How to plan a dog-friendly wedding
Behaviour and training considerations for dog-friendly weddings
So many owners consider their dogs as family members that it’s only natural to want to include them in such a special occasion. Owners might even want their beloved pets to play a part in the ceremony itself, accompanying them up the aisle or being the ring-bearer. Including our best friends in our lives in this way is a wonderful way to celebrate just how much we treasure them, so it’s important to consider how our dogs might feel being present at a wedding party to help them to enjoy the experience just as much as everyone else.
1. View the day from your dog's perspective
Make a ‘day-plan’ by creating a sequence-of-events from hour-to-hour and think about how your dog usually responds to similar situations. This will help you to highlight key moments of the day when your dog might need extra support so you can prepare them well in advance, or when they’re likely to take everything in their stride!
It really helps to know your own dog and understand how they are likely to respond to different situations so that you can plan ways to enable them to join in without worrying that they’re not enjoying themselves. For example, some dogs enjoy meeting new people and will readily accept visitors to the house, while others might be a little shy, preferring to avoid guests and busy situations they might find overwhelming or scary.
Another factor often overlooked is the venue’s flooring, including the dancefloor if you want to involve your dog in your first dance, as wooden or laminate floors might be slippery and scary, or even painful for dogs with poor mobility or health conditions.
Download an example day plan and create your own PDF 98 KB
2. Make them a cosy den at the venue where they can relax undisturbed if necessary
Taking your dog’s bed or crate, along with a few favourite toys and blankets and things that smell of home, can help them to settle in an unfamiliar place. This might be a useful place for them to relax in during dinner. A non-spill water bowl can be useful, so you can be confident they’ll have water available at all times.
3. Have people your dog knows and trusts care for them throughout the day
As much as you would like your dog to enjoy the day alongside you, it’s important to be realistic about how much of the day you will be able to spend together. You’re likely to be in great demand for multiple congratulations, toasts and celebrating with your guests, being photographed, having dinner, making speeches, etc. Depending on your dog’s individual personality they might well be able to join you for some of these moments, but it will be helpful for someone your dog has a good relationship with to takeover ‘doggy duty’ for some or all of the day, and you might have a few different people you can call upon to share the pleasure. It’s a huge compliment trusting someone with your dog, and the dog-savvy amongst your friends and family are likely to want to help make your day as special as it can be and might be keen to help. It is a good idea for them to spend some quality time with your dog so they understand how they communicate and can understand any signs they give when they might be starting to feel uncomfortable or over-excited.
4. Prepare your dog in advance to help them enjoy your special day
There are lots of useful behaviours you can teach your dog, so they have plenty of skills to help them enjoy themselves no matter the occasion. For example, meeting new people politely and calmly, not begging or stealing food when it is readily on offer, coming as soon as called no matter how exciting things are, settling down and being quiet when required, and also coping well when being left alone for short periods.
Some dogs might just simply feel better not coming along at all. It is important to respect your dog’s feelings so if they would struggle, then making plans for them to be elsewhere is a gift to them. You can involve them in other ways, such as having different pictures of them as your table centrepieces.
5. Preparation and practice make perfect - so include some dog training in your wedding planning!
Our website has lots of dog training tutorial videos that show you how to teach all these skills in fun, rewarding ways that you and your dog will enjoy. You could enrol at one of our Dog Schools for a short 6 week course in which you’ll learn all these skills, as well as understanding how your dog communicates and their personality. You’ll learn how to understand how your dog feels about different situations and how to provide for all their needs in safe, appropriate and fun ways.
Teaching your dog how to behave around food is particularly important, especially if you will be having a fruit cake or chocolate wedding cake as this can be very dangerous for your dog if they were to get hold of it. It's best to keep your cake out of reach and to inform your guests not to give your dog cake or other treats from the table.
It's also worth thinking about the types of flowers you have in your bouquets and decorations as some plants can be poisonous to dogs. Take a look at our factsheet on poisonous plants.
6. Be mindful that your dog might get more and more excited or overwhelmed during they day...
It’s worth considering the effect of ‘situation-stacking’ throughout the day.
Situation stacking is where often short-lived and completely separate situations that a dog experiences – whether fun and exciting or worrying and stressful – happen in succession so that all the feelings of excitement or worry stack up and up until suddenly the dog appears to become overwhelmed and completely unable to relax.
The general continuous excitement of a wedding day, however lovely all the elements are throughout the day, might easily cause a dog to become overwhelmed so this is why it’s important to factor in short breaks away from the action and to make sure your dog has a chance to unwind – whether settling with someone just at the edges of the activity or being taken away for a walk from time to time so they can have a breather.
Top tips for happy wedding dogs
Prepare the environment
- Make sure your dog always has access to water.
- Provide your dog with own little den, set up somewhere slightly away from all the action.
- Give someone trusted responsibility for your dog’s care, including making sure no-one disturbs them if they are resting – making a polite sign might help remind people to leave your dog alone when necessary.
- Have a known and trusted dog-walker booked, and reliable friends/relatives prepared to step in too.
Prepare your guests
- Encourage anyone caring for your dog to learn about dog body language and communication.
- Make sure your guests know your dog will be present during the day – this allows parents, as well as those people who are perhaps scared of dogs, to prepare themselves and their children in advance.
Prepare your dog
- Teach skills such as settling/relaxation, polite meetings and interactions, food manners and self-control.
- Attend Dog School classes.
- Acclimatise to the journey and venue.
Support Dogs Trust at your wedding
If you are in the midst of planning your menu, table decorations and colour schemes, why not go one step further to personalise your wedding day by choosing our charity wedding favours. Our unique and beautifully designed Dogs Trust keepsakes are a fantastic and popular alternative that will really make a difference. As you and your guests sit down to celebrate your special day, you’ll also be helping over 15,000 dogs in our care helping to maintain our promise to never put a healthy dog to sleep.