When planning your wedding as a dog owner, one of the decisions you’ll need to make is whether to include your dog in the festivities. Depending on your dog, the venue, and your guests, the answer can be a resounding yes! While both caring for a pet and making sure everything is going right on your big day can add some extra stress, it can be worth it to have your furry best friend there to share all the love.
Plus, there are some simple things you can plan to stop things from going wrong—like them running to you down the aisle.
Should My Dog Participate in the Ceremony?
Before even planning to put your dog in the wedding, do a gut check. Is this really a good idea? “If your dog is already a little anxious, hard to control, or not comfortable around a lot of people, those issues are only going to be exacerbated on a wedding day,” says Leah Weinberg, the owner and creative director at Color Pop Events.
Also, consider where they will be. For example, You can have your dog on-site for photos, but it’s best to let them skip the reception. Aside from tempting foods and desserts, “the people and the loud music will likely be too much to handle no matter how relaxed they usually are,” Weinberg says.
Consider your dog’s training and temperament. Does your dog know basic commands such as sit, stay, and come? Is your dog calm around crowds? If so, one option is to include your dog in the processional along with your wedding party or in a specific role like the ring bearer or flower dog.
Have your dog take part in the rehearsal and keep some familiar items on hand to help them feel comfortable, recommends Jean Neuhart, a retired wedding planner and author at Weddings From The Heart. Also, make pet-friendly considerations, such as ensuring the flowers aren’t toxic to dogs.
What Should I Know Before Choosing a Venue?
In deciding on a venue, you have few dog-friendly yet still appropriate options. “A park is ideal—it’s laid back and casual, which is exactly what you’re going for,” says Melissa M. Brock, a board-certified veterinarian. Arrive with treats and toys to keep your dog engaged. Brock suggests bringing along a crate so your dog can have a place to rest between activities.
Make sure you do your research first. You don’t want to agree to a dream place, only to later learn your pet isn’t allowed inside. You can’t assume that they will make an exception for your wedding even if your dog is well-behaved.
“Before you sign a contract with a venue, you need to know what their pet policy is,” Weinberg says. If the venue is pet-friendly, Weinberg’s advice is to make sure there’s an area where your dog can hang out comfortably and “not be in the way or cause any damage.”
Check with the venue if your dog can be off leash during the ceremony or reception, and where both inside and outside this is allowed, Neuhart adds. This will help you know if your dog will be sitting quietly during the ceremony, roaming around, or nestled in your arms.
How Can I Keep My Dog Comfortable at the Wedding?
Because you likely won’t be with your dog the entire time, you need to make sure they will be comfortable. Some must-haves for your dog are a well-fitting leash or harness and access to fresh water. As Weinberg notes, your dog needs to be “comfortable and secure in their leash or harness in case they start pulling or jumping, and they will likely get thirsty regardless of whether they are stressed or anxious.”
Additionally, make sure someone is always responsible for your pet. “The number one thing I see my clients forget is a designated dog handler,” Weinberg says. You can hire a professional dog walker or someone who is not a guest to be in charge of getting your dog to and from the venue, giving them water, taking them for bathroom breaks, and holding onto them during downtime.
While a friend or family member may be helpful, they will likely have other responsibilities throughout the day. And you don’t want to risk having your dog passed around throughout the day.
If the handler is driving your dog to the venue, request that they use a crate or safety harness. The same principle applies to going down the aisle. Ensure your dog is comfortable and not going to leap out if they’re in a wagon or stroller. In addition, Brock says your dog should be trained to walk nicely on a leash, so they don’t wander off or get into trouble. It’s also a good idea to ask the handler to take your dog for a walk to burn off excess energy before the ceremony.
Brock suggests practicing with your dog beforehand if you’re planning to have them wear a tuxedo or flower garland. Before the wedding, take your dog around the neighborhood in their outfit and see how they interact with people. But if you’re dog feels uncomfortable or anxious, get them out of the costume as soon as possible.
How Do I Ensure that My Guests are Happy?
You also need to think of the attendees feel comfortable as well. Neuhart recommends checking with guests to see if anyone is allergic to dogs or fearful of them. This includes parents, wedding party members, the band or DJ, caterers, florists, photographers, and the officiant. If you don’t think you can keep your dog separate from these individuals, it might be best to not include your pet.
Alert your guests about your dog’s attendance so they can take necessary precautions or bring along allergy medication. Brushing or grooming your dog beforehand can also help to cut down on dander to reduce any irritation.
What Can I Do If My Dog Can’t Be at the Wedding?
Try not to despair if your dog can’t attend the wedding. There are other ways to make sure your dog’s presence is seen and felt such as the following:
- Include your dog in your engagement photos
- Ask your dog walker or sitter to bring your dog at an appointed time for taking wedding portraits
- Request that the caterer include your dog in the cake design or cake topper
- Feature a life-size photo cutout of your dog at the reception
- Commission artwork of your dog to include on invitations, the event program, or other signage at the wedding
- Wear a pocket square with a picture of your dog
- Name a signature drink after your dog
There’s more to wedding planning than putting your dog in a cute outfit, and think of it as a nice treat to have on your special day. “Don’t expect them to perform tricks, or even to stay still for a picture,” Brock says. “The point here is not for your dog to be the star of the show—it’s for you two to have fun together.”