Believe it or not, this is a really common question that we get asked about - how do I get my dog to sit while at a photo shoot? This can be quite a challenge for some dogs, I hope the tips I've highlighted below from my experience as a dog photographer, dog owner and keen trainer will help anyone who is thinking of having a photo shoot for their dogs.
The tips below can apply to any type of dog photo shoot, studio, outdoor in the woods or at the beach, the principles in my opinion are the same:
Before the photo shoot:
Prepare and reinforce the basics well: Ensure your dog knows basic commands such as sit, lie down, wait or stay. Practice in low-distraction environments and gradually increase the difficulty as your dog masters it.
Location: If you are having a photo shoot with a professional. Where possible agree on a location that your dog is familiar with and try to visit that location at least once or twice before the shoot, that way your dog will be better prepared and is less likely to feel nervous. If your dog is comfortable he/she is more likely to pay attention to you and the photographer on the day of the shoot and sit still. If possible choose a time of the day where that location is quieter and thereby minimise distractions. Avoid choosing busy or noisy areas.
High-value treats: You will know your dog best. Is your dog a foodie or a ball junkie? A sniffer? In my experience when a dog enters a new environment (ie photo shoot location) he/she might instantly ignore their favourite treat which they absolutely wouldn't do under normal circumstances. So it's important to stock up on treats your dog goes absolutely crazy for, something irresistible and smelly that they've never had before usually works well!
During the photo shoot:
Start simple and short: Tell your photographer you're concerned that your dog might not hold a sit and wait for long. We all understand this and would keep shots short and slowly build up. This gives you time to reinforce and praise your dog along with the photographer's shots every few seconds. There is absolutely no shame in communicating this with your photographer, remember, we never expect your dog to sit still as soon as they arrive.
What kind of positive reinforcement?: Every dog is different, there is no right or wrong answer. For some dogs, a verbal praise from their excited owner is enough. Treats as highlighted above or simply throwing a ball or tugging a toy for a few seconds can also be a positive reinforcement. The key is reinforce little and often and slowly build up the duration of a command. Please don't dive straight in and expect your dog to sit for 2 minutes. Be patient and avoid raising the tone of your voice or sounding angry if they get distracted.
Don't keep repeating your command: I have met numerous owners who would instruct a dog repeatedly over 20 times to "sit" because their dog didn't listen the first few times. Once you've said the fifth "sit" and your dog still hasn't listened, your dog is probably not going to react and listen to the sixteenth "sit". Firstly if you keep having to repeat yourself, you are probably not interesting to your dog at that moment in time or the environment is not appropriate - walk a few yards away and choose somewhere else. Remove the distraction. Secondly, try using a different command in their repertoire such as "lie down" or "middle" or "heel". Repeatedly asking for the same command over and over again will bore even the most obsessive border collie. Lastly, use a food or treat lure if you must, but only give the treat after they have listened to your command. This is not my preferred method because if the timing of the reward is wrong you risk sending the wrong message and causing confusion.
Get down to their level: Crouching or kneeling puts you closer to your dog's eye level and can help capture more natural-looking photos.
Short bursts and slowly build up: As mentioned above, don't expect your dog to sit perfectly for long periods, certainly not at the start. In my experience though dogs learn quickly what you want them to do and by the end of the shoot they often surprise their owners.
Take breaks: Try different poses and angles, but don't force your dog into anything uncomfortable. If they seem stressed, take a break and come back later.
Enlist a helper: Having an extra person hold treats, play with toys, or get your dog's attention can be a huge help, especially for energetic pups.
I hope you've found the above tips from my experience helpful. Overall I think patience and practice are absolutely key. Every dog is different. Some may take more time and practice than others. Much like ourselves, dogs are creatures of habit, if you can take the time to practice with them just a few times a week before the photo shoot then I think you've set them up for a successful and fun photo shoot with lots of stunning photos of your dog that you'll be able to cherish for years to come. Good luck and happy snapping!