Marry Me, Marry My Dog

How to make the most of your big day, pets included

By Danielle Goreski

marryme-higherres

One of the sweetest things about weddings today is having man’s (or woman’s) best friend take part in the ceremony. Pets add a very stylish flavor of cute to any wedding. “It’s a growing trend”, says Ingrid Castro, owner of Leash and Paws, who works as a dog handler for couples who want to incorporate their dogs into their wedding day. Ingrid, who worked as a professional dog walker for years asked one of her clients who was getting married if she intended on including her dog in the ceremony. Her client hadn’t thought of it so Ingrid dressed her dog up in wedding attire and took photos to show her the paw-tential of it all. The client loved it and hired Ingrid as the handler for the big day and Leash and Paws was born.

marryme-mailelani      marryme-lucky
Photo credits: Maile Lani and Lucky Photography

“Most of our clients tend to be in their early 30s. They dated for a while then found themselves moving in together. One of them had a dog previously or bought one together and felt it was important for the furry family member to be included in the wedding to unite them together as a whole.”

marryme-wallerweddings
Photo credit: Waller Weddings

Ingrid recommends that you take your dog to the rehearsal to make them familiar with the venue so they won’t be distracted on your big day. This is especially important for nervous or anxious pets.

“Not every wedding goes smoothly when you incorporate a pet. You can’t predict how they will respond in a crowd of cheering people, or how they will behave around a large group of strangers, and accidents do happen! There are so many things you just can’t prepare for and on your wedding day, you have enough stress going on that you shouldn’t have to worry about adding the stress of wondering if your dog is going to be okay.”

marryme-justinmarantz      marryme-jeffcooke
Photo credits: Justin Marantz and Jeff Cooke

Leash and Paws arranges a meet-and-greet with the couple prior to the wedding to get to know the personality of the dog and become familiar with them. They work directly with the wedding planner and coordinate all the fine details such as picking up the dog, the hand-off to the walk down the aisle, handling the dog during the ceremony and during the photo shoot. They even provide transportation home for your dog, allowing you to relax and enjoy your reception without added worries over your pet. As an added bonus, they can also assist with styling your pet for your wedding, along with wardrobe preparations before their big entrance.

marryme-aliciamaey
Photo credit: Alicia Maey

But, as fun and as photo-op cute as it is, including your furry family member into your wedding does require some thought and preparation. Amanda Douglas, a WPIC certified wedding planner and owner of Amanda Douglas Events offers some great tips for including your pet in your wedding:

• Ensure that your dog is happy and well adjusted around strangers. Weddings can be stressful for a dog that does not adapt well to new environments. If your dog is shy, you might be best to leave him/her at home where they feel safe and secure.

marryme-julianewman

• Determine their role, whether for the ceremony or just for the photography afterwards. Always make sure the venue will allow pets as some have very strict policies.

• Always have their favorite treat on-hand. A good dog always needs to be rewarded.

• Make sure you arrange for care before, during, and after the ceremony and reception, so a handler has specific responsibility for your dog at all times. This should be someone they trust, so they feel comfortable in an unusual environment. Make sure the handler has supplies for any accidents, such as doggy bags and paper towels, and that the handler allows for many potty breaks.

• Don’t expect too much from your pet. It’s unlikely that they’re trained to walk a straight line or sit when they’re too excited. Remember that they really just want to hang out with you. Make sure you include them in the rehearsal and practice as much as you can so they are prepared and know what to expect.

• Always have portable food and water on hand. Make sure you feed your dog early before the wedding to avoid accidents as he takes to the aisle.

Photo credit: Julia Newman

• Will you want your dog to wear a special outfit? There are a lot of fun choices that can help with custom-made collars or other wedding accessories so your dog will feel right at home with the rest of the well-dressed attendees. Just make sure that you give the outfit a trial run before the big day, especially if your dog isn’t used to wearing extra clothing.

marryme-kuperberg      marryme-kevintrowbridge
Photo credits: Kuperberg and Kevin Trowbridge

• Roll with the punches and have fun with them. Like kids, their behavior can be unpredictable so you’ve just got to make the best of it. Sometimes their funny, off-the-wall antics can create the most memorable parts of your day.

• Make sure you work with a photographer who is comfortable working with pets. Working with pets can require a certain level of patience.

• Planning an out-of-town wedding? Make sure your hotel is dog-friendly. You’ll want to ensure your dog has a place to escape the hustle and bustle of your crazy wedding day. Always bring their favorite toys and dog bed so they feel more at home while you’re out for the night.

• Always plan an exit strategy if things don’t seem to be going right and your dog is stressed.

• Always have your dog on a leash. Even the best-behaved dogs can have a moment and act out of character.

But sometimes dogs and weddings just don’t go. I can speak from personal experience. As much as we loved our little dachshund Roxy, she was just too shy to attend our wedding so we included her in some of our wedding photos. She was never one much for collars and didn’t respond well to my attempt to play dress up for the photo shoot but it didn’t make a difference. As much as she struggled with having to sit still for our wedding photos, I am so glad that we made it work because we lost her suddenly to congestive heart failure nine months later. This is actually one of my favorite photos from our wedding day.

marryme-lisacrispo
Photo credit: Lisa Crispo

If all of this seems like it might be more work and stress than you’re prepared for, you can always honor your pet in a number of different ways. I attended a wedding once where the bride carried a locket that was attached to her bouquet that had a photo of her Boston Terrier inside.

marryme-sarahyates
Photo credit: Sarah Yates

There are endless fun things you can do to include your dog as part of your wedding day festivities, whether or not your pet is able to actually attend. My advice? Dogs are like kids. You never know what’s going to happen or how they will react but it’s better to have a moment cherished than a moment lost. Happy planning!