I have been an animal lover since birth. Cats, dogs, rabbits, cows, horses...I can't get enough. My friends will attest that I am a complete puddle of joy when faced with a cat, and won't be able to participate until I have made friends with said feline.
Clearly my love of animals is apparent, as more and more of my clients have been asking about including their dog in their photoshoot. It's not always as straightforward as you might think, so I thought I would pass along a few of my time-tested tips for including your dog in your photoshoot!
1) Choose a dog friendly location.
Make sure your photographer knows that you would like to include your dogs in your photoshoot ahead of time. For my clients, there are certain locations that do not allow dogs (even on leash), including the High Plains Arboretum in Cheyenne, WY, as well as Red Mountain Open Space in northern Colorado.
Other locations can be plain overwhelming for a pet. Even the best behaved dog can be a bit squirrely if our session is near a popular dog walking spot! Downtown is noisy and a parking lot, even if near a mural, isn't always the best spot for a pet.
By letting me know ahead of time that you may want to bring your dog, I can do my best to find a location that is away from the crowds, where (hopefully!) your pup can relax and be his best self.
2) Bring a leash.
I always, always, always recommend bringing a leash, even if we're at a secluded location.
Moose are a relatively common sight, both at Curt Gowdy State Park and on the Medicine Bow National Forest, and I've seen off-leash dogs almost get trampled (thankfully not my clients' dogs!). Cows are also common on public land, and I would feel awful if your dogs were tempted to give a little chase of these new and exciting creatures. A 10 foot leash (or shorter) is required at all times in Curt Gowdy State Park.
Blue-green algae has been an issue in the summer in past years at Curt Gowdy State Park, and by using a leash you'll be able to make sure your dog doesn't ingest any potentially harmful water.
Make sure your leash is a relatively inobtrusive color. It doesn't have to be fancy - even a $6 black nylon leash off Amazon will be a better fit than the neon orange leash you normally walk him with. And don't forget to remove the poops bags! (Although maybe stash a couple in your back pocket, just in case).
3) Wear them out before your photo session.
This can be as simple as showing up 15-30 minutes early for your session and taking a quick walk in the session location to get the excitement out. There will be a ton of new smells, so a relaxed sniff walk might be the best way to wear them out!
Of course, avoid getting them drenched in drool with an intense game of fetch!
4) Don't forget the treats!
If treats and toys are motivating for your dog, feel free to bring them!
5) Plan on keeping their involvement short.
Unless you have a dog-centered session (as some of my families do!), you'll want to plan on including your dog in your session for no more than 10-15 minutes. That's plenty of time to get a photo of the entire family, as well as some candids with your pup.
Depending on your family, this can mean we start or end your session with including your dog. For excitable kids and dogs, I recommend ending the session on a high note with your dog. For kids who might take a bit to warm up and can use the icebreaker of their sweet puppies, we may want to start your session with including your dog.
6) Bring a friend/handler.
Since quite a few of my clients are looking for some images without their dog, I recommend you bring a friend or someone to take your dog for a walk while we start/finish up your session. If you have small kids, it's nice to be able to completely remove the distraction of the dog from the session so that they can focus on photos and we can get through everything ASAP!
During the cool spring/fall/winter months, you have the option of leaving your dog in your vehicle. I've found that sometimes this adds to the excitability of the dog though, so make sure being left behind is something they're accustomed to.
If you can't leave your dog in your car, and you don't have anyone available to help, let me know. I have a dog-loving teenage daughter who has filled in for this role in the past, and (for a small tip) would be happy to help out!
7) Embrace the chaos and be patient with your dog.
Like kids, dogs are unpredictable. They will (almost) always add an extra layer of chaos to a family or couples session! Take a deep breath, and find the humor and joy in the moment. A photo session is a new experience for your dog, and once you add an exciting outdoor location, an undercurrent of stress in the humans, and a New Person With A Camera, it's a recipe for an overexcited dog who may not act in predictable way.
Certain dogs may turn away from the camera with every click. Other dogs will forget they've ever heard the command "sit". I've even had dogs who refuse to let their humans hug without them being in the middle!
Remember the end goal of your photo session with your dog: to show the best parts of being a pet owning family, even if that's a bit messy or chaotic!
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