During the holidays, you may be tempted to dress your pet in adorable headgear such as a Santa hat or antlers. However, not all pets feel comfortable with accessories. If you look closely at photos of pets in hats or antlers, you may see some who look unhappy and stressed. If you plan on incorporating headwear in your pet’s photos, here is how to do it kindly and successfully.
Pair the item with something yummy to create a positive experience. Go at your pet’s pace and watch for stress signals. It is common for pets to need more practice at a certain step before moving forward. If your dog is familiar with the “touch” cue, practice this exercise with the item, giving treats for successful nose touches. If not, place it on the ground, and when your pet sniffs the hat or antlers, immediately drop a small handful of treats. Practice this step multiple times.
Pick up the item and let your pet sniff and investigate it. Give treats when she does.
Gently bring the hat near your pet’s head, and immediately give a small treat. Practice multiple times.
Touch your pet briefly with the item and immediately give a small treat. Practice multiple times.
Place the item briefly and gently on your pet’s head. If he doesn’t immediately try to remove it, give a small treat, then take the item off. If your pet tries to remove the hat or moves away, return to the previous step and practice some more.
Try leaving the item on your pet’s head for a few seconds, then give your pet a treat.
Slowly increase the amount of time you leave the hat on and ask your pet for a short stay while you take a step or two back (you’ll need a bit of space to take the photo). Pair the increased timing and the backing up with treats and/or praise.
Now you are ready to take a photo of your Santa pet!
In the end, your pet’s wellbeing is more important than wearing a cute Santa hat. Please, always be an advocate for your pets and their happiness. If your pet is not warming up to the idea of something on their head, consider a cute bandana or bowtie, as these are likely to have a familiar feel like the collar they already wear.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin.
Krystal Hise is the owner/photographer of Krystal Photography, LLC (www.krystalphotography.com), and author of Tails of the Space Coast, Volumes 1 and 2. She has photographed over 100 dogs in the central Florida area and has traveled as far as Australia for continuing education. She specializes in empowering her clients to celebrate the love they share with their heart dog(s) and honor their version of family through luxury studio portraits. Krystal aspires to help pet parents and pet photographers alike embrace the concept of a modern, fear-free approach to photographing pets.
Tiffany Lovell, CSAT, CPDT-KA, AAI, has been a professional trainer and behavior consultant with Cold Nose College for 15 years. Their team offers online training and behavior consulting and specializes in separation anxiety. She has contributed articles to Whole Dog Journal and Bark magazine. www.coldnosecollege.com
Published December 6, 2021