogs need regular breaks during long photo sessions. Make sure your dog has access to water and scheduled rest periods. If you notice signs of stress, fatigue or loss of interest/focus, call for an immediate break. Bring a crate or designated resting spot so your dog can fully relax on breaks without distraction. Refreshing breaks will help your dog maintain patience and enthusiasm.
Stay Relaxed Yourself
Dogs are experts at picking up on human emotions. If you get frustrated, nervous or upset during a photo shoot, your dog will sense it. Make an effort to stay calm, cool, and relaxed yourself. Keep your voice soft and your commands upbeat. Your own energy will directly influence how your dog behaves. Staying chill will help keep your dog relaxed too.
Have Realistic Expectations
Remember that dogs aren't professional models! Expectations need to be realistic for your dog's age, personality, and abilities. If your dog is still a puppy, their attention span will naturally be short. An older dog may not be able to hold certain poses for long. Know your dog's limits and work within them. Patience and a positive attitude make for the best results.
Bring the Right Dog
If you have multiple dogs at home, be selective about which one you bring to photo shoots. Puppies, high energy dogs, and dogs that don't listen well are poor choices. Instead, bring your most well-trained dog that enjoys meeting new people and relaxing with their owner. The right temperament is just as important as thorough training. Choose the dog most likely to succeed and have a great time!
Correct Unwanted Behaviors Gently
There may be moments during a shoot when your dog starts to display unwanted behaviors like barking, whining, jumping up, or pulling on their leash. Correct these gently with verbal cues like "no" or "off." Never raise your voice, yank on a leash, or reprimand your dog harshly. Stay composed and redirect their attention back to you and the task at hand. Harsh corrections will only increase anxiety.
Use a Secure, Comfortable Leash/Harness
Invest in a high-quality leash and harness system designed for training and control. The right leash and harness will help you easily guide your dog into poses and keep them in place for photos. Look for thick, durable material with secure clasps and take time to properly fit the harness to your dog. You want equipment that is escape-proof, comfortable, and gives you complete control during the photo shoot.
Let Them Get Used to the Photographer
It’s normal for dogs to be apprehensive around strangers. When you first arrive to a shoot, keep your dog back as they get comfortable with the photographer. Allow brief introductions, and have treats handy. As the shoot progresses and your dog relaxes, slowly decrease the distance, incorporating simple commands, rewards, and praise until your dog builds enough confidence to move right next to the photographer.
Use Background Noise Strategically
Consider playing soothing background noise like white noise or calming dog music at photo shoots. Constant ambient noise can help block out unpredictable sounds that may distract or startle your dog. On the flip side, bringing headphones along can help muffle loud or intimidating noises for your pup if needed. Controlling the sound environment will help minimize reactions.
Watch Out for "Trigger" Items
Your dog may have unique triggers that make them overly excited, scared, or reactive. These could include items like umbrellas, bicycles, balloons, etc. If possible, avoid having these trigger items present at photo shoots or ask that they be removed from the setting. This will help prevent sudden outbursts of energy or anxiety from your dog when you want them focused and relaxed.
Try Calming Supplements If Needed
In some cases, natural calming supplements can take the edge off for anxious or high-energy dogs. Products like calming chews or pheromone collars may help induce a sense of relaxation before or during photo sessions. Check with your vet and test any supplements at home first to make sure your dog tolerates them well. Proper training is ideal, but calming aids can provide additional support if needed.
Keep Photo Shoots Brief at First
Long photo shoots are tiring for both you and your dog. When first training your dog for photos, keep sessions very brief—5 to 10 minutes is plenty. As your dog masters the skills involved and learns to enjoy the process, you can gradually increase shoot lengths. Don't rush into an all-day shoot. Building up endurance over multiple practice sessions is the path to success.
Bring Plenty of Rewards
Always come prepared to photo shoots with a stuffed treat bag or pouch. The more rewards your dog earns during the shoot, the more motivated they will be to participate and follow your cues. Deliver treats frequently throughout the session to reinforce desired behaviors. Use extra special or smelly treats that your dog loves as the grand prize at the very end of the shoot. Food motivation is key!
Keep Sessions Fun!
Photo shoots should be a fun experience that your dog looks forward to. Use an animated voice, incorporate play breaks, and keep energy levels upbeat. If you maintain a lighthearted, enthusiastic attitude, your dog will feed off of it. Laugh, smile, and radiate positivity. Your dog's behavior and mood will mirror yours, so make sure you're both having a great time!
End on a Positive Note
Always wrap up photo sessions while your dog is still focused and well-behaved. Don't wait for them to get antsy, bored or tired. Stop while you're ahead! Finish with rewarding play time and be strategic about concluding the shoot before undesirable behaviors emerge. This will motivate your dog to participate again next time. Ending on a positive note sets everyone up for future success.
Give Plenty of Post-Shoot Praise
Be sure to give your dog lots of affection, praise and rewards immediately after photo shoots. Shower them with attention to reinforce what a good job they did. This solidifies the positive experience and motivates them to repeat that behavior again in the future. Let your dog know they were a star! This is the final step to a successful photoshoot.
Consistent training and positive reinforcement are key to having a relaxed, obedient dog ready to shine in any photo shoot situation. Follow these tips and be committed to the process. With time and practice, your dog will learn to thrive in front of the camera!