Ever wonder how some people get such great photos of their dogs, particularly multiple pups posing together? And how about when there are kids and pets? Well, behind all of those cute pictures is a lot of work. We recently talked to Elizabeth LaBauve of Internet sensation The Tucker Farm to hear how she got started and to get some helpful tips.
Tucker Farm’s beginnings were small. Elizabeth and her husband, Joe, lived in the suburban town of Tucker, Georgia, with a few dogs and cats. Their family began to grow when they added goats, rabbits, and had their first daughter, all while fostering many animals along the way. Last summer, the family achieved one of their life goals and moved to a real farm. Elizabeth began posting photos of their adventures on Facebook and The Tucker Farm website. The farm quickly became an Internet sensation, with people falling in love with the adorable photos of the LaBauve’s children and pets in costumes and poses.
Before any of her dogs can make their photo debut, Elizabeth teaches them the “stay” command. Since she often uses props in her photos, she begins the stay lessons by putting them on something like a dog bed or low chair. She simultaneously gives the command verbally and by using her hand signal. As with teaching any command, repetition and patience is key. Once the dog has a solid stay, Elizabeth places them in the lineup for photos.
“I always pose my older dogs first since they have the most experience, followed by younger dogs, and human kids last,” says Elizabeth.
Sometimes, the family photos include a new face or two. Elizabeth and her family have opened their doors to many foster dogs throughout the years, which can be a major adjustment for everyone. Their farm is home to many different animals, including cats, ponies, and goats, so slow and calm introductions is always important. The biggest transition was when they brought their first daughter home. One of their dogs, Lola, was afraid of children, but with a lot of time and patience, Lola lost her fear. Elizabeth and her husband also created a safe space for the dogs to escape to if they needed their space.
Once children came into the picture, the photo shoots became a little more difficult. “Be patient,” Elizabeth advises. “It can and will take a bunch of shots. Have someone help you and make a fool of themselves behind the camera, so the dogs will look and the kids will smile. Also, both will work for food. M&Ms are a favorite for our toddler, while our dogs will settle for anything!”
Dogs (and oftentimes kids) respond very well to positive, reward-based training, so don’t forget the treats when you’re trying to get those perfect poses, she stresses.
The costumes sort of evolved out of necessity. Since some of their dogs were sensitive to the cold, they wore sweaters during the colder months. One dog in particular, Lottie, was a therapy dog who often visited the hospitals in costume.
“She was a big hit at the hospitals if she dressed up,” says Elizabeth. “She started to associate dressing up with going to do something fun. All of our dogs are like that now. If they see costumes come up from the basement, they know treats aren’t far behind!”
Always set your dogs up for success by setting a solid foundation of trust and training, Elizabeth agrees. And remember, every dog is different. What works for some dogs doesn’t for others, so find your dog’s tolerance level and try to work within it.
Elizabeth has had dogs of many different temperaments, but considers herself lucky to have had some extra special dogs in her life, including Norm, a rescued French Bulldog who let her put him inside of a pumpkin.
Most of all, just remember to have fun!