Dogs are part of the family! However, they're not always perfect wedding guests. As a dedicated doggie mom myself, I know! I consider our dog a member of the family, and as such, we've included him into practically everything, including a family wedding. Follow along for our top tips for including that special someone in the wedding day festivities!
Think Like a Dog…
As much as I love dogs, a wedding isn't really a good setting for them. Dogs are very sensitive and pick up the tension that's inevitable at any big event. Some may even develop psychosomatic reactions of all kinds. The wedding day itself can stress a dog to its limit. Nobody has time to properly take care of them, their normal routine doesn't happen, and instead there's a trip to some unfamiliar place that under normal circumstances would require extensive exploration including sniffing and marking. For reasons incomprehensible to any dog, this isn't allowed. Any dog except for the absolutely good-natured ones will try to enforce some attention, be it through barking, pawing, running away, rolling in the mud, or any number of other behaviors that their humans somehow don't like. While most couples who are dog parents are aware of these limitations, you should gently remind them the moment you start planning with them.
For starters, when helping your clients choose their wedding venue, it’s necessary to tell them that for a ceremony at church or another house of worship, their four-legged companion can't join them. The same holds true for most indoor ceremony sites. Overall, there are few truly dog-friendly wedding venues, meaning the selection is very limited. Your best bet for your couple is an outdoor ceremony and reception, but even public parks often have restrictions. In San Francisco, for example, the presence of a dog in the ceremony and during the outdoor reception in a park has to be applied for and specially permitted. An outdoor celebration, of course, restricts the couple to the fair-weather months in their specific region. Therefore, if your clients feel that their wedding isn't complete without their furry friend, it's mandatory to plan early and accordingly. And once you've identified a selection of possible venues which your clients like, have them bring their dog along for site visits and have them observe how the staff reacts to their dog. When we first visited our front-runner venue, on a hot day, our dog exploited a split-second of our distraction to jump in their reflecting pool, emerging dripping wet and dirty—a nightmare! Surprisingly, our hostess’ reaction was not a hysterical scream, but a stack of towels. Needless to say, we booked this venue!
Ceremony & Celebration from Your Dog’s Perspective
Most couples want to have their dog(s) in their ceremony as their ring bearer, or at least as the front-row audience. That sounds easier than it is, as it requires a lot of discipline from the dog—walking down the aisle despite the presence of so many strangers and staying quiet throughout the ceremony. Once that's over, at the reception, all attention will be showered on the newlyweds and no attention on their dog who, unsupervised, might find plenty of opportunity to wreak havoc with tablecloths and long gowns. The concluding festive dinner is, of course, the hardest part (if the venue even allows the dog to stay that long) due to the aroma of the food being served.
Also keep in mind that dogs perceive music in a very different way. They can hear much higher frequencies than humans, which may even be painful to their ears or motivate them to howl along. Another reason to plan ahead of time!
Enlist Professional Help for Your Dog-Loving Couple
My company specializes in dog-friendly weddings and over my 8+ years of experience with this type of event, it was proven over and over again that a couple’s dog needs their own professional caregiver throughout the wedding day to ensure as much regular routine as possible. Preferably this will be a dog walker the dog is already familiar and comfortable with. This way, the couple’s dog can take walks and naps as they're used to and there will be someone to keep them hydrated, well-fed, out of too much sun, and so much more. Encourage the couple to invite their favorite dog walker for the wedding day and to provide a dog-friendly hotel room, so that their dog can be taken to the wedding celebration when it's time and taken “home” at a prearranged time, with proper care throughout the day. That way, the couple can be assured that their dog is safe, happy, and well taken care of so that they can enjoy their big day without worrying. Their beloved dog is then returned to them the next morning when the festivities are over.
At my company, I offer a dedicated “Doggie Mom for the Day” to those who don't have a trusted dog handler of their own, and this service has proved a godsend for many couples. Should your clients suggest to entrust their dog(s) to a wedding participant—dissuade them. In my experience, this never ever works as the dedicated dog handler wants to celebrate with everyone else and not primarily take care of the dog.
The Fun Part
Since everybody is dressing up on wedding day, your couple might think of dressing up their doggie to match. That’s great! There are so many fun outfits to choose from, both for doggie boys and girls, starting with bowties and barrettes and going on to full tuxedoes and tutus. The sky’s the limit! And, don’t forget the doggie favors for the attending dog parents to take home. They'll probably be more sought after than the “people favors!” This is just a nice, personal touch to recommend for dog-friendly weddings. Including dogs in the wedding day doesn't have to be hard at all. All it takes is a lot of advanced planning!
Want to see more from Jutta? Check out her website daylikenoother.com!
Hero photo courtesy The Shalom Imaginative