Including your dog in your photos

I have a confession.

Sometimes, people are not my favorite part of a photo session. Let me back up and tell you what I mean. I absolutely love photographing all sorts of sessions; engagement, family, birthday, seniors, etc. You name it, I am probably all about it (Disclaimer: With the exception of newborn sessions. Bless the newborn photographers out there because that is a whole other world of photography! If you are looking to get photos of your newborn, which you totally should, go to a photographer who specializes in newborns. They go through all sorts of classes and have so many unique techniques to make those photos look spectacular. Trust me, you will be so glad you did!). The reason that I love all different types of photo sessions, is because I am a people-centric photographer. There are few things I enjoy more than interacting with my clients, taking photos that reflect their best self and getting to know them personally. So how could it be possible that there are some session where people aren’t the only part that ignites that child-like giddiness in me??

This right here:


Would you look at that face?!

There are few things in this world that make me smile as much as having a client say, “Is it okay if we bring our dog for a few photos?“. When I receive that message, I want to jump through the screen and shout, “UMMM, YES PLEASE!“. As excited as I get, I do realize that sometimes the idea of a dog politely sitting still and looking right into the camera with those adorable, big eyes is not quite as simple as it seems. And though, their cuteness factor definitely makes up for any bit of struggle we might have, it is always better to be prepared and know how to best handle your session with a pet. So I have learned some tips and tricks to get your pups tail wagging and you the photos you’ll love!!

Tip one. Be Patient.

Unfortunately, as much as we want them to, pets don’t always understand what we want from them. Many families go through the puppy stages and train them to behave in a way that we expect. But it takes time (don’t tell me you don’t vividly remember those night puppy whines, or the joy of waking up to a small puddle on your carpet.). The truth is, we teach our pets through consistency. There are expectations and a routine. Once they know what is going to happen and what is expected of them, they are more than likely going to succeed. Your dog wants to please you, but he has to understand how to do that first. So waiting to use the bathroom until you take him outside, not chewing on pillows and being quiet once everyone is in bed for the night is normal to him; a photo session is not.

I am natural light photographer. This means that almost all of my sessions are scheduled outside, in a park or a downtown area. So when you put your dog in the car and roll up to a big open field, guess what he thinks? “Yes, it’s playtime!!! They brought me here because they have the best mud piles to jump in! It’s my favorite!!

So when you expect him to sit and look at this strange round device some stranger is putting in front of him, it can be hard for him to succeed right away. So arrive a little early. Let him walk around, sniff and get a little energy out. When we start taking photos, don’t scold him when he is more interested in the squirrel over by the tree than he is by the camera. Try to see it from his point of view and that patience will be easy to find.

Tip two. Bring treats and their favorite toy.

If you think back to the puppy phase, you remember what a vital part of training rewards were. This is the same thing. Essentially, teaching your dog to take photos is a new trick. How will they know if they are doing it right if we aren’t showing them how we always have in the past. As much as I love to be the awesome human with all the treats, you know your dog better than anyone. So you are going to know what his favorite reward is. Does he have a favorite toy that when it squeaks the whole world disappears? Or a treat that he only gets when he does something amazing? Maybe your dog responds best to belly rubs! Well you know what? He’s gonna get a lot of them! When we take those photos and he sits still, he deserves that treat (Cause let’s be honest, it’s not always easy, even for us humans who know why we are there!).

Not only will these rewards reinforce this behavior we want in order to get those ridiculously adorable photos with your pooch, guess what’s gonna tell him where to look?? Your dog probably has no clue what my camera is and why I keep hiding behind it (if he does, you have a genius pet and need to get him to Hollywood ASAP!). But you know what your dog does recognize? His absolute favorite snack. I promise you, nothing initiates that gazelle-like intensity from a dog quite the way a Pupperoni stick will!! If he is looking in another direction and I squeak his all-time favorite bone, guess who is getting his undivided attention. Which leads me right into one of the most important things to remember during your session.

Tip three. Look at the camera.

Okay, I know what ya’ll are thinking, “That’s pretty obvious, Kourtney. We know how a photo session works.“. But hear me out. There is this natural instinct that takes over our bodies when we are responsible for another being that needs our guidance. When they aren’t getting something right away, we immediately want to help. So guess what we do when our furry child doesn’t seem to know where he’s supposed to look? We look down at them and start calling their name or clicking our fingers to get their attention. The only problem is, it works!

Now your dog is doing one of two things.

  1. He is listening to his owner and giving you his full attention. The might be him simply leaning that cute little face back so he can see you or he might get all the way up and turn around to face you completely.


2. Let’s say he knows what you want (because he is such a good boy!) and he looks right at my camera. Well that is amazing! Only trouble is, now you’re looking down. Unfortunately, dogs attention spans aren’t typically the longest, and most times, after they look at the camera, they want to look back at you to see if you are pleased with them. So by the time you look up, they’ve usually looked away already.

I can sometimes manage one or two real cute photos if I snap fast enough, but there is a much easier way. Trust your photographer (and arm her with your dogs favorite treats!). Once you are all posed and ready for the photo, stay looking at the camera and smiling. Let me do all the hard work of getting your dogs attention! That way, the humans look just as good as the pups in the photo. You not only get way cuter photos and have more to choose from, you also feel less exhausted from trying to have a doggy training session AND a photo session all at once.

BONUS: Guarantee you’re gonna get some good laughs in at how ridiculous I am willing to look/sound to get the whole family’s attention at once lol! You’ll see..

Tip four. Take Advantage of breakouts.

If you have ever had a family session with me, you’ve probably heard me use the term: breakouts. This simply means that we are going to do different combinations of photos. So let’s say we have both parents, two kids and your precious puppers. We are going to to grab some of just mom and son. Then we will add in your daughter. Next we will swap mom and dad and get some of just the kids with dad. We will keep going with all different combinations until we have all the photos we want. This way you get more variety in your gallery and photos of everyone to cherish.

Hidden photographer secret: This also gives every family member a small break! This is always amazing for kids and it does wonders for Fido, too. During this time it’s a great idea to let the dog explore a little, grab some water and maybe throw around a ball to get some of that energy out. These moments are so useful to just kind of shake it out and reset.

Tip five. Have fun!

Chances are, you brought your dog for photos with you because you have so much love for him. And trust me, the feeling is mutual. Your dog may not necessarily know exactly why you are all standing still in front of a short lady who keeps playing hide and seek behind this small black box, but because he is with you, he is so happy to be there. So remember that unconditional love that makes dogs a mans best friend and enjoy your session! I promise you that you’re gonna be so glad you included your best friend!

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