For better or woof

Resident behaviourist – and wedding celebrant (!) – Carolyn Menteith gives her advice on throwing a dog-friendly wedding.

After a year of weddings being postponed, cancelled or being massively downsized, couples can finally start planning again to make sure they have the wedding of their dreams. Once again, the whole family can be involved – and all the arguments of who sits next to who, who can’t be in the same room as each other, and who you might be able to pair off in the hope of another wedding next year, can begin in earnest. 

While you might want to ‘accidently’ miss Aunt Maude or Uncle Frank off the guest list, for many couples who own dogs, one member of the family they feel really shouldn’t be left out is their dog.

I understand this desire totally – and as a behaviourist and trainer, I made the decision to train as a wedding celebrant as well – just so that couples who wanted to involve their dog in the ceremony had someone who understood how this could be done, knew the potential problems – and had a much-needed sense of humour about it too!

Can I have my dog at my wedding?

If you’re reading this and think that having your dog at your wedding ceremony will make your special day complete, here are my top tips:

  1. Be really honest with yourself. Does your dog have the kind of ‘social butterfly’ personality that would enjoy being among loads of people or would being surrounded by your friends and relations, all wanting to talk to them and stroke them, be their idea of doggy hell? If you have any doubts about this at all, leave them out of the big day and celebrate with them later in a more dog-friendly way that they will enjoy. 
  1. Is your dog well enough trained not to jump on your prospective mother-in-law’s brand-new dress – or anyone else’s posh wedding clothes? 
  1. If you’ve decided that this is a day your dog will enjoy, task one of your most reliable wedding party members to do nothing else but be on ‘dog duty’. Trust me… on your wedding day, you have way too much to think about other than if your dog is happy, had a wee, not escaping through open doors in the pre-wedding madness, not being accosted by small children, not eating the flowers, and most importantly that they can be removed from any situation they find stressful.
  1. Make sure the venue is dog-friendly. Not only that but identify places around the venue for short walks and toilet opportunities as well as somewhere out the way they can have a break if needed.
  1. Include your dog in the wedding rehearsal. Even if you don’t want them to do anything during the ceremony, just giving them a chance to investigate the venue and familiarise themselves with it will make them more relaxed when you come to do it for real. While the bride won’t want to wear their wedding dress for the rehearsal, it helps if they wear something similar (including a veil or a train if they will be doing so for the ceremony itself). Walking on a loose lead when you are in jeans and trainers becomes something very different when you are in a trailing dress with heels.
  1. Don’t expect them to take part in the ceremony – such as bring you the rings – unless they are very well trained and can do whatever it is you want them to any time and any where with any distractions! While watching a bride and groom chasing a gleeful Labrador around a church trying to retrieve their rings is definitely something that will make your social media pages, it probably wouldn’t be for the reasons you would want!

The reality is that, in most cases, your dog will not really enjoy a big, formal wedding – and their presence will just give you something else to worry about! If you really can’t imagine your wedding without your dog however, there is no reason why you can’t plan a totally dog-friendly ceremony. 

While you will have to do the legal bit somewhere else, a celebrant can create a ceremony just for you that can be a doggie as you like. It can be held wherever you want, have as many dogs as guests as you could ever dream of, and can be something the whole family, including your dog, can really enjoy. 

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