Tips for Including Your Dog in Your Photoshoot

July 13, 2023

Are you considering having a photoshoot with your dog?

It should surprise no one that I am a big fan of dogs and I am always excited when one of my couples or families wants to include their pups in a photo session. 

I was looking at my own Instagram the other day and realized that the majority of my favorite sessions in the past year have been the ones where there was a dog included in the photos. 

Why should you have a photoshoot with your dog? 

OK, maybe I don’t need to answer this question, but just in case…

  1. Your dog is typically considered a member of the family! They certainly deserve to be included in the celebration of any momentous occasion, whether it be your graduation, a maternity session, or a wedding.
  2. By nature, dogs are goofy. They will make you smile genuinely and laugh a lot — two important ingredients for a great photo session.
  3. If you’re nervous in front of the camera, bringing your dog can give you something to focus on beside the lens staring at you. They also set up great photos — like you and your partner cuddling up and petting your dog.

When should you leave your pup at home instead? 

If your dog is going to stress you out more than calm you down, you might want to leave them at home. Some dogs get very anxious around new people or haven’t quite learned how to behave — and I totally get that. My dog, Martha, has a pretty intense anxiety disorder and we know that if we’re going somewhere there might be loud noises or anything that could overwhelm her, it’s probably a better idea to let her stay at home. 

But I do believe that more often than not, with preparation you can set your dog up for success in front of the camera. 

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couple with their dog at Jester King engagement session

Here are 9 tips for having a photoshoot with your dog. 

1. Work with your trainer in advance of the session. 

If you know you have a photoshoot with your dog coming up, consider hiring a trainer for a one-hour session. Our wonderful trainer Josh of Mindful Training worked with us in advance of our wedding to teach Martha how to calmly walk down the aisle and then stay seated for our entire ceremony. He was so helpful that Martha actually fell asleep in the middle of our vows! 

Some helpful commands for your dog to be familiar with on the day of the session: 

  • Sit and Stay — the most basic and obvious ones. These commands ensure they will sit next you and pose!
  • Place — When a dog knows “place,” then they know to sit or lay down in the specific spot where you tell them to go. This is helpful when directing your dog during a session so that we can have them sit right where we want them to. (Often, dogs will “sit” but then they will be blocking their humans or facing away from the camera.)
  • Look — The “look” command asks your dog to give you eye contact. It’s very helpful to get a dog’s attention without making them think you want them to change positions. That way everyone in the picture is looking at the camera!
two men with their dog at Mueller Park engagement session

2. Visit the location of your session in advance with your dog, if possible. 

Checking out the location of your session in advance gives you a better idea of what you’ll be working with. Is it relatively closed off? Close to a highway? Will there be lots of distractions present, like squirrels? Do you see anything that could trigger your pup? 

All of that helps you form a game plan and mentally prepare. 

If you take your dog with you, it will help them become familiar with the new setting. That way, when you return for the session they will be less anxious about being in an unfamiliar place. If you give them lots of treats while you’re there, they will also associate it with it as a good place. 

3. Or, have the session at home! 

If your dog is really anxious like mine, it might be better to take the photos at a location they are already familiar with—like your house. They will be most at ease in front of the camera if they’re in a place where they feel safe. In-home sessions are also just really cute and the ultimate way to add a personal touch to your photo session. 

If your dog gets territorial over strangers in the house, I recommend you walk them right before your photographer arrives. That way, the photographer is already there when they get home from the walk. (For whatever reason, our dog never barks at strangers if they were already in the house when she got home, rather than if they knock on the door while she’s there.) 

couple kissing with dogs behind them

4. Try to hold off bathing and grooming until the day before or the day of the photo session. 

If you’re a dog owner, then you already know that it doesn’t take long for your dog to find some dirt to roll around in! I would never recommend forcing your dog to stay inside and away from fun for days, just because they have a photo session coming up. Instead, try to book your grooming session close to your photo session. Or, be chill about your dog not looking perfect in the photos — I promise most people won’t notice. 🙂 

5. The day of your photoshoot with your dog, make sure your pup gets plenty of exercise. 

This is a BIG one! No matter whether your dog is a young pup or a timid senior, exercise always helps improve their behavior before a session. For more hyper dogs, trainers typically suggest they have a lot of play time before a training session because it helps them focus. It works just as effectively as prep for a photo shoot. 

If your dog is anxious, exercise stimulates the production of serotonin, which can improve their mood. Burning off energy also gets rid of pent-up energy and tension.  

couple with their dog in their backyard

6. Consider helpful supplements, like CBD, if your dog gets anxious. 

If your dog is like mine, leaving the house or meeting a stranger could be a pretty stressful situation for them. I suggest a photoshoot with your dog the same way you would any other major event that may cause them anxiety, like an evening of fireworks or being kenneled.

CBD has become a popular treatment for situational anxiety in dogs. We buy our CBD for Martha from Tomlinsons, but there are plenty of options out there — just make sure to do your research and check with your vet before you give your pup anything new. I’d also recommend trying it before the photo session. 

Some dogs feel more secure in sweaters or thunder jackets. Thankfully, there are lots of cute options out there that could actually enhance the whole aesthetic of your session. 

7. Bring plenty of high-value treats and a squeaky toy to your photoshoot with your dog. 

Even the wildest dog will sit for a treat — I promise you! Bringing treats and toys to your photoshoot with your dog is the best way you can help your photographer get the best shots of your dog. 

Additionally, don’t forget to bring water, a water bowl, waste bags, and a brush for grooming.

couple with their two golden retrievers in front of the Austin skyline

8. Bring a friend to assist with your dog, or ask your photographer about bringing an assistant. 

Your photographer is probably fine holding/waving treats at the same time as taking pictures, but it is honestly so much easier for everyone involved to have a second pair of hands to assist. 

For longer sessions, your dog will need a break or eventually be done for the day. This is a good opportunity to get photos of just the humans involved. When it happens, you’ll want to have someone who is comfortable with handling your dog to keep them occupied while you wrap up your photo session. 

9. Hire a photographer who LOVES dogs and who will be patient with yours. 

This will make all the difference. If you hire a photographer who hates dogs or who has no patience for misbehaving pups, there will be tension during the session and that tension will be evident in the final product. 

Instead, invest in a photographer who will love on your pup and make everyone feel comfortable — even when your dog decides that they need to race up a tree to meet a squirrel. 

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