Your fur-baby is there for you when you need a good laugh, a walk outside, and a cuddle from someone other than your fiancé! Your amazing one of a kind, lovable dog is so much more than a “pet”. It is a member of your family who has always been there for you no matter what. No wonder that as a dog lover you are now strongly considering your dog’s role in your wedding day or your engagement photo shoot.
As pawrent, I get it! Kiwi, my one-and-half year old French Bulldog and General Helper, sneaked into my heart quickly! When I look at her now I don’t see a pet or a dog. Instead I see a loyal, lovable creature full of quarks and personality which I have discovered over time.
Wanting to include your dearly beloved dog as a witness or a participant on the most important day of your life is natural, fun an very possible as long as you follow my below 10 tips gathered over the many years of shooting with my couples and their furry family members.
1. Make Sure Your Venue Loves Dogs as Much as You Do
No all venues are dog friendly. Some, especially those with onsite kitchens, can’t accommodate dogs due to health or legal requirements. Ask the venue before booking and review the venue contract in detail. Brining your buddy on the day of the wedding without confirming with the venue first can be a huge inconvenience. Imaging trying to find a way to transport your lovable pup home, just before you walk down the aisle, because your venue can’t allow dogs.
2. Ensure Your Guests Are Comfortable Around Dogs
As a dog lover, I would like to think that everyone is enamoured with my furr-ball as much as I am. However, some people are allergic to dogs, are afraid of them, or OMG! – they simply don’t like them! Avoid drama on your wedding day by taking such consideration into account. If you do know someone that may have an issue with your dog on your wedding day for any reason, have a discussion with them ahead of time. At the very minimum please let them know about your plans before your big day.
3. Consider your Dog’s Personality
Is your dog ready for the hustle and bustle of a wedding day?
Some dogs are simply not comfortable with large crowds, new places and unfamiliar smells and sounds. As much as you may want your furry companion to be there with you, please consider their personality ahead of time. Placing undue anxiety on a shy or introverted dog will only increase their and your stress levels on a day which should ultimately be about you and your partner.
4. Schedule your Dog’s Day and Use a Trusted Wrangler
Create a specific schedule for your dog and assign a friend, a family member or a professional dog walker as their handler. Having a detailed plan for when and where they will arrive, where your dog can go for walks, when they are fed, when they are a part of the photo session, and when they leave for home, is an important part of your wedding day preparations. From my experience, I don’t suggest that your immediate family members or any bridal party members be the wrangler as they are usually very much involved in both the wedding day schedule and the photo shoots. Your dog’s wrangler should be a trusted dog-lover who is able to provide your dog with the direction and attention they deserve.
5. Keep Treats and Water Handy
Keeping your dog comfortable starts with making sure they have access to clean water, a place for potty walks, and a stash full of their favourite treats. Since the wrangler you have chosen to keep your dog company will not be as respected as you are, treats and known commands are a great way to motivate your dog to stay calm when needed.
6. Should your Dog Walk Down the Aisle?
If your dog is calm enough around people and new surroundings, having them walk down the aisle with you is a great way to incorporate them as family members. Other options which I have seen executed successfully are dog ring-bearers and flower girls! Dressing up your dog in a fancy collar, a doggie tuxedo or a dress can be a great way to add some fun, style and drama to the day, but please first make sure your dog is comfortable with such costumes.
If you want more, your “Best Friend” can stand with you as a Groomsman or a Bridesmaid. I don’t suggest bestowing the prestigious titles of Best Man or Maid of Honour on your Canine Companion due to the political backlash you may experience from your less-understanding human friends.
Of course, if you have any doubts that your dog can calmly walk down the aisle alone, please make sure someone walks with them on a leash. Finally, if your well-trained dog becomes a part of your ceremony, make sure they are also a part of your rehearsal. They will need practice more than most of your family.
7. Embrace the Chaos and Your Dog
Weddings are by their nature busy, hectic and never fully predictable. Unexpected things do and will happen on your wedding day and in your marriage. No wedding plan is ever executed perfectly, yet all of the many weddings which I have been a part of have turned out just fine. Seriously they all did! Remember that your guests don’t care about the small things which you know have gone “wrong”. They are your closest family and friends who are there to support and celebrate with you no matter what. Adding a dog to a wedding does increase the chance of chaos. In my opinion – that’s OK!
This chaos is what you will remember and not what you will regret when you tell stories about your amazing wedding day.
Embrace the “risk” and enjoy the ride even when things are not “perfect”. Before you know it, your wedding day will be over. If your dog is a part of your wedding – cherish all of it, including any of your dog’s possible mischief.
8. Keep the Focus on You
Having said the above. Your dog should be a great addition to your wedding and not the main feature. You, your partner and your love for each other is the headline.
Placing too much focus on your dog can detract from the day and distance some of your guests who after-all chose to support you on your big day.
9. Include your Dog in your Wedding or Engagement Photos
A natural way to incorporate your dog inside your wedding day is to include them in the Photo Shoot. This can work well even if your venue can’t accommodate dogs since often the photo shoot can happen outside of your reception venue in an outdoor park.
Incorporating your dog in your engagement photo shoot is also a great way to capture both the love you have for each other and the playful spirit of your pup. Due to the more casual nature of the engagement shoot, the photos can be much more organic and playful. Engagement session images of you and your dog also make great save-the-date or invitation cards.
My suggestion is to always use a trusted wrangler during these sessions and to make sure the timing of their participation is clearly established beforehand. For example, I suggest incorporating your dog in the first or last 20-30 minutes of your engagement or wedding photo sessions keeping the rest fo the time to focus on you and your fiancé.
Finally, make sure any photographer you are considering has at least some experience working with animals and that they are a good fit for your needs and expectations. Ideally, ask to see gallery images which feature couples and their dogs.
You can see more images from the engagement sessions with dogs here:
10. Have Them There With You While They Stay at Home
If after thinking things through in detail you can’t have your dog with you on your wedding day for any previously mentioned reason, don’t despair! All is not lost! Below are a few other ways to incorporate your canine family member inside your wedding day:
- Print out their photo and keep on display in a prominent area for you and your guests
- Include them in your guest book or wedding day slide show
- Use their image for the Seating Chart, Table Numbers and Place Cards
- Keep a small image of your dog on you during the ceremony inside a locket, your chest pocket or on your cufflinks
- Create a Doggie Bag for guests as a thank you favour – with cookie “treats” in the shape of a bone or in the shape of your dog
In summary, your dog and your wedding day can mix in many way. Provided you keep in mind the above 10 tips your fur-baby can be a great participant and witness as you celebrate your love for each other.