A picture is worth a thousands woofs (or meows).
Pets make the best travel companions, and there's nothing better when you're reminiscing over your old vacation photos than to see those happy, furry faces smiling at you. No matter how long our pets are with us, it's never long enough ... but the memories you make together last forever, and in that case, a picture truly is worth a thousand words.
Ty and Buster have spent more than six years criss-crossing the country with us, and they have a lot of practice posing for photos. But that doesn't mean it's going to take years to teach your pup is a great model! Experience has taught us that, with a few simple steps and a bit of practice, you can get great pet travel photos, too.
Start with Sit: The biggest hurdle to getting your dog posing for great pictures is the "sit" command. Most dogs have a basic understanding of what "sit" means, they just need to practice to hold the position until released. This is something you can easily add to your daily schedule and work on in dozens of different environments with all kinds of distractions.
To help your dog learn what's expected, you need to set him up to succeed by not making the challenges too hard. As his skills improve, you can slowly build up to longer durations and added distractions, which will increase your pup's confidence and make training fun. Anytime he's not able to complete the task at hand, make your request a little easier and try again.
A Note on Using Treats to Train Your Pets
Dog like to do dog things ... sniffing trees, chasing squirrels, eating things they shouldn't, and taking naps in the sunshine all rate high on a dog's list. What you will not find on that list is "modeling for photos," which means your pooch could care less about your photographic ambitions.
Humans also do things they're not entirely excited about-- it's called work, and we get paid for it. So it seems fair that when we ask our dogs to do what we'd like, rather than what they want, that they should get paid, too. For our dogs, that means treats -- and good ones -- or they might decide that what we're offering isn't worth giving up their own preferences. So, figure out what your dog loves, and use that as his reward. It may be scratches and cuddles, playing with his toy, or tasty snacks -- as long as your dog knows that you appreciate his choice to accommodate whatever crazy thing you ask him to do next.
Get Comfortable with the Camera: It's common knowledge that dogs don't like being stared at, and when they are, most will avert their gaze. Now, imagine your camera from your pup's perspective - it's like having a big, black, one-eyed monster boring a hole right through you! Teaching your dog to look at the lens may take patience, depending on your pet's disposition.
Start by set the camera down and letting your pup sniff it while feeding him a few treats. (It's best to leave your lens cover on for this activity.) When he's done exploring, pick up the camera and take a few pictures of things around the room while tossing him a few treats. This will allow him to get used to the sounds the camera makes, and build positive associations. Be patient and consistent, and it shouldn't be long until you're getting a curious reaction whenever the camera appears.
Then you're ready to start working on your "look at the camera" command. With the campera focused on them, we tell Ty and Buster to "pay attention." You may only get a small head turn in the beginning - that's good, build on it! It can take some time to overcome your dog's instinct to turn away from the camera.
Don't Lose Your Cool: The most important ingredient in capturing a great picture of your pet is not the camera, the number of years of experience you have, or your dog's behavior ... it's patience. Your pup may not be feeling cooperative, people (or squirrels) may be wandering through your shot, or your camera may be set all wrong -- there are so many things can go awry!
Trying to force a shot only makes your pets anxious, and that shows up in the photos. So, take a deep breath and remember that this is supposed to be fun. Snap a few pictures of your dog focusing on everything EXCEPT having his picture taken -- one day you'll laugh about it. And eventually he may settle down and give you the perfect sidelong glance.
Light It Up: There is nothing better than soft natural light for taking photos of your pets. Direct sunlight is too harsh, and the camera flash reflects off your pet's eyes, giving them an unnatural glow.
Bright overcast days are best, with the sun behind the camera and off to one side so that your dog isn't squinting into the light. With a tan colored dog and a black one, we often have difficulty getting photos where Ty and Buster are both well lit. One trick we've found is to use a small flashlight from a distance to take off any shadows affecting the shot.
Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder: I can't even begin to tell you how many times my favorites photos are the ones I least expect. Even with all the practice they've had, Ty and Buster don't cooperate all the time -- and that's perfect! When you're out enjoying the day and each other, the feelings come through in the photos. So embrace the imperfection, and be grateful for the fact that you're together -- because regardless of how the photos turn out, you'll always have those memories.
Know When to Walk Away: No picture is worth asking more of your dog than he can give. For example, we'd never ask Ty and Buster to pose 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, and as his best friend, it's your job to know what's too much and respect those boundaries.
Picture taking should be fun for you and your dog! Professional quality photos are not the goal, so don't judge your results too harshly ... as long as there are pets in the pictures, no one else will either!
Now that you're ready to practice your skills, be sure to send us your favorite pet travel photos by clicking here for our weekly Pet Travel Photo Challenge! Each Friday we post a picture on the GoPetFriendly.com blog from the submissions we've received and our audience guesses where the pets are posing. Come play along!