Updated: Jun 28
Just like for us humans, it takes time for a dog to get used and enjoy being in front of a camera. More time for some than others, more practice to be able to relax and enjoy it. Some will never get there, or for very short bursts of time.
A photo session, at home or with a professional, should be fun, something everyone and especially your dog(s) enjoy...
Patience and positivity, working in short bursts, praising and rewarding, and being prepared to walk away / stop before your pup has had enough are key in the process.
Here are my top tips to prepare your dog for the camera - for every day photos, but also for that special photo session!
1. Before the Session: Getting Used to the Camera or Phone
Does your pup turn their head when a phone or a camera is pointed at them? Ever wondered why?
Dogs are incredibly attentive to human faces and, in some cases, even specific facial expressions. Most of the time they will stare at their owners to express affection. Mutual staring is known to release oxytocin, known as the love hormone, in both humans and dogs. The latter, often like us, are creatures of habit.
Point a mobile phone or camera at a dog without them being used to one, it often prevents that important eye contact. In addition to this, the "big box" in between dog and photographer often makes strange noises, emits flashes of light... things that can easily spook a dog. Their ears are pointed backwards, bodies tense, head turned to the side... all signs of stress and discomfort.
They need to know that this "thing" is not a threat, to associate it with something positive. Depending on if your pup is food, toy or human driven, use their favourite treats, their favourite ball, your happiest voice... Encourage them to look at the camera, make funny noises, praise and reward when they do. Give them breaks, never force them. Then the big box becomes fun, worth looking at and interacting with.
I come prepared for dogs not used to a camera, and love to capture them being "them", not expecting them to be instant pros unless they were trained for it and hired as such - whether for brands or personal photos, but of course them being used to it will make my job easier, and your photos (captured at home or by a pro) much more engaging.
2. Before the Session: Practice Basic Training / Commands, Regularly
This is something I practice myself and recommend, whether taking photos or not. It strengthens your bond, keep them engaged, and needs to be done regularly.
Although I've learnt to be pretty swift with dogs and capture them naturally, it helps myself tremendously (and will help you too) if they know basic commands (bonus point if from a distance): to sit, stay in position for a few seconds at least, even better if they can lay down, give a paw, sit pretty, shake or stand.
There are a lot of videos online to learn new tricks, just be mindful of only opting for positive reinforcement, there are tons of trainers out there, very few with actual qualifications as the industry is sadly not regulated. It takes time but is so worth it for your pup's mental health, and your bond.
For those interested in learning those with a pro, I definitely recommend training (individually or in groups) with my friend Kim from CitySitStay (we recently took the Smarty Paws one).
3. Before the Session: Pampering
Depending on the breed of your dog, and the look you prefer, this will vary. Some will only need to be brushed, others to have a trim, bath or being professionally groomed to look their best (just like us) - ideally the closest to the day of the photo session as possible, especially for active pups, but not on the day! And if you have a dog that likes to get mucky, you might want to limit the opportunities they get to become dirty on the day.
Two prep things that are important prior to a photoshoot but also should be addressed regularly / on the longer run: cleaning tear stains around the eyes (as much as possible), and trimming their nails. Long nails can pose a health concern and tear stains be a sign of allergy or eye issues. Both will help the photographer tremendously when editing too, and make your pup look their best.
4. On the Day: Exercise... or Rest!
Two very different approaches depending on your pup's personality, so it is best captured during the session.
For the laid back or senior dog who is usually spending most of their day napping, some rest and quiet time before the session is usually the best approach.
The active "party animal" on the other hand will benefit from some exercise on the day, just before the session (it could be a walk, some play, spending time at day care...). Just not to the point of wearing them completely out though!
Although I always keep as short and sweet as possible, and always positive, they will likely be tired at the end of the session, and you too, so don't plan much for the rest of the day.
5. On the Day: A Lighter Meal
If your pup gets their meal before the photo session, and especially if they are food motivated, I recommend feeding a portion that is smaller than usual. Far from encouraging to bring a pup that is super hungry, in addition to being mean that would cause them to drool excessively, dogs that love food are often more willing to work if more interested in food. Nothing beats a bribe (or as I always say about Marcel: just like us humans their work deserves a salary).
6. On the Day: What to Bring
- Your pup and yourselves, prepared as above and ready to have fun and make some memories!
- High value treats (loads), ideally not their every day ones. Small bits of cheese, ham, chicken... depending on what really sets their tails wagging and suits their diet. I always bring treats (don't tell Marcel) but they might not be suitable for your pup.
- Favourite toy (especially if not food driven)
- Plain collar and lead work best (or your favourite), clean
- A long or training lead if they can't go off lead, safety first, always! (we'll discuss this before the session)
- Poo Bags
- Water and a bowl (i usually bring this too)
- Brush for Grooming
- Wet Wipes (for dogs or fragrance-free baby ones)
- Towel (esp if they might get wet)
Are you ready to have fun and make some memories? I can't wait to capture them for you... Things rarely go to plan but that's ok, a photo that is too posed would be boring, I want your dog (and you if you're part of the session) to be "you", natural, relaxed... Let dogs be dogs!
If you have any question, feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org, I'm happy to help in any way I can!