Lisa's Voice

4 Easy Dog Tricks for Great Holiday Pictures

This holiday season take unforgettably lovable pictures of your dog! Pose your dog in a group shot with the family in front of the tree, wearing reindeer antlers, or peeking up from behind a tower of presents. Here’s everything you need to know to get better photos of your dog today.

Sometimes photoshoots are just so difficult and stressful for your dog that, instead of liking your happy holiday photo, your friends are reporting you to the Humane Society. However, with these easy tips and tricks, your dog will be happy to endure the most grueling photoshoot.

Here’s how to teach the Four Easy Dog Tricks for Great Holiday Pet Pix, plus a few pointers on how to get the best snaps of your best friend.

Those quick-and-easy tricks are Sit & Stay, Balance a Cookie on Your Nose, Paws Up, and Sit Pretty/Beg.

These tricks can be taught in a few brief lessons and get your dog ready to pose for the paparazzi!

Things you’ll need:

  1. A hungry dog. Feed your dog a little less or even skip a meal. It isn’t cruel–you’ll be feeding plenty during the lessons!
  2. Dog food your dog loves (which we call “high value”) or a toy. Have lots of treats and reward often. If your dog is ball-crazy (but not so crazy he can’t concentrate) you can use the ball, but I find a toy reward can encourage a dog to break the pose. If you use a toy, make sure it’s a low-key toy, and not one that’ll get him blasting around the house.
  3. Plenty of good light. Dogs hate flashes. They will quickly learn to brace themselves, squint, and turn their heads away. Turn the flash off and make sure the room is well lit for a crisp photo with your dog confidently looking right into the camera.
  4. A safe place to pose. Keep them on the floor or on some sturdy elevated surface. They can’t relax and concentrate on the pose if they’re afraid they’ll fall.
  5. A simple background. Always take a second to check what’s behind your dog. A busy, messy background complicates the image, making it harder for the viewer to focus on your adorable dog. Sometimes there’s a weird branch or cable that makes your dog look like he’s grown a fifth leg or something. An ounce of prevention saves many a photo.
  6. An attention-grabbing word or sound. Be ready to make this sound or say this word to make your dog look at you wide-eyed with perked ears. It has to be a word that makes them go, “What?!” but not so powerful a word that they leap toward you, knocking over your Aunt Irene’s egg nog. I’ve found that if I say, “Friz-” instead “Frisbee,” Mick cocks his head as if to say, “Were you about to day FRISBEE?!” I’ll also say, “Is that–” and he cocks his head hoping I’ll finish the sentence, “Is that AUDREY?” who is the cat he loves to chase. You can say, “Cookie,” or “ball” or make an unfamiliar buzzing sound with your lips.

    The right sound from the right source is the difference between this photo of Maisie . . .

      And this photo of Maisie.
  7. Few, if any, helpers. One of the most frustrating things I’ve found photographing dogs is when five “helpful” people stand behind you making noises. The problem isn’t that they’re making noises to get the dog’s attention–it’s that they aren’t standing directly behind you, now the dog is looking everywhere EXCEPT at you. It’s better if YOU make the noise, because they they look right at you. Also make sure other people with cameras take their turns, again because you’re going to get the dog looking off to the side if you don’t get people to snap one at a time.

    During this photo shoot, I had more than one “helper.” Can you tell?

  8. A happy dog. Your dog is happy when you’re paying him well–give him frequent treats, praise, and breaks. Be upbeat and grateful. If you want your dog to look as happy as possible, get him panting with a fun physical activity, like a game of tug or catch, right before the shoot or even throughout. Panting gives us humans the illusion of grinning and laughing, but of course, your dog usually IS happy when he’s just enjoyed some exuberant playtime.

I. The Sit-Stay

It’s really two tricks, the sit and the stay, with duration. By duration, I mean your dog stays in the sit long enough for you to take a bunch of photos to choose from. If your dog doesn’t already know how to sit, you can teach your dog to sit very quickly.

Sit”—your dog sits when given the cue, either the word “sit” or the hand signal, and stays seated until released. You need this trick for most basic photos. If your dog doesn’t know how to sit, here’s a quick lesson on how to teach that behavior.

To take a good photo, you’ll also need your dog to “Stay,” so you can back up to take the photo and/or to turn and sit with your dog while someone else takes the photo. The longer your dog can stay put, the better for your photo.

 

II. Balance a Cookie

In this trick, your dog balances a toy or treat on his nose and only tosses and catches it at your signal. However, that’s not what you’ll do for the photo. This trick not only entertains your dog and your friends, it trains your dog to sit very still while holding something on his head. See where I’m going with this?

Here’s how to transfer “balancing a cookie on your dog’s nose” to balancing almost anything anywhere on your dog’s head.

III. Sit Pretty/Beg

Your dog raises his forequarters and balances on his haunches in this classic favorite. The beg makes your dog look slightly more human in photos, and is a better way to show off any bow ties or costumes with funny fronts on them.

Mick is in a “beg” in this photo, which balances the head above the chest, the way humans sit.

Mick is only about six months old in this photo, but following these tips, I was able to get him to sit pretty while balancing glasses on his nose and hold the pose while I was several feet away snapping photos.

Remember your dog may need to increase core strength to hold this trick long enough to take a good photo. Do it often an d be patient, gradually asking your dog to hold the position a little longer and longer and at ever-increasing distances from you. That way you can be in position to photograph. Because your dog may not be able to hold the pose long enough for you to run out and line up a shot, it may also be easier if you can cue from a distance, once you’re in position. For the photo of Mick behind the stack of books, I was able to ask him to “beg” from the distance of the lens.

 

As your dog’s balance and muscle tone improve, move away and use the verbal cue and hand signal. Wait a few seconds before treating. Never mark or reward when he lowers his paws. Always click or say “yes” when he’s in position, and ask him to beg again when you deliver the treat. It may take long-bodied and deep-chested dogs longer to develop strength and balance. If your dog is having trouble getting into the beg pose, watch this video:

 

IV. Paws Up

Your dog puts his paws up on a stool or other object at the command “paws up.” This trick is a foundation for others and a handy behavior in daily activities, such as fastening and unfastening a leash or putting eyedrops in your dog’s eyes, but it can also make for some cute photos, as in these my students sent in.

“Bill, please!” From Owen Alexander Chiswell and Vali

You can have your dog put paws on a person too. When you have the dog come up from behind and put paws on someone’s shoulder, it makes for a cute shot, and it’s a good way to squeeze a dog into a group photo. Again, you need to build confidence and duration into the pose by short, frequent practices with lots of cookies!

Mel has Godric do “paws up” for a selfie.

You can also teach your dog to put paws up while seated at a table. It gives you a chance to grab some fun dogs-being-humans photos like these.

Here’s how to teach Paws Up.

P.S. Hold an Object

One last thing before I sign off–you might be wondering why “hold an object” isn’t here. That’s because, in my experience, it isn’t an easy trick. But I understand if you want that trick for photos. I really do.

It just might take you a little longer. If you want to learn to “Teach Your Dog to Hold an Object,” click here. And if your dog has trouble learning it, here’s one of my most popular videos, “How to Teach a Reluctant Dog to Hold an Object.”

Happy Snapping!

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