Updated: Jul 21, 2021
Whether you are pausing your walk to snap a quick photo of your dog with your phone, or you have an elaborate setup with props and costumes at home, your dog's knowledge of a few easy commands can turn a potentially frustrating situation with blurry photos into a successful photo session with lots of beautiful, clear pictures to choose from.
I find that an understanding of (1) sit, (2) down, and (3) stay are vital for stress-free photography sessions.
Can I Train My Dog Myself?
The answer is yes! Sit, down, and stay are foundational commands that can be taught at home at any time whether you have a young puppy or senior dog. No expensive dog training class required! In fact, your home is the best environment to teach your dogs as this is where they will be expected to apply what they have learned.
Video - Dog Training at Home: Introduction
Dog Training Methods
Over the years I have settled on a positive reinforcement dog training method that includes verbal commands, hand signals, and treats.
Video - Dog Training at Home: Methods
Length of Dog Training Session and Using Dog Treats as Lures
How Long Should a Dog Training Session Be? When starting out, training classes should only be for a few minutes. For my dogs, I started out with very short sessions - five minutes before playtime or dinner. As they got more comfortable with a learning environment and began picking up more commands, the length of the training sessions increased.
How Many Dog Treats Can I Give My Dog? It depends on the size of your dog. You can use any kind of food that your dog sees as a special treat for a lure, but I recommend either buying bite sized dog training treats or breaking a larger treat into small bites. To determine how much to give your dog, read the back of the package's label. It is important that the training treat is small enough so that the dog does not fill up quickly on food or overindulge. Keep the treats handy in a pocket or in a training pouch.
Video - Dog Training at Home: Length of Sessions and Treat Luring
How to Train a Dog to Sit
Take a small treat in your hand and hold it very close to the dog's nose.
Say the command: "Sit".
Holding the treat between your pointer finger and thumb, slowly (very slowly) start to move your hand back towards the dog's bottom. It will take a few tries, but the dog will naturally sit down as it tries to follow the treat with its head.
Once your dog's bottom hits the ground, reward it with praise and the treat.
Video - Dog Training at Home: Train a Dog to Sit
How to Train a Dog to Lay Down
From a sitting position (follow the steps above), hold a treat close to the dog's nose.
Say the command: "Down."
Holding the treat between your pointer finger and thumb, keep the treat in front of the dog's nose, and move it slowly down to the ground. Then, continue extending the treat forward along the floor to lure the dog into a down position.
Once your dog lays down, reward it with praise and the treat.
Video - Dog Training at Home: Train a Dog to Lay Down
How to Train a Dog to Stay
With the dog in either a sit or down position (follow the steps above), hold a treat in one hand in front of the dog and extend your free hand with a flat palm toward the dog.
Say the command: "Stay."
Continue to keep a treat in one hand and a flattened palm with the other hand, and slowly start backing up. Only back away about one foot at first. If the dog does not move, say "ok", "good job", or some other word to indicate a release from the command, and quickly move back towards your dog to reward her.
Keep repeating these steps moving further back and asking the dog to stay for longer periods of time, always remembering to use your release word when the dog is no longer required to stay.
Video - Dog Training at Home: Train a Dog to Stay
What to Do When Your Dog Does Not Follow the Command
Every dog learns at a different rate, and unfortunately they do not speak our language, so dog training can be difficult sometimes. The important thing to remember is to have patience (which of course is easier said than done).
If a dog does not respond to the command, do not give it a treat. Instead, reset by backing up a bit or look away for a moment. Then say the command and try to lure the dog again. I find that persistence and repetition is the best way to teach a dog. It may take several tries or several training sessions, but keep at it, and they will get it.
If the dog appears to be frustrated or you have lost its attention, take a break, and try again at a later time.
As Your Dog's Training Progresses
Reinforcing Your Training without Treats - As your dog starts to learn the actions associated with each command, you can reward it with treats less often. When you are first reducing the number of treats, you want to make sure and use a lot of praise to reward the dog, but the more and more accustomed it gets to these commands, the less you will have to do in response to your dog's correct action.
Shorten Your Dog Training Hand Signals - I like to teach using both hand signals and words so that once the treats are removed from the equation, they will understand the word or hand signal without the use of the treat lure. At first, when you remove the treat, the hand motion will likely stay the same mimicking the movement you did when you had the treat in hand, but eventually you can work to use even shorter hand signals by quickening the pace of your hand motion until eventually you just point to the dog's bottom and it sits, or you point to the ground in the front of the dog and it lays down.
A Final Note on Training Small Dogs
I often hear that small dogs are difficult to train. As an owner of two small dogs, I disagree with this general sentiment. I believe that it is easy to train small dogs breeds. Small dogs are very smart and can be trained just as easily as a large dog with a little bit of patience and practice. This will not only help with those impromptu photos, but will also make your small dog a better canine citizen.