A dog that has a lot of photos taken with a bright flash right in their eyes will even learn to shut their eyes for the camera. Natural reaction, if you think about it. They don’t know any better.
But there is a way to camera train your dog and it’s a very easy thing to do. I’ve done it with several dogs over the years and it always works like a charm.
1) Take out the camera, get a bag of treats and sit down on the floor with your pooch.
2) Start taking photos, but don’t point the camera at anything in particular — it’s best to use a digital camera, because you’ll probably have a lot of photos of walls and carpet to delete later. Give the dog a treat every time the camera takes a photo, but you have to pinpoint the noise the camera makes right as the photo is taken — not the flash noise, but the actual noise right at the moment the photo is snapped. It might be a quiet noise, but that’s OK. Your dog can hear it.
3) Every time the camera makes that noise, give your dog a treat. Nothing is more important than timing with this type of training, because you are training your dog specifically to learn that the noise the camera makes is what gets him a treat. Have the treat ready in one hand while the other hand is pressing the button on the camera.
After a while, you’ll notice that your dog will begin looking at the camera, waiting and staring at it in anticipation of that noise. At this point, incorporate a sit-stay into the equation. Once your dog is sitting, staying and staring at the camera, your training is complete.
I mean, no training is ever totally complete, but you’ve achieved the objective. Practice a few more times here and there to reinforce the behavior, and it’s a good idea to have some treats around once in a while when you are taking photos.
I’ve also incorporated a little tripod training into the mix too. We use tripods on a semi-regular basis to snap group photos and we always want our dogs in the photo, so it makes sense.
Tripods can be scary to dogs, especially the big ones that start out small but have extendable legs. To make sure my fearful dog didn’t become scared of the tripod, I first introduced the tripod with a lot of treats. I’d put the treats on the tripod and have him literally eat a bunch right off of it. I’d extend and contract the legs a bunch of times while tossing him treats to get him used to the noise and movement of the tripod. Then, I put the camera on the tripod and carefully set some treats on it, then began taking photos while he was in a sit-stay. The training with the camera sounds kicked in and voila! I have a dog that now tries to sit and stay about four feet in front of a tripod any time he sees one.
* My one friend’s dog, Sammy — the little brown one in the photos — responded so well to the training that he now begs to have his photo taken whenever he spots someone with a camera in their hand. In the one photo, he’s jumped up on my leg, staring at the camera and trying to get my attention so he can have his photo taken. Success!