Your pup is a member of the family and of course, you want your holiday card to include your dog! Or maybe you have a new puppy who is just as cute as can be. But how do you make it happen? Here are 12 tips to create the perfect holiday, Christmas, or Hanukkah card with your dog or puppy and how to take the photos to make it happen!
Here’s the thing. I’m not a professional dog trainer. Nor am I a professional photographer. I’m not here to share the best photography tips, but I am here to share the best behind the scenes tips and tricks to get your pup ready for your holiday photoshoot. Between hours of watching YouTube dog training videos (I really should have a degree by now) and all of the lessons learned from Hannibal’s Instagram account plus my amazing puppy Mom community, I’ve hacked my way into figuring it all out.
You might have an older dog who is well behaved and will be chill in any situation. Or a crazy puppy who is just learning the basic commands and won’t sit still for more than two seconds. They will both have their share of challenges. So let’s start planning!
How to Create the Perfect Holiday Card with Your Dog
Before I begin, I do want to emphasize practice safety first. You don’t want your dog chewing on Christmas tree lights, eating Holly berries (toxic), or running away in a field while you are trying to capture the perfect photo. Think through the photoshoot and ensure your pup is kept safe at all times.
For our first year, and especially with a puppy, we kept ours super simple. No crazy outfit. No wrangling the family. Just a blanket and pillow on top of the ottoman by the tree.
Are you ready? Let’s get started on creating that perfect holiday card with your dog!
1. Plan ahead. What kind of photo do you want? Just the pup? Pup + entire family? Pup + kids? Do you want a nice photo or a silly photo? Will you do it at home or on location? Pro tip – make an alternate plan just in case! Pups are unpredictable and it’s best to have a backup plan.
2. Practice with your pup. Especially if you have a puppy or dog that gets overly excited. You don’t have to practice the entire photoshoot, but get some time in with the basic ensemble you will be working with so that you can plan for and work with how your dog will react.
3. Learn “Say Cheese.” When the photographer (and when I say photographer, I mean whoever is holding the camera or phone) calls your pup’s name to get them to look at the camera, or uses a squeaky toy, is your pup going to want to run over to the photographer and ruin the prop? Some pups may stay still and look up at the camera, but can you guarantee it? I actually taught Hannibal the command “say cheese” to look at the phone. Get a High Value Treat (HVT) and hold it at the camera you will be using (phone or real camera). Say, “say cheeeeeeeeeese” as you hold the treat to the camera and move it around. This is exactly how I taught Hannibal to look at the camera. If your pup doesn’t have it down 100% then have the photographer (or helper) do the same thing with the treat.
4. Pack the necessities. Bring lots of HVTs and toys and if you are somewhere other than your house, some poopie bags are a must.
5. Time the photoshoot for when your dog is tired. Give your pup plenty of exercise ahead of time to get the wiggles and zoomies out. For Hannibal, it’s a walk or play, nap and then I’ll wake him up to take photos.
6. Dog tags, leashes, harnesses. If you have holiday-styled leashes and harnesses that you want to use, that is fine. But your pup’s regular ole dirty harness and name, rabies tag, and tag with your phone number on it are probably not going to make the best picture.
7. Practice with props. Is your dog going to be wearing a costume? Or have other props? Practice, practice, practice. I can’t tell you how long it took me to teach Hannibal to not hate being dressed up. At first, he would literally go frenetic and rip off the costume. Lots of HVTs and lots of time and practice will pay off huge dividends!
8. One more clothing tip. Many costumes and holiday sweaters are “back-facing” meaning they cover the back of the dog. If your dog is sitting or if you are holding your dog, it’s not going to show up. And to see it, you’ll have to face your dog away and get him to look back to you. It is do-able, but it’s quite awkward. Front-facing costumes (the ones where it looks like your dog is walking upright on 2 legs) are super fun and silly, but then you can only see your dog’s face. So think about if and what your dog will be wearing and what position he will be in for the photo.
9. How big is your dog? This is going to play a huge role in where you are going to stage it. For small breeds, it may be best to hold your pup. If your pup is flying solo, find something flat and stable that they can sit on. I like to use an ottoman bench. It’s yellow. For seasonal photos, I cover it with a blanket that matches the look I’m going for. I also use seasonal (or regular) pillows against the wall so it’s not so bare.
10. Try lots of options. Get in close to your pup to showcase its best features. Get down on its level. Zoom in. Pan out. Try lots of different angles and options.
11. Santa’s lap? How much fun is a card with your dog on Santa’s lap? But what if your dog isn’t good with people or strangers? Or gets too excited? Santa may not be the best option this year.
12. Puppies in stockings. On that note, does it get any cuter than a puppy sticking out of a stocking? It’s probably not going to be safe for you to put your puppy in the stocking on the mantle. Recreate the scene closer to the ground with reinforcements.
Finally, go with the flow. Dogs are going to do their thing, and not on your timeline, or to your satisfaction. Add a million different elements and distractions, and it’s best to go into the situation by hoping for the best and planning for the worst. If your idyllic family photoshoot ends up with a funny look on your dog’s face, can you still go with it? Have fun with it? Change up the caption? Or maybe he’s dressed in a silly costume and ends up ripping it off and eating Santa’s hat. How funny is that?!?!?
Make it Happen!
You’ve got this, grasshopper. You’re going to have to take a million photos. Well, not quite. But keep shooting and your patience, practice, and planning will certainly pay off! It’s time to create your own perfect holiday card with your dog!
Are you Inspired?
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Love, hugs, and Have a Pawsome Holiday!
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