Fetching Frames: Use Positive Reinforcement to Turn Dog Photos into Works of Art

Taking great photos of your beloved dog can be a delightful way to capture their personality and create lasting memories. However, it’s no secret that getting dogs to pose for the camera can sometimes be a challenge. That’s where positive reinforcement dog training comes in. By using this gentle and effective approach, you can set your dog up for success and get stunning photos that truly showcase their unique charm. Let’s explore how to employ positive reinforcement training to help your dog shine in every shot.

Black and white Australian Shepherd runs toward the camera holding an orange ball in her mouth.

Joyfully Fetching – Photo by Kara Hamiliton

Building a Positive Association: Just because your pup is used to seeing you holding your phone doesn’t mean they are comfortable with you pointing it at them. If you use a different camera, it’s even more important to help your dog relax around it. The first step in achieving fantastic photos is to make being in front of the lens a positive and enjoyable experience for your dog. Introduce your camera or phone gradually; hold it up, then toss your dog a treat. Practice looking like you are taking a shot and immediately feed more yummy treats. That’s a great way to get your dog thinking, “Gee, I hope it’s picture day!” and voila! happier body language for all your shots.

Brown, white and black mixed breed dog sits smiling in a staircase.

Wai can Sit and Stay on a staircase! Photo by Keala Baclayon

Training Basic Behaviors: Teaching your dog to sit and stay will lay a solid foundation for successful photo sessions. Lure your dog into a sit by holding a treat at her nose, and slowly moving it straight up, just a few inches. When she drops her rear, give her the treat. Adding duration so you can get the shot is as simple as feeding several treats in a row when she sits, feeding these quickly in early practice then increasing the time between treats as your dog’s skill improves. Next, work on being able to move away, just one step at first, then gradually add more steps. Always return and feed the dog while they are still sitting. (If they get up, you went too long or too far; make it easier for your dog and feed them in the sit position.) With a strong sit and eager stay, your dog can be in just the right spot for that perfect photo. 

Focus on Eye Contact: Engaging and expressive eyes can bring life to a photograph. Train your dog to make eye contact with the camera. Hold a treat near the camera lens and reward them when they look directly at it. If you want to get fancy, you can add some duration for this behavior by delaying the reward for a few seconds. You can gradually fade the need for a food lure by pointing at the lens while palming the treat, and reward your dog for looking at the lens itself. Regular practice of this cue will help you capture captivating and soulful gazes in your photos.

Red Vizsla running on a beach, toward camera.

Penny recalling at the beach. Photo by Catherine Comden

Capturing Action Shots: Action shots can showcase your dog’s energy and enthusiasm. Practice recall training in a safe and distraction-free environment by saying a new word like “HERE”, and dropping a jackpot of treats at your feet. Let your dog eat the food. Take a few steps away and repeat, “HERE” and drop the food. Again, let your dog enjoy it. Next, try running away a few feet, then repeat, “HERE” and when your dog catches up to you, give happy praise and yummy treats from your hand. With practice, you can begin to add more distance. (For dogs who are a flight risk, practice in a fenced area or attach a long (20-30 feet) line to their collar and keep hold of the end.) With a solid recall, you can capture stunning photos of your dog running towards the camera, their tail wagging and their joy evident. Provide enthusiastic praise and treats when your dog reaches you. With practice, you can capture stunning photos of your dog running towards the camera, showing their joyful energy.

Small black and brown dog smiling and standing in a planter

This pup is happy to be “planted” and photographed. Photo by Marion Bertaud

Short Sessions, High Rewards: Your dog doesn’t see the point of sitting in place while you stare at your camera or phone just a few feet away, so generously reward your dog throughout the session to keep them motivated. After capturing the desired shot, reward your dog with an extra-long sniffing session, especially if you’re in a new location with intriguing scents. This allows them to engage in a rewarding activity after patiently posing for you.

Positive reinforcement dog training is a powerful tool for capturing incredible photos of your best doggo friend. By building positive associations, training basic skills, focusing on eye contact, capturing action shots, and keeping sessions short and rewarding, you can create a relaxed and enjoyable experience for your dog while producing stunning photos that showcase their unique personality. So, grab your camera or phone, embrace positive reinforcement techniques, and let your dog’s true essence shine through the lens. Happy training and happy photographing!


2 Responses to Fetching Frames: Use Positive Reinforcement to Turn Dog Photos into Works of Art

  1. Paula Mrazek says:

    Great tips for awesome photo sessions, Catherine! I am always trying to get great photos of my clients dogs as a pet sitter/walker. Another tip I would mention with the eye contact (love the training to watch the camera with treats!) would be to get down to the dog’s level when possible, sit or lie on the ground… Makes for PAW-some photos of your pets!

    Keep up the great blogging! I look forward to the next!

    • Catherine Comden says:

      Hi Paula – thanks for your comment. Your idea to get down to the dog’s level is a great one! It’s fun to experiment with how raising or lowering your camera can change the whole “feel” of the subject. Keep on clicking on!

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