Here’s the thing about getting your pet to pose with Santa Claus — a festive photo session can go from “Ho, Ho, Ho” to “Ho, Ho, NO!” pretty quickly.
If you’re on a mission to get that treasured shot of your pet with the big guy — for the sake of social media (duh) and beyond — you need to know that “NO!” may be what your dog or cat is thinking in that moment, so it’s important to be ready to go with the fa-la-la-la-low.
Before you whisk your pet off to the nearest winter wonderland for a snowy shot with St. Nick, read these expert tips for making Christmas magic happen during your pet’s time with Santa.
1. Play before you go! Bring a tired yet happy dog or cat to meet Santa.
It’s just a good idea to get all that energy out before you embark on a trip to the faux North Pole — a pet that has exercised that day will tend to sit longer.
“A tired pet will more likely sit and be calm than one that has not had a chance to run and play before a photo session,” says Alison DeSilva of DeSilva Studios, who has worked with Virginia’s Animal Welfare League of Alexandria taking pictures of pets with Santa for the past five years. “Taking part in a photo session is an event that probably does not happen too often — which in itself can create some excited and crazy behavior from an animal. A tired pet will more likely wait calmly for a treat than jumping for one.”
2. A good brisk walk before the shoot is a great place to start.
A walk is critical before a photo session indoors, especially for canines — because, as you know, accidents will happen. “Make sure your dog has gone to the bathroom,” says Raymond Janis, co-owner of Charlie Nunn Photography in Los Angeles, who has focused on photos of animals for three years. “Peeing on Santa’s leg will definitely put Fido on the naughty list!”
3. Opt for a contained place for your pet’s photo with Santa.
A decorated Christmas tree, bench or large chair, and Santa — what more do you need? A backdrop complimenting scene is great, but not necessary, especially for close up shots, says DeSilva. It’s also important not to go overboard with knick knacks that may compete with the main attraction: Mr. Claus. “A contained space does not allow too much room for a pet to wander,” she explains. “Plus any other pets and people can cause the pet to be distracted. And distracted pets do not pay attention. So a contained space with two doors — one door for an entrance and the other door for an exit is ideal for this kind of photo session.”
4. Search for a Santa that is comfortable with animals.
You’re going to want to check that this is a pet-friendly scene, and if it is, it may be wise to ask if St. Nick has been posing with pets for a while. Usually events thrown by kennels or shelters will have a Santa with experience. “A Santa that is comfortable with pets will not be afraid to hold them when they get excited,” DeSilva says. “For the bigger more energetic dogs we often will have Santa hold on to their leashes very close to the collar and stick the reaming leashes up Santa’s sleeve.”
A comfortable Santa will make a better picture. “I will often tell Santa to lean in closer to the pet as the less space between the pet and Santa creates a visual connection between the two subjects,” she adds. “A Santa that is not pet-friendly will often back away from an animal and not allow his/her face to get too close. The connection between Santa and the pet is crucial for the picture to be a hit.”
5. Try not to use your pet’s name during the photo shoot.
In some cases, photographers will ask parents to wait patiently in the next room, DeSilva says, because sometimes a pet parent can be too distracting. “Pets tend to be attuned with their owners and if the owner is nervous and excited the pet probably will be too,” she adds. “Pet owners also want their pet to behave so they often call out their name or go up to the pet during the session which invariably causes disruption — even though the pet parent thinks he/she is helping.”
6. Bring some of your pet’s favorites.
Bribery — it works! “If your dog is food motivated, bring some favorite treats,” says Janis. “Nothing will get them to do what you want like a favorite snack.” Additionally, if your dog likes toys, bring a loud one. “Stand behind the photographer and squeak it,” Janis advises. “Make sure to coordinate with the photographer so he gets the shot right when your dog hears the noise.”
7. Claus, not claws! Make sure kitty gets a trim beforehand and leave shy pets at home.
If you are determined to get that picture of your cat in Santa’s lap, do what you can to protect the jolly guy from the unexpected. “If you dare to bring your cat, make sure it’s accustom to being outside and that you’ve trimmed their nails,” Janis says.
It’s not a good idea to take a scared or shy animal out of its comfort zone just so you can get that picture you’ve always wanted. “Remember animals aren’t human and shouldn’t be forced into situations that will traumatize them,” Janis advises. “If they aren’t comfortable around people or crowds, perhaps you should dress up like Santa and take the photo at home.”
8. Hey, don’t stress, this is supposed to be fun!
Don’t put too much pressure on this — it’s possible that you may leave Santa’s village with a #SantaFail — and that’s totally OK. If you leave with a #SantaForTheWin photo, that’s a bonus. Either way, your photo is going to be an Instagram moment that you’ll never forget. “Let them be themselves and your photographer will capture a perfect memory,” Janis says. “Relax and enjoy the experience with your cherished furry family member!”
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