(Photo credit: Donna Sullivan took this lovely photo of Buster staring into my eyes.)
I recently shared this photo with friends. They were amazed that Buster, my papillon Wonder Dog, actually appears to be posing for his portrait. How could such a thing happen? Dogs don't know what cameras are, do they? Needless to say, he caused quite a sensation.
There is no mystery to Buster's amazing behavior. However, that doesn't mean there is an easy trick to getting your dog to do the same. Well, maybe it is easy. But it's not fast.
There are two commands a dog must learn in order to pose for pictures. The first is STAY. The second is WATCH ME!
When teaching your dog to stay, you don't have to insist he freeze in place for three minutes or so, like they do in the competition ring. Often for pet owners, a stay of thirty seconds is plenty long enough. Stay in one place to get your picture taken. Or stay long enough for mom or dad to reach you and snap your leash on before you get in trouble. No matter how long a stay you would like your dog to master, they all start the same way.
STAY: With your dog on a leash, place the open palm of your hand in front of his face as you say "Stay." Wait one or two seconds, then praise your dog for staying. GOOD STAY! And give him a yummy treat, such as a tiny piece of hot dog. Gradually expand the amount of time before praising and treating your dog. Do not rush. It will take many sessions spread over many days before your dog works up to thirty seconds or longer. You can also gradually increase your distance from the dog, working out to the end of your leash. This is a good picture-taking distance.
Your dog may be sitting or standing or lying down when you practice stay. Remember to keep your training sessions fun and brief. No more than five minutes on a new behavior and another five or ten as you add extra behaviors that need to be rehearsed or reinforced. Lots of praise and treats. Never strike your dog, and never jerk on the leash. It is for safety purposes only. (Let a professional teach you how to use exquisitely timed leash corrections when needed to perfect a complex behavior such as heeling.)
WATCH ME! This is so much fun to teach and so easy! Hold a piece of hot dog or other soft yummy treat near your eyes and as soon as your dog looks at you (at the treat, really), say, "Good Watch Me!" and give him the treat. Repeat five or six times, and always include this command when you start any training session as reinforcement. After a while, you will be able to touch a finger to your cheek or nose and your dog will magically stare into your eyes! Amaze your friends with this one. And don't forget to slip your dog a treat for a great performance.