by Dan Spangler, certified trainer & owner of A Dog’s Dream
Your forever day is coming, and it seems like everything is coming together perfectly. The dress is fitted, the venue is chosen, and the photographer has taken the engagement photos, but then suddenly you feel like something is missing. As you sit there tapping your leg trying to figure out what is wrong, your faithful friend walks up and puts his head in your lap and looks up at you with “those” eyes. That’s it! You forgot to include your trusted companion in your big day. Oh no!
Having your dog in your wedding is a wonderful way to celebrate your special day together, but it does have its challenges. There are several things to consider when adding your furry four-legged friend into your festivities. Such as are they trained, what is their role going to be, and what to do with them before, during, and after the ceremony.
Everyone thinks their dog is the most well-trained dog in the world, but are they? Many times, pet parents believe that their dog is very well trained, but the only time that training is tested is when they are at home in a very comfortable and familiar environment. How do they really act in a new environment around a lot of people they do not know? These are some of the very basic question you must first consider when thinking about starting this process.
Having a well-trained dog means that they will obey their commands no matter where they are or what is going on around them. For most weddings, your dog will need to know their basic commands of sit, down, stay, and wait. These are typical training techniques taught in most obedience classes, but the key is to do the homework that your dog trainer has assigned. That homework is usually to master these commands in all different locations and with every kind of distraction you can find. If you think your pup is up to it then let us talk about their role in your wedding.
What do you want your dog to do in the wedding? Do you want them to be a ring bearer or just a cute addition for photos? The training level will play a big role in how much your pup is involved. If your dog has mastered its basic obedience skills, then maybe you can teach them something new, like being a ring bearer or flower girl. These kinds of skills can be taught, but will take several weeks, if not months, to master for such a special occasion. If your pup has a basic understanding of their obedience skills, then maybe having them present for pictures before or after the ceremony will be the best arrangement. The other factor that will determine what your dog can or cannot do is the schedule and the facilities where the wedding is being held.
So, your dog is going to be a ring bearer in the ceremony, but what do you do with them before and after the ceremony? Unfortunately, this step is often over looked by many couples. You are so excited about having your pup in the wedding that you forget to plan on what to do with them. Depending on the facility, there may be restrictions on when and where the dog may go, and if so, that will make your decision easier. Either way, you must plan for how to get the dog to the location. After arriving, who is going to take care of them while you are getting ready and who is going to handle them during the ceremony? Finally, what are you going to do with them after the ceremony? Don’t forget that during this entire process that your dog will need to have bathroom breaks, water, and possible food depending on how long the day is.
While there are challenges, it does not mean it cannot be done. There are a lot of wonderful weddings where dogs play all different types of roles. The most important thing for you is to be honest with yourself and your soon to be spouse. While having your dog in the wedding may be a great idea are you going to be able to dedicate the time to working with your dog prior to the event to make it successful? A dog trainer can help you and your dog reach your goals, but it does take time and patients to meet those goals.
Brides like to plan every detail of their special day, here are a few strategies to use if your dog will be joining you on your wedding day. After all, you don’t want any doggie disasters on your special day.
1. Make sure you familiarize your dog with the venue. New places for dogs are like different countries to us. For a dog to be brought to a wedding venue for the first time on the day of the wedding is a mistake. Bringing your dog to the venue several times prior to the wedding is preferable, but if that is not possible at least take them there several times the day of to help them feel comfortable in the new area.
2. Check with all parties involved that dogs are okay. Many times, we plan things out, and during that process we get focused on certain parts and do not look at the big picture. For example, you have check with the venue, photographer, and wedding party that dogs are okay, but not the limousine company. So, at the end of the wedding you and your new partner got to make a grand exit to start your lives together and there the limo driver stops you because the dog is not allowed in, not the best way to start your lives together.
3. Have a dog attendant. I had the honor of being a dog attendant at a friend’s wedding once, mainly because I was the one that could handle him other than Rover’s Dad. The idea was that they had plans for their pup to be in the wedding, but during the ceremony they did not want him to cause an issue or to roam off. So, after the groom walked him down the aisle with him, I came up and took the dog off to the side and kept him company. I made sure to keep him as quiet as possible and in case of an accident, I was there to clean up.
4. Have a plan for someone else to take care of the dog at some point. Depending on your wedding plans, the pup may spend the whole day or just a part, but in the end, there is going to be a time when you and your partner are going to need some alone time and will not be focused on the task of caring for your pooch.
5. Make sure you pack for your pup. In the excitement of getting your wedding items together, do not forget about the dog. Depending on your plans, you might need to bring just simple stuff like poop bags and a water bowl, or you might have to plan for a mini excursion which means you’ll need food, bowls, treats, toys, medication, and bedding.
All the planning and work has paid off and it is finally time for your big day. One special thing that you have planned for is to have your wonderful furry family member in the wedding with you. Depending on how involved you want them to be, they may be there just for a cameo appearance or as a main character. One thing to make sure of no matter the amount of stage time they will get is to ensure they are up to date on shots and that you have a copy of the records with you.
About the Author:
Dan Spangler has been a certified trainer for over 15 years and operates a successful full-service dog facility called A Dog’s Dream in New Bern, North Carolina. Dan is also the founder of the Dreamer’s Foundation, a non-profit organization that has assisted in rescue efforts and recently began working with veterans to help them keep and care for their furry friends. Dan’s passion and commitment to the local community lead him to be awarded the Community Fabric Award in 2015.