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Exposed: How I use treats to make great photos of your dog

    two golden doodles on a rock at Lake Wenatchee State Park in Central Washington

    Listen to this post

    A.C.T.

    Always. Carry. Treats.

    I believe so much in the value of treats and rewarding your dog that I carry them with me … almost all the time.

    It doesn’t hurt that I’m usually accompanied by a treat-munching floof named Bella but in my line of work, carrying treats is a necessity.

    It’s often the No. 1 secret behind getting great photos of your dog.

    Reagan’s anticipation of reward is palpable

    All the personality, all the quirks

    Creating an incredible image of your dog with her personality on full display isn’t always easy.

    Many dogs have boundless energy and can be unpredictable. Their attention spans are pulled away from the weird human with the big black box in front of her face by any number of distractions:

    • Another human walking by
    • A human with a dog walking by
    • That leaf wafting in the wind
    • SQUIRREL
    • Somebody. Else. Peed. HERE.

    This is where the magic of treats come into play.

    The path toward great photos of your dog

    Dogs are highly food-motivated animals and they respond eagerly to the promise of a tasty reward. I fully believe in positive reinforcement training … I would never put a choke collar or a shock collar on a dog. NEVER.

    And I’m not the kind of dog photographer who yearns for a pretty sit. Sure, some dogs are more stoic than others but the real magic comes through when they’re enjoying their moment and being exactly who you know them to be.

    yellow lab on a rock at Saltese Uplands with the sun setting behind
    Milo

    More often than not, that’s a powerful stand, a full-effort run through a field or a soulful look up into the camera.

    Besides, an Adventure Day session shouldn’t be about endless coaxing and cajoling, pushing your dog into sit mode or stressing about whether everything is going to look just right.

    Life with dogs is messy, sometimes chaotic and full of adventure … the kind of stuff that’s going to make you smile as you search through your images to find your perfect wall art.

    I love the chaos. I love the full-bore running, climbing rocks to get in the right position for a Power Pose, and the kisses and the slobber that come as my reward during breaks in the action.

    When we need to get that one shot, though, the one shot that I know is going to make you go “holy shit” during your art ordering session, my hand dives deep into the treat bag and produces a tasty morsel.

    black Lab in front of canola field on the Palouse in Eastern Washington
    No, really … Stella’s moms said “holy shit”

    How does it work?

    1. The treat establishes a connection between me and your dog.

    I need to build a relationship with your dog, get him familiar with me and allow him to trust me. Luckily, this happens much more quickly with dogs than it does with humans. A steady supply of treats helps your dog become more comfortable with my presence in his space and more willing to engage with me.

    2. The treat becomes a point of focus.

    Most of my sessions take place at a public location where distractions are aplenty. I often use a treat held just over the nose to guide your dog into the right position and hold her there. Once in position, another treat appears to guide her gaze into my lens and gently coax that look of eager anticipation that we love so much.

    3. The treat reinforces cooperation.

    I’m not going to get great photos of your dog unless your dog is enjoying our time together. A stressed-out, uncomfortable, unhappy dog is going to look stressed-out, uncomfortable and unhappy. And you’re going to be stressed out, uncomfortable and unhappy. That simply does NOT happen. Our time together is meant to be stress-free and fun. Your dog will respond to encouragement, rewards and treats with joy and exuberance, translating into natural and authentic images that reflect the quirks and traits you love about him.

    shelter dog at Companions Animal Center in Hayden, Idaho
    Cooperation from a shelter dog at Companions Animal Center in Hayden

    There’s a strategy to it

    Now, we can’t just be flinging-flanging treats all over the friggin’ place. Like most things in life, we need to have a strategy in place.

    Here’s my strategy on using treats to get great photos of your dog:

    • High-value treats: Not all treats are created equal. The smellier, the better. The softer, the easier to break up into smaller pieces for frequent rewards without overfeeding. I like freeze-dried salmon or tripe, hot dogs and cheese, or anything liberally scented with peanut butter. Sometimes, straight peanut butter is the secret to all things dog attention.
    • Dietary restrictions: Even before we get to our session, I ask you about your dog’s allergies or sensitivities. I’m not going to feed them anything they can’t have and I will make a special trip to the store to make sure I have the treats your dog can enjoy safely.
    • Watch for overuse: While treats are great motivators, we can’t rely on them too much. Your dog can become overly excited by the presence of treats and I sometimes find myself with a nose in my treat bag, rather than in the spot I need your dog. They can also get bored if too many of the same treats are given too frequently. We use the treats to guide their focus and reinforce positive behavior.
    • Timing is everything: Dogs can become frustrated and I risk losing their focus if I hold out on giving them the treat for too long. She has to get that treat immediately after the desired behavior to reinforce the connection between the action and the treat. So, yes, a treat for staying in place and then a treat for looking into my camera.
    • Location, location, location: The placement of the treat can make a big difference in the resulting image. If I want your dog looking into the distance, I might get you to hold the treat a few feet to my right or left, but if I want her looking directly into my wide-angle lens, I hold it myself, right above or under my lens.

    (Oh, you didn’t realize you participate in your dog’s session? Goodness, yes. While you may think your job is done after we do some snuggles and poses for you to be in the photos, you’ll be holding the leash or the treats to help me get those great photos of your dog.)

    white Lab at the Atlas dog park in Coeur d'Alene
    Sage’s dad is carefully Photoshopped out

    Treat yourself to great photos of your dog

    Nommy treats don’t just help us gain your dog’s focus during your Adventure Day session. They also help us create epic wall art or albums that tell your friends and family, “Yeah, I love my dog that damn much.”

    Because it’s OK that you do.

    It’s not just OK.

    It makes you my people.

    Get on my schedule for 2024 and let’s go do something epic together.

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    Author

    Dogs. Adventure. Outdoors. These words set Angela's heart afire. Angela Schneider, an award-winning writer and dog photographer, documents the story of you and your dog and the adventures you take together. Your portraits will be a statement piece in your home, art that will make your friends and family beg to hear its story.

    4 thoughts on “Exposed: How I use treats to make great photos of your dog”

    1. I love the use of audio! Thank you for explaining why you use treats during a session. Any family in Spokane would be lucky to have photos of their dogs with you as they will have a fun, treat-filled session.

    2. That list of distractions is so true when taking photos of dogs in public places. The nature backdrops in and around Spokane are lovely!

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