“Look this way, please”. Click. Who can resist taking a summit photo of themselves or their dog? Get it right and the great day is captured for posterity. Get it wrong and the delete button will be sure to follow. When photographing people, heads or feet missing or just a strange look on the face are common issues but when we add a dog to the image, the chances are the dog may just walk out of the frame completely, with just a slight wag of a tail remaining in the far corner of the picture! Thankfully, we only need to do a little training over winter to transform next year’s memories into those that we can capture on camera and proudly display in our homes.
The tricky part with dogs is they tend to get bored sitting, and they may follow us if we walk away or they may go to investigate another person.
When taking a picture of a person or a dog, we only need them to stay still for a minute while we frame the picture and press the shutter. The tricky part with dogs is they tend to get bored sitting, and they may follow us if we walk away or they may go to investigate another person. Some dogs also become fearful of things that they are not used to seeing pointing at them, such as a camera, which could mean the dog looks fearful in the picture by turning his head away slightly or by holding his ears back.
So at the core of a good photograph of a dog on top of a mountain, is the ability of the dog to sit still long enough for you or a friend to take the picture.
Training the dog to sit while you walk away is the first requirement of capturing those special mountain moments on camera. To teach a dog to sit while you walk away, first you need to teach the dog to sit when you are beside the dog. To do this, take a small piece of food in your fingers, with your hand held palm upwards. Move the food toward the dog’s nose and then raise it up and over the dog’s forehead. The dog’s nose will try to follow the food and the dog will have to sit to follow it. At the moment the dog sits, count “good dog one, good dog two, good dog three” in your head, then give the dog the food. Walk away from the dog, ask the dog to come and repeat this and do this for 5-10 minutes at a time, in two or three sessions per day.
After a few repetitions of this you won’t need food in the hand, but still make the same hand movement.
Once the dog is doing the ‘sit with the food’ effortlessly, then say the dog’s name and the word “sit’ just before you do the hand movement. After a few repetitions of this you won’t need food in the hand, but still make the same hand movement. When the dog sits, give the dog a treat from your pocket or give the dog praise or a chew stick or some attention, or just throw a ball. Once the dog is sitting each time you do this, then next you need to extend the delay between the dog sitting and getting some food or reward. To do this you need to count more seconds before you give the reward; you can do this by saying “Good dog one, good dog two” and so on, up to say 6, then 7, then 8, then 9 seconds. Gradually you can build this delay up to 15 or 20 or 30 seconds before you reward the dog. Practice this every day for 5-10 minutes at a time, and use this behaviour training game every time you provide any attention, or open doors or let your dog off lead, and soon your dog will sit and wait for 20-30 seconds easily when asked.
The next stage is to start walking away from the dog, as if you are going to take a photograph. So you ask the dog to sit, then as you count, you take a small step away from the dog and back to the dog. If the dog moves, then you moved too far or too fast from the dog. So move more slowly and don't move so far next time.
Always come back to the dog and give a reward of food, or a toy or throw a ball or just give attention before the dog moves.
Over repeated sessions of just 5-10 minutes at a time, each day, you will be able to walk away from the dog easily. So next you need to move a camera into position to take the photograph. The dog may move when you do this, so again don't move the camera into position so fast. Just make a small movement, then go back and reward the dog with a food treat. Walk away, move the camera to its position, stop before the dog moves, then walk back and reward the dog. You should find the dog just sits still and waits patiently for you to come back. At this point you can take the photograph.
If the dog is a little distracted and not looking directly at you, then just make a noise such as a click with your tongue and then the dog will stare at you to work out what the sound is, often with ears forward. Take the picture, walk back to your dog and give a reward for a job well done.
All you then need to do is practice this out on walks. Dogs are very context-specific learners so you need to practice this in more than one place. So start the training at home but then once it’s working well repeat it all on your daily walks and soon your dog will happily sit for a picture.
Get it right, and you’ll have your four legged pal photographed on your favourite hill and proudly framed for posterity.
Graham Thompson is the Technical Editor of Trail Magazine, has sold his photography worldwide through Getty Images, and written articles for photography magazines. He also has an Msc in Companion Animal Behaviour Counselling and is a Full Member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, a Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourist and is on the Animal Behaviour & Training Council Register of Clinical Animal Behaviourists.