You will find no bigger advocate having your dog in your wedding than me, I’m sure!
When Bry and I got married in 2019, it was a given that our golden retriever Martha would play a role in our big day. She was one of my bridesmaids! So many of the photos from our wedding that we treasure the most include Martha.
Why should you include your dog in your wedding?
- Your dog is typically considered a member of the family. They certainly deserve to be included in the celebration of any momentous occasion — especially a wedding!
- By nature, dogs are goofy. They will make you smile genuinely and laugh a lot — two important ingredients for great wedding photos.
- You will treasure these professional snaps of your dog forever.
When should you leave your pup at home instead?
If your dog is going to stress you out more than calm you down, you might want to leave them at home or with a sitter. Some dogs get very anxious in big crowds or haven’t quite learned how to behave — and I totally get that. My dog, Martha, has a pretty intense anxiety disorder and we know that if we’re going somewhere there might be loud noises or anything that could overwhelm her, it’s probably a better idea to let her stay at home. (Thankfully, she doesn’t get nervous in groups of people, so she had a blast at our wedding.)
But I do believe that including your dog in your wedding is totally possible, it just takes some foresight and planning.
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Here are 12 tips to have your dog in your wedding.
1. Book a dog-friendly venue!
Beware that not every venue is going to be willing to accommodate your cute pup. I’ve seen family’s try to bring their dog the day of the wedding to venues that don’t allow pets and it never goes well. Make sure to ask your venue about their pet policy before you book.
2. Work with your trainer in advance of having your dog in your wedding.
To prepare your dog for the wedding, consider hiring a trainer for a one-hour session. Our wonderful trainer Josh of Mindful Training worked with us in advance of our wedding to teach Martha how to calmly walk down the aisle and then stay seated for our entire ceremony. He was so helpful that Martha actually fell asleep in the middle of our vows!
Some helpful commands for your dog to be familiar with on the day of the session:
- Sit and Stay — the most basic and obvious ones. These commands ensure they will sit next you and pose!
- Place — When a dog knows “place,” then they know to sit or lay down in the specific spot where you tell them to go. This is helpful when directing your dog during a session so that we can have them sit right where we want them to. (Often, dogs will “sit” but then they will be blocking their humans or facing away from the camera.)
- Look — The “look” command asks your dog to give you eye contact. It’s very helpful to get a dog’s attention without making them think you want them to change positions. That way everyone in the picture is looking at the camera!
You’ll also want to make sure your dog knows to not jump on people. You’ll want to avoid paw prints on your wedding dress as much as possible.
3. Visit your wedding venue in advance with your dog, if possible.
We brought Martha to one of our planning meetings at our wedding venue to see if there were any red flags we needed to prepare for. As I said, Martha is an anxious dog so we wanted to see if anything at the venue would trigger an anxiety attack for her. Thankfully, she did really well during her walk-through.
Bringing them along also helps them become familiar with the new setting. That way, when you return for the wedding they will be less anxious about being in an unfamiliar place. If you give them lots of treats while you’re there, they will also associate it with it as a good place.
4. Try to hold off bathing and grooming until the day before or the day of the wedding.
If you’re a dog owner, then you already know that it doesn’t take long for your dog to find some dirt to roll around in! I would never recommend forcing your dog to stay inside and away from fun for days, just because they have a photo op coming up. Instead, try to book your grooming session close to your wedding.
5. The day of your wedding, make sure your pup gets plenty of exercise.
This is a BIG one! No matter whether your dog is a young pup or a timid senior, exercise always helps improve their behavior before a big event. For more hyper dogs, trainers typically suggest they have a lot of play time before a training session because it helps them focus. It works just as effectively as prep for a wedding.
If your dog is anxious, exercise stimulates the production of serotonin, which can improve their mood. Burning off energy also gets rid of pent-up energy and tension.
6. Assign loved ones to take care of your dog throughout the day.
You’re going to have too much going on to keep track of your pup every moment of the day. Plus, you won’t need another thing to stress about — just enjoy your day! I recommend assigning loved ones to care for your dog throughout the day. Preferably people comfortable with your dog already.
For us, we had Martha stay overnight the evening before our wedding at Bark N’ Zoom, the Taurus Academy closest to our house. She got to play all morning and get a bath. Then, my parents picked her up and drove her to the venue. At the venue, she got to trade off between the groom’s suite and the bridal suite. My husband’s groomswoman Emily was tasked with walking her down the aisle and then one of my bridesmaids who is good with dogs was in charge of holding her leash during the ceremony.
7. Considering hiring a pet attendant.
Austin has quite a few professional wedding pet attendants who you can pay to take care of your dog during the day of the wedding. This is a great alternative if you don’t want to task any guests with doggie responsibilities.
8. Consider helpful supplements, like CBD, if your dog gets anxious.
If your dog is like mine, leaving the house or meeting a stranger could be a pretty stressful situation for them. I suggest you treat the wedding the same way you would any other major event that may cause them anxiety, like an evening of fireworks or being kenneled.
CBD has become a popular treatment for situational anxiety in dogs. We buy our CBD for Martha from Tomlinsons, but there are plenty of options out there — just make sure to do your research and check with your vet before you give your pup anything new. I’d also recommend trying it before the big day.
Some dogs feel more secure in sweaters or thunder jackets. Thankfully, there are lots of cute options out there that could actually enhance the whole aesthetic of your wedding.
9. Bring plenty of high-value treats and a squeaky toy if your dog is in your wedding.
Even the wildest dog will sit for a treat — I promise you! Treats and toys are the best way you can help your photographer get the best shots of your dog.
Additionally, don’t forget to bring water, a water bowl, waste bags, and a brush for grooming.
Another huge game changer for the wedding day: dog-friendly wipes for those dirty paws. Even the most well-trained dog might be tempted to jump up on a white wedding dress, so you definitely want them to be as mud-free as possible.
10. Hire a second shooter to assist with photo ops.
Your photographer is probably fine holding/waving treats at the same time as taking pictures, but it is honestly so much easier for everyone involved to have a second pair of hands to assist.
You can also ask your wedding photographer to assign your second shooter to get extra shots of your dog. We didn’t ask, but Lyric got so many great shots from Martha’s perspective that we will treasure forever.
11. Have a getaway plan for your dog.
While I recommend your dog playing a part in your ceremony, I don’t know that they will have as great of a time at a reception. It will be loud. It will also be difficult to find a loved one who wants to babysit your dog instead of enjoying the dance floor.
Instead, I recommend hiring someone to pick your dog up and whisk them away to where they will stay for the evening. That might just look like hiring a friend to drive them to a daycare—most wedding pet attendants will do drop-offs for an extra fee. We hired the Ruffinery, a home-based daycare we typically hire when we go out of town (in lieu of boarding), to pick up Martha from the wedding for a sleepover at their house. Everyone really loved watching “Martha’s Uber” pick her up during cocktail hour.
12. Hire a wedding photographer who LOVES dogs and who will be patient with yours.
This will make all the difference. If you hire a photographer who hates dogs or who has no patience for misbehaving pups, there will be tension during the wedding and that tension will be evident in the final product.
Instead, invest in a photographer who will love on your pup and make everyone feel comfortable — even when your dog decides that they need to race up a tree to meet a squirrel.
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