We’ve been traveling full-time in the Winnebago for more than six years now, and snapping Ty and Buster’s pictures in the gorgeous places we visit has been part of the fun from the beginning.
Well … “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!), and now we get these types of comments all the time:
“I’m so impressed that your boys will pose!
If I let go of the leash, my dogs 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?”
If we managed to get our dogs 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.
To get great shots of your dog, the first thing you’ll need to work on is the “sit” command. A trainer who truly grasped my capabilities once concluded that I’d learn faster if she kept 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 about 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 – we use the word “free” as our cue to the boys that our request for a particular behavior has ended – and then give him a treat. Over time you can lengthen the duration of the sit, add distractions, and combine it with other commands, like “come,” which will be handy when you actually 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 to do dog things … like sniff trees, chase squirrels, eat things they shouldn’t, take naps in the sunshine, and generally romp around. They are not aspiring models and could care less about your photographic ambitions.
When we humans do things we’re not excited about it’s called “work,” and we generally get paid for it. So it seems fair to me that when we ask a dogs give up their preferred activities and do what we’re asking instead, we should also pay them for it. That may mean treats if your dog is food-motivated, or his favorite toy if he’d rather play than eat – 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 stay in one spot 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.
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 the fact that the camera lens looks like a huge eye, and we want the dogs to look at it.
The hoops you will be required to jump through to get your dog accustomed to 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 around all the time, so it’s not a new object that warrants caution. But if you’re using a digital camera, things may 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.
The line between fun and frustration is razor thin when you’re trying to get the perfect photo of your dog. Your pup may be having an off day, people may be blocking your shot, your camera settings may 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 is supposed to be fun. Your dog will sense any irritation you’re feeling and become more anxious, likely ruining the chance for getting any pictures at all. Besides, just looking at your furry buddy sitting there doing his best to go along with your nutty plan should be enough to melt your heart.
As with anything you’re teaching a dog, the more you practice, the better the results. Start out shooting photos in places he’s familiar and not likely to be distracted, and work your way up. If you want your pooch to pose perfectly on your vacation next summer, now is the time to start taking his photo in your kitchen.
Ty and Buster may look like professionals now, but keep in mind they’re posing for photos several times a week, and sometimes multiple times a day! We ask them to sit while we line up the shot, ask them to “pay attention,” take their 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 fact that this has become a routine the boys recognize and are comfortable with is what allows us to take their pictures on all of our adventures.
Sometimes the best shots on my camera are the ones I least expected 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 and enjoying the company of your best furry friends, those feeling gets captured by the camera 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 photos turn out, you’ll always have those memories.
No picture is worth asking more of your dog than he’s able to give. For us that means we’d never ask Ty and Buster to pose for photos when there are other dogs around – they’re both afraid of other dogs, and asking them to sit still and pay attention in that situation would be too difficult. Every dog has his limits – just like people – and as his best friend, it’s your job to understand and respect those boundaries.
And that’s all there is to it! With a little practice your pup will be ready to pose for amazing photos on your next trip. And don’t forget to share them with us – we love seeing your pictures on our Facebook page and may even choose them for our weekly pet travel photo challenge!