Why I don't use treats

March 14, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

People are often surprised when I don't use treats to pose their dog. Dog cookies might seem like a shortcut to a great dog portrait but, depending on how food-motivated your dog is, it can backfire. Once dogs get snacks on their mind it's hard to get them to snap out of their food trance. 

golden retriever vulture posegolden retriever vulture pose

Here's a photo to demonstrate how my dog, Murphy, acts when there's food involved. I call this his "vulture pose" and it's one of the reasons why I don't use treats when photographing dogs. Technically, Murphy is doing a "sit-stay" but he's craning his neck forward to get closer to the goodies. It's not the most photogenic posture! Treats can also produce less than desirable facial expressions. When my (late) yellow lab saw treats he got a vacant look in his eyes and started drooling. I honestly think he lost IQ points when food appeared!
Dog jumping at stickDog jumping at stick

Another reason not to use treats is the potential for jumping. If a dog wants something really bad, they may just go for it. In this photo Murphy is actually jumping at a stick in my husband's hand but you get the idea. Treats and toys can be "too interesting" and result in dogs sniffing around my camera bag to find more fun stuff. And I'm pretty sure you don't want a photo of your dog with his face in my camera bag! 

So, if treats don't work, how do I get a dog to connect with the camera? I start with praise and sweet talk instead. "Who's a good boy?" or "Wanna go for a walk?" usually produce natural expressions.

 

Rules are meant to be broken

My "no treat" rule can be broken for dogs that aren't nutty about treats. If a dog is shy or older, treats can work wonders to build trust. When I meet with folks for their planning session, I ask questions about what motivates their dog. If I discern that their dog won't go completely bonkers for treats, I'll bring some to their photo shoot. In the end, it comes down to my intuition. Each dog is different so I adapt to what is best for them.


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