Kim Tonks Photography | Guest Post: Training Tips for a Calmer Photo Session with Your Dog

Guest Post: Training Tips for a Calmer Photo Session with Your Dog

June 01, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

This week I have a guest post from my friend Kris Langenfeld of A Dog's Dharma. I met Kris when I took my newly adopted Pit Bull mix puppy to obedience training at a facility Kris worked for at the time. My little puppy had already shown me that she was a very shy girl and was overwhelmed by people who weren't me. Kris has such a beautifully calm energy that Zen actually seemed to try to get closer to Kris. To put this into perspective Zen was afraid of everything and everybody. She refused to walk over manhole covers or near the tennis courts near our home (she didn't like the rustling of the wind break). She was afraid of other dogs and would often hide behind me to avoid anything that was unfamiliar. So to see her attracted to Kris was huge. Zen had anxiety issues throughout her entire life. We worked with Kris again when Zen was around 5 years old and it was the same. Zen responded in a way she didn't do with other people. I lost my sweet girl at 6 and a half, but I'm so glad to have seen her interact with Kris and know that there was someone else she could actually relate to.

Kris spent 15 years in corporate America, but found working with her dogs and fosters much more rewarding. 10 years ago she made the transition from corporate world to dog world. She is a certified positive reinforcement pet dog trainer. I hope you enjoy her post and that it helps you give your dog a calm experience at his or her photography session. If you have wondered about working with a trainer to address issues with your dog (she works with dogs who don't have extreme issues like Zen), I can highly recommend Kris. Her contact information is below.

We have all seen the great photos of dogs looking happily into the camera lens and appearing stress free. But as soon as you bring out your phone (and not even a bigger, more intrusive object as a proper camera), your dog gets up, can’t sit still for 2 seconds, looks everywhere but into the lens and pants heavily. Basically, he looks anything but happy and relaxed in the photos.

Teaching you and your dog the skills to have a calmer photo session doesn’t happen overnight, but it also doesn’t require a month away with a trainer. The following are some tips for a less stressful photo shoot. 

  1. BE CALM! Seriously, if you aren’t relaxed, then your dog is certainly not going to be. He will detect that you are nervous and therefore, feel like he should also be nervous.


  1. Let Your Dog Sniff and Explore. Can you imagine walking into a new environment blind folded? Then given instructions right away of where to go, what to do and by all means do not stress out? A dog’s nose is their “eyes” to the world. If you want them to be calmer, give them an opportunity to sniff, explore and be more comfortable in this exciting new environment. Investing in this initial couple of minutes is going to make everyone less stressed when it’s show time.


  1. Bring Really Yummy Treats. I’m not talking about your regular cookies or even regular training treats. I’m talking about the kind that your dog’s nose doesn’t hesitate to turn when he smells it. Some examples are:  roasted chicken, hot dogs, cheese. This is a new, very distracting environment and your food has to match the intensity of this new place.


  1. Teach Your Dog a Reliable Response to His Name. A dog’s name means look at you; it does not mean come, sit or stop it. Having a reliable response to his name will make it much easier for the photographer to get his attention and look into the camera lens. 
    When practicing before the photo session, say your dog’s name. As soon as your dog looks at you (NOT move his body towards you), say, “Good boy”, go to him and give him a treat. You are teaching him that looking at you and remaining in place is the preferred behavior. Practice this everywhere you can, especially on walks. 
    What if he doesn’t look at you? Wave the treat in front of his nose and lure his head to face you. Then say, “Good boy” and give the treat to him while he is facing you. 
    Please, please, please do not repeat his name five times. I guarantee your intensity of the name is going to increase the more times you say it. And guess what? That is not relaxing.


  1. Optional, but Certainly a Plus.  Teach your dog to sit, down and stay on cue. As a practical purpose, teaching your dog a reliable sit, down and stay gives clear direction of what you want your dog to do during the photo session. These basic cues can also get your dog into a different mindset; he’s using a different part of his brain by thinking about what you are asking him to do. 


Remember this is supposed to be fun. So what if he doesn’t behave perfectly. As anyone who has been on live television can tell you, expect the unexpected when children and animals are in front of the camera. Your dog may not behave “perfectly” in front of the camera, but isn’t that part of the charm of capturing his personality in the photo?


Kris Langenfeld, CPDT-KA
A Dog’s Dharma, Mindful dog training for a well-mannered dog.


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