by Rachel Taunton // November 2018
Perfect Pup Pics!
I’ve spent a few years short of a decade chasing after dogs trying to get a perfect picture. In the beginning I often ended up with a blurry mess or an awkward image of a dog in an ungainly position and not even looking in the direction of the camera!
Over the years I’ve amassed a collection of go to tricks and techniques for getting the best shots in as few attempts as possible - though the running around is never completely removed when dealing with animals who like to wriggle and get as close as they can to whoever is holding the camera but that’s often part of the fun.
We have had a few dogs in class whose owners describe as “camera shy” which is quite understandable considering I use a bulky DSLR camera to take pictures; it’s an imposing piece of equipment to have pointed at you when you’re not used to it. Likewise, though, a lot of owners have expressed their exasperation when they get their phone out and their dog immediately shies away and wanders off.
I speak from experience when I say that having a very cute pet who doesn’t want to be sprawled all over social media is difficult – everyone needs to see how adorable they are, they just do.
Dogs aren’t “camera shy” in the sense that they don’t want their picture taken because they might be having a bad hair day, of course. They’re shying away because a strange object is being pointed at them and even something as small as a phone can be intimidating when they’re not sure what it is.
With this in mind, before even thinking about taking a dog’s picture it’s good to get them used to the equipment you’ll be using.
In class we teach dogs how to be comfortable around strange objects like the “cone of shame” to get them used to something they might have to be exposed to later in life and the same method can be used to get dogs happy around cameras. To get a dog used to something new simply reward them for any interaction with the object – I will usually let them have a little sniff and feed them a treat to build their confidence.
If a dog is worried of a camera being pointed at them then it’s worth spending the time getting them used to it so you have nice perky ears and happy looking dogs in pictures rather than awkward, anxious looking puppies.
Once I’ve fed a few treats for interacting with the camera, I usually have their full attention and use another treat to coax eye contact by holding it just above where the camera lens is. Some dogs love food, some have a favourite toy; experiment with things your dog likes to get their focus and a nice animated expression!
Tip: You can try using their name or making an odd sound if you strive for an adorable little head tilt too!
Finally, you want to think about the position your pup is in, be that a sit, lying down or standing. Training your dog to be able to take up a few different positions will make day to day life a lot simpler, let alone while trying to take their picture. To train a sit all you need to do is pick a marker word, this is a word that is usually one syllable and can be said to your dog to let them know they’ve done what you asked and a treat is on its way (you can also use a clicker for this).
Travis’ marker word is ‘yes’ as it’s something I don’t say that often to him and can’t be confused with anything
Try charging up the marker word by taking twenty small treats and saying the word, then feeding your dog a treat. You will know your dog is ready to start training with it when they start looking for a treat after you say the word!
Teaching to sit
Place a treat directly in front of your dog’s nose and slowly lift it back and over their head with their nose following it. As their head goes up then usually their bum will hit the floor. When their bottom touches the floor you can say your marker word and then give them the treat.
After your pup is good at following your hand you can introduce the word ‘sit’ and try removing the treat from your hand to lure them – you’ll continue to reward them with food, just from your pocket or treat bag.
Eventually you can phase out the hand signal entirely when your dog seems to understand what just the word sit means.
From a sit position, a down will be luring your dog with a treat in front of their nose to lie down. If you take the treat directing down to the ground and then slowly slide it away from them, they will usually slide into a down position. You then need to mark and reward that until they’re confident with the movement to start adding the cue.
A stay is a really useful cue to teach your dog, especially if you want to take a picture but you need to have a little distance between the camera and your fluffy model!
You can either train your dog to a cue or simply teach that if you ask for a sit then they hold that position until you tell them they can go again. Once your dog knows a specific position like a sit, you can start adding a little distance. Instead of saying your marker word right away, wait a second after their bum touches the floor and then mark and reward the behaviour.
Once you’re able to stretch this time out you can start adding a little bit of space between yourself and your dog. Start with half steps before you can try a full step away from your dog and always mark the behavior after your dog is finished.
When I say ‘yes’ to Travis, he knows he’s done staying and can move off again.
Do you have a puppy, adult or golden oldie that needs a little bit of help learning to get camera ready? Or maybe you and your dog have a few other skills you could brush up on while discovering fun new ways to bond with your furry friend?