11 Tips For Including Your Dog In Your Wedding
Whether your pet is walking you down the aisle, playing the role of ring bearer, or entertaining guests at the reception, read this before the big day.
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When our favorite comedy power couple, Jordan Peele and Chelsea Peretti, eloped in 2016, not only was their dog their only guest, he was also their official wedding witness. Dogs at weddings hardly raise an eyebrow anymore. According to a survey from WeddingWire, 38 percent of dog owners have or would include dogs in their wedding. The reality is that dogs are members of the family, and as such, many people want them to be a part of their special day.
Pets walk brides down the aisle, play the role of ring bearer, entertain guests at receptions. And if they aren’t fans of crowds or are banned by a venue, they are often included in photos. Given all this dog love, we put on our wedding planner hats to share 11 tips on how to guarantee your pet-friendly nuptials will be a howling success.
1. Treat pups as more than accessories.
As cute as they are, especially in flowers and bow ties, dogs are members of the family and deserve the same attention and consideration. Claire and Meg DeMarco’s Boston Terrier, Lexi (aka Lexington Rosebud DeMarco), was much more than their flower girl.
“We wrote our own ceremony with the help of our celebrant, and it included many references to our becoming a family — Lexi is the evidence of that, and there were several times when we looked over at her during the ceremony,” the DeMarcos say about their wedding in Boston. “It may sound cheesy, but she definitely knew something special and important was happening.”
Adopted from a foster family only months before, the two-year-old pup wore a pink carnation lei rose for the occasion. Well-behaved throughout, she calmed the DeMarcos’ jitters before, during and after the ceremony.
2. Find the right job for your pup.
Not all dogs will blossom as flower pups or carry on as ring bearers. Your wedding is not the time to have expectations that might not be met. You’re stressed, distracted and (from your dog’s point of view) dressed oddly — all of which could affect the way they behave.
During Sandy Portella Nelson’s outdoor wedding at her home in Florida last year, her four Italian Greyhounds stayed out of sight throughout the ceremony and much of the reception. But after everyone had dined, and before the cake-cutting, the DJ turned up the volume on “Who Let the Dogs Out,” and Dillon, Hopi, Romeo, and Basille came running down the stairs.
“The guests loved it,” Nelson says. “A lot of them had heard many stories of the gang, so this just filled out the picture, so to speak.”
3. Recruit dog-loving pros for your team.
“A lot of wedding planners don’t have any experience with pets,” says Colleen Paige, which means they can’t really address your dog’s needs. A behaviorist, trainer, and lifestyle consultant in Portland, Oregon, Paige got interested in weddings when her dog-behavior clients started saying things like, “We really want to have Jonesy in our wedding, but he’s still a little bit too hyper. What can we do to make sure he’ll walk down the aisle?”
Through her company, The Wedding Dog, she combines her training expertise with full-on, dog-themed event planning. She’ll spend months preparing a dog for a trouble-free performance, find a baker to recreate the groom’s favorite pooch in cake form, and set up dog play zones for four-legged guests.
Ironically, Paige’s first multi-species wedding featured a pot-bellied pig as ring bearer. “No one expected her to stop at every aisle and start eating the flowers,” she says. “It was hysterical.”
4. If a dog is in the ceremony, include them in a rehearsal.
“My original plan was to have Draven, my German Shepherd, hold the basket in his mouth and have the flower girl walk alongside tossing the flowers,” says Marisa Capozzo-Schmidt, who was married in New York. “But Draven just wouldn’t hold it the whole way down the aisle, so we had them walk together, and she held a wreath of flowers. You need to be very flexible when working with dogs and kids.”
5. Recognize that when a dog is involved, preparations, rehearsals and planning don’t guarantee perfection.
The night before Shirley Newby tied the knot with Doug Tate in Ontario, they did a dry run. Her flower girl walked down the aisle with Newby’s Briard, Amanda, without a hitch. But on the big day, Amanda’s people-friendly nature took over. She not only stopped at every pew to greet the people; she also stepped on the flower girl’s dress, nearly tipping her over. “I’m so glad I didn’t see it,” Newby-Tate says. “I would have had a heart attack.”
6. Exercise restraint and compassion in accessorizing your dog.
Sometimes, overdressed dogs strike a campy or comic chord that may not fit the tone of this important day. You should also consider your dog’s comfort (so they’re not trying to wriggle free) and safety (beware of accessories that could choke a mouthy pup).
When Debi Lampert-Rudman was planning her wedding, she brought her tricolor Cocker Spaniel, BonBon, with her on visits to her veil maker. The veil maker created a tulle collar from some of the bride’s veil material, as well as a satin lead that matched her wedding dress. It was a meaningful gesture, and “BonBon was still herself,” Lampert-Rudman says.
7. Select a dog-loving wedding photographer.
For many of the brides we talked to, wedding photos featuring their dogs were hands-down favorites. And because we tend to outlive our dogs, these images go on to be significant mementos. You want a photographer who will bring the same spirit of joy and professionalism to capturing the dogs in the wedding as they do to the rest of the wedding party.
“What I carry around in my camera bag when I have a dog wedding is a squeaky toy,” says Pamela Duffy, a photographer based in Sedona, Arizona. “I don’t tell anyone I have it, and when I start doing the portrait with the bride and groom and the dog or dogs, I usually revert to that because the dogs seem to lose interest.” She knows that weddings offer dogs a lot of distractions, so she holds the squeaker in her shutter finger, which usually means that the dog will be looking straight into the camera when she takes the shot.
Her first reaction to photographing a dog was based on how her own dog might behave. “My dog won’t always do exactly what I want,” she says. “So when people say their dog is the ring bearer, I ask, ‘Will your dog really come on command?’”
8. Appoint a designated dog wrangler.
Unless the event is very small and informal, wedding couples have a lot on their minds, and it’s not smart to add keeping track of a dog to the list. Take the pressure off everyone by hiring a dog sitter who can take the dogs out for a brisk, energy-consuming walk before the ceremony, keep them out of the canapés, and whisk them home or to a quiet retreat after the photos but before the band gets rowdy. “If someone is in charge of caring for the dogs, having them present during a brief ceremony may work out just fine, but then it makes sense for them to go home rather than be around all that food, loud music, or the chaos of the crowd,” says animal behaviorist Karen London, PhD.
When Ally Zenor married Travis Nichol in Washington, she asked her friend Lindsey to be the official “Bearer of the Ring Bearer” — the ring bearer being the couple’s West Highland Terrier, Allisdair. “Lindsey put in extra time because she was not a big dog person,” Zenor says. “That was her stepping out of her comfort zone. It was important to her to get to know him. What made it successful is that Lindsey was invested in making him her date.”
9. Have a backup plan.
When Leesa Storfer married Scott Sidman on the beach in Provincetown, Massachusetts, her dog, Dolce, was her ring bearer, transporting the rings in a pouch attached to a pearl necklace around her neck. Storfer’s sister-in-law was escorting Dolce, but once the dog “saw the beach and me nowhere in sight, she pulled my sister-in-law so fast and furiously that she fell face-forward into the sand,” Storfer says. “Needless to say, she was not happy.” A good backup plan should include a place for your dog to escape the hustle and bustle, such as a room, a pen or even a crate, and/or someone to take them home, if needed.
“Another option is to have someone bring them by the reception for a quick cameo appearance and to be in some of the candid photos. Having your dogs visit for 15-30 minutes of supervised time in order to make sure they are a part of the festivities—and show up in a few photos—may be a good compromise. Many dogs would get stressed out with longer visits, but can handle a brief, controlled one,” says London.
10. Understand your dog’s temperament.
Some dogs do better attending in spirit. Whether your dog’s personality isn’t a good match for the ceremony or reception or you just can’t bring them, there are other ways to be sure they’re included. For example, they can be featured in a customized cake topper or a dog-themed lapel pin. Another option: engagement photos with dogs make for eye-catching announcements and save-the-date cards.
Juliana and Justin Caton of Redmond, Washington, weren’t confident that their dogs, Jake and Alli, were up to a wedding. They were particularly worried that Jake — one of a litter of puppies they fostered and then adopted from the Seattle Humane Society — might be too excitable. They initially opted to include the pups in an engagement photo shoot with dog/wedding photographer Amelia Soper. They chose the Marymoor off-leash area as the setting because “we love going there; it’s our dogs’ version of Disneyland.”
In the end, the Catons overcame their concerns and included both Alli and Jake in the wedding in nearby Bothell. A friend escorted them. “He was giving them a little pep talk down the aisle,” Juliana remembers. “Everyone really liked it — they were laughing.” The dogs stuck around for photos, then were whisked home by a professional walker immediately après ceremony.
11. Consider eloping — with your dogs.
Small, informal, outdoor weddings are a great fit for even the shyest dogs. When Lisa and Louis Ferrugiaro eloped to a dog-friendly bed and breakfast in West Cape May, New Jersey, their dogs — Lola, a 13-year-old Chinese Crested, and Gus, a seven-year-old Italian Greyhound — plus the mayor, who performed the ceremony, comprised the entire wedding party.
There are many ways to include dogs in your big day, so take the time to find the best way to celebrate their special role.
Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of several books including Dog Park Wisdom.