The idea of having my two dogs in my wedding makes my heart melt -- so much so that I've had hundreds of daydreams about getting them from Boston to our wedding destination at the top of a mountain in Colorado, all without having to put them on a plane.
As adorable as dogs in weddings are, "you have to prepare," says Kate Perry of Kate Perry Dog Training, author of a dog training bible, Training for Both Ends of the Leash, and the trusty dog coach of choice for Anna Wintour, Jon Stewart, Oliver Platt and Bruce Weber, as well as for high profile photo shoots, commercials and movies.
Perry has seen it all when it comes to dogs participating in weddings: one client had their dogs get married to them and with them at the ceremony. Another had their Yorkie walk down the aisle; the dog decided it was an opportunity to mark her territory, peeing the whole way down while another client had his dogs as ring bearers, wearing satchels on their backs.
According to Perry's expertise, weddings are best for dogs who are very socialized and who can handle the extensive stimuli that such a party involves- from people to cameras to loud music.
"My dog would be a mess in a wedding. He hates people staring at him. It's important to respect your dog's personality and his threshold for attention," she says. In her book, Perry identifies four dog archetypes, two of which are Sensitive Artist and Party Animal. "The Party Animal (common among labs and retrievers) will likely thrive at a wedding while the Sensitive Artist, or wallflower, not so much," explains Perry. That said, no matter what personality your dog is, if you're deadset on having him in your wedding, Perry says it's possible, just prepare and adjust. For example, a shy, sensitive dog could attend a short portion of the wedding, even if just family photos.
Here are Perry's Dos and Dont's:
1. DO Make a game plan for your dog
Bring a handler - whether a professional or a good family friend who will be responsible for your dog for the entire wedding. Weddings are long, large events. Give him breaks to go chew on a bone, rest and take walks.
2. DO Get him photo shoot ready
Make sure your photographer is comfortable with your dog being in wedding photos beforehand. Then arm her with a few treats and a few of his favorite toys for the best and swiftest photo shoot.
Remember, a camera's flash can be alarming to the dog. I recommend getting him acquainted with a flash camera by taking a few snaps at home. You can also train your dog in advance to do a really good sit/stay pose for photos.
3. DO Find the right balance of exercise
Give him enough, but not too much, exercise, the morning of the wedding. You want your dog to be in a calm state, not over-energized and not exhausted.
4. DO Treat him just like the wedding party and give him a rehearsal
A rehearsal allows your dog to sniff the ceremony space out and feel more comfortable in it the day of. Giving him treats in this space can only help.
5. DO Give him an escort down the aisle
Choose someone he's really familiar with to walk him down the aisle. You can also toss a few treats down the aisle and have the dog on a long leash as he goes to get the treats. It will get a good laugh, and if your dog is a party animal, he'll really appreciate that.
1. DON'tOver-humanize him
You can't forget your dog is an animal who reacts with his mouth. You could find a perfectly calm dog snapping or biting in the case of a wedding because he's overwhelmed or anxious.
2. Don't FORGet how unusual a wedding is
Sure we go to weddings and big parties all the time, but a dog can easily read this as an unstable situation and react in unpredictable ways. Have a thoughtful plan in place to make him feel comfortable.
3. Don't Assume everyone will be comfortable with a dog there
Consider your guests. If you want your dog to be an extended part of the party, it would be wise to include a note about that on the invitation so that anyone with dog allergies, or even fears, is in the know.
4. don't neglect dietary restrictions
It's easy to lose control of who's feeding your dog at a party. Chocolate, macadamia nuts, avocado, grapes, raisins, and of course alcohol, are all extremely toxic and potentially lethal for dogs.
5. DON'T Lose your sense of humor
Make sure you have a sense of humor and play about having your dog in your wedding. Prepare and be thoughtful, but also be ready to allow for some goofy, unpredictable behavior.