How do I train my dog to behave for holiday portraits?

We have faced the same issue trying to get decent “graduation” pictures in our training classes. Finally, I decided to add “photo posing with props” to my Basic Manners curriculum! To achieve this is a three step process.


  1. Chongo 2
    Getting a pup to pose for a holiday photo isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

    The first behavior we have to train is staying for an extended period of time. If we don’t want it to look like Santa is holding on to the leash for dear life, your dog needs to be comfortable in a sit or down position on a loose leash or off leash. I like to train this on a mat to ensure that the dog stays in the same spot, controlling the training space, instead of scooting around the room. Ask for a sit or lure your dog into position, hold a treat in front of her nose, then move the treat back and away from her. If she keeps the sit, immediately bring the treat back and reward her. We are not asking for a long stay at this point, just showing her that sticking that sit means treats. Try to get five in a row with one hand then switch. When you are successful, start adding distance step by step, moving backwards away from the dog. Get five in a row from one step away before you move on to two, and so on until you can be as far away as a camera person would be. The last element you want to add is duration—making her stay for up to a minute. Then practice around more distractions, other dogs and new people.

  2. The next trick is teaching a dog to “Leave it.” There may be lots of props and smells around a portrait set, so teaching her to leave those alone and pay attention to you instead is crucial for a good photo! For some dogs, Stay is good enough if they’ve been taught to stay put around loads of distractions, but others need this additional tool. There is a detailed plan for teaching “Leave it” on our training resource page.
  3. Finally, we have to practice getting the dog’s attention without her breaking her beautiful stay behavior. Ask the dog to stay, move away in front of her, then bring out your phone or camera and experiment with treats, noises or gestures that get your dog’s attention (so she’s “smiling” for the picture—a head tilt is bonus!) but do not cause her to get up to come see you. I usually employ a baby rattle just as I would for a
  4.  toddler, or hold the same treat you used to teach stay just above the lens.

These tips may seem excessive if you have a tiny lap dog, but just about any pup can benefit from these impulse control behaviors that are sure to make them Santa’s favorite!
If you’re looking for a place to test out your pups new skills, there are great options throughout the Greater New Orleans area including Santa Paws at NOLA City Bark on December 2 from 9 a.m. – noon. All proceeds from Santa Paws will be donated to purchase new agility equipment for the dog park. This event is opened to members and non-members!


santa paws with logos
Santa PAWS at NOLA City Bark