Tips on How to Include Dogs in Wedding Celebration

But not all the festivities!
By Karen B. London PhD, November 2017
Kristin Wilson Photography

Kristin Wilson Photography

We know the happy couple in this picture and have had the fun of taking care of their dogs when they travel. I know how close the four of them —two humans, two dogs—are. Still, I think it was an excellent choice to keep the dogs at home during the ceremony and the reception. The crowds, the music and the general chaos that is a wedding would have been overwhelming to the dogs. Their need for attention and reassurance would have taken the bride and groom’s minds off of the matter at hand—getting married.

I didn’t know ahead of time whether the dogs would be at the wedding, but I was prepared for them to show up. I always enjoy seeing them, and just in case, I had brought a couple of tennis balls and some treats in my purse so that if the dogs needed a distraction, I could provide. I’ve seen so many dogs cause chaos and distractions at weddings that I was hopeful to be able to prevent any issues. These are well trained dogs, but weddings don’t always bring out the best in dogs. There’s just too much going on and too many people for most dogs to be able to relax, and dogs who can’t relax don’t always behave like model citizens.

Despite supporting the decision not to have most dogs at their guardians’ wedding, I love for dogs to be included in some way in the celebration of the marriage. For example, even though my friends had wisely chosen not to have their dogs participate in all of the day’s festivities, it was wonderful to see that they had posted this Instagram photo with the caption, “The whole family!” Photos of the four of them on their wedding day will be cherished forever.

There are lots of ways to include the dogs in your celebration and your memories even if it is a kindness to the dogs to let them relax at home during the wedding. It’s not an all or nothing thing, and even little gestures can let everyone who is there to celebrate know that the dog is part of the family and the celebration joining two families.

Take photos with them. Most of us have many dogs over our lifetime, but there is always something special about the ones who shared your life as you transitioned from being single to being married. Since your dogs are part of the family, it only makes sense to have photographs taken with them. Depending on the logistics of your ceremony and the specifics characteristics of your dogs, it may be better to do this on a day before the wedding, though on that actual day is obviously an option, too. (If your dog sheds or drools a lot, pictures with you dressed for your wedding may be risky, and if your dogs are stressed by any break from routine, a photo shoot the day of the wedding may also be a problem.)

Many people choose to have their dogs just at the ceremony or just at the reception because that is what their dogs can handle. If someone is in charge of caring for the dogs, having them present during a brief ceremony may work out just fine, but then it makes sense for them to go home rather than be around all that food, loud music, or the chaos of the crowd. Other dogs may disrupt the formality of the ceremony but do just fine hanging out casually with the opportunity to roam around and visit guests in the less orderly reception.

Another option is to have someone bring them by the reception for a quick cameo appearance and to be in some of the candid photos. Having your dogs visit for 15-30 minutes of supervised time in order to make sure they are a part of the festivities—and show up in a few photos—may be a good compromise. Many dogs would get stressed out with longer visits, but can handle a brief, controlled one. For dogs who find it tortuous to be a part of the event can always be incorporated into the event with a cutout photo of the dog that puts that at the event in the pictures without them being there. It’s even an option to make your cake topper a family affair with the two people getting married and their dogs.

If you incorporated your dog into your wedding celebration, how did you do it?

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.