Cliff Mautner Photography
By Nicole Pajer
We cherish our pets as beloved members of our family. So when it’s time to celebrate an occasion, like a wedding, it’s likely that you’ll want to include them in your special day. But before you decide to include your pet in your marriage ceremony, there are a few pet safety tips to consider. Here’s what some experts have to say on how to safely include dogs in weddings.
Consider Your Pet’s Demeanor
Not all pets are a good match for being in a wedding. “In fact, probably only a small percentage of them actually enjoy such events,” says Dr. Liz Stelow, DVM, DACVB and UC Davis VMTH Behavior Clinician. Therefore, it’s important that the bridal couple assesses their dog honestly to determine whether he would prefer to hear about the ceremony later rather than experience it in person. “Any dog with anxieties about/fear of people, any dog with aggression toward any types of people, and any dog who cannot work comfortably on leash should not be considered for inclusion in the wedding ceremony,” adds Dr. Stelow.
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Get Your Pet Used to Wedding Day Attire Ahead of Time
Many people dress up their pets for the big day. But if you plan to have your pet wear an outfit during the ceremony, all dog apparel needs to be tested beforehand.
“Different dogs will handle clothing differently,” says Dr. Stelow. She explains that pet outfits should be “assessed for comfort over a long period, including avoiding itching, overheating or constricting the pet's movement.”
You should also make sure that the outfit you’ve chosen won’t obstruct your pet’s vision.
Have a Pet Care Plan in Place
You put a lot of preparation into how your pet will get down the aisle, but many couples often forget to arrange for pet care after the fact, says Mollie Yarsike, the founder of Black Tie Pups, which provides pet care for dogs in weddings.
“As with most things, it is always better to plan ahead. Otherwise your bridesmaid, mother-in-law or random guest will wind up being the ones to watch the children/your pup,” she says. “It isn't fair to them, as a wedding guest, that they won't fully get to enjoy their night.” Alexandria Goza, who featured her pup, Poppy, as a bridesmaid in her wedding, agrees that putting a plan in place ahead of time can definitely ease your stress. “We hired my mother-in-law’s dog walker to take poppy back to my in-laws’ house after the ceremony was over,” she explains.
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Decide If Your Pet Will Walk or Be Carried
This has a lot to do with your pet and how he or she responds to crowds. “Poppy gets excited by people easily, and having her walk down the aisle would have been too much for her. Instead, we decided to have my girlfriend carry her,” says Goza. She adds that in order to keep her pup relaxed, she made sure that the person holding her was someone she knew and was already comfortable with.
If your pet is going to be part of your wedding, include them in the rehearsal, too. That way, you can make these types of decisions ahead of time, and troubleshoot anything that comes up before your big day.
Beware of Food Hazards
People like to feed dogs, and many dogs seek food without invitation. This, according to Dr. Stelow, makes wedding receptions fraught with pet safety hazards. “Many people foods are not good for dogs, either calorie-wise or because of actual toxins or allergens in the food. So, partygoers that sneak the dog foods from the buffet, as well as dogs who help themselves, create a risk of food-related illnesses,” she explains. Having a person on hand to keep an eye out for the dog—and to make sure that nobody feeds him anything that they shouldn’t—will help solve this problem.
Use Pet-Friendly Flowers
From the boutonnieres to the bouquets and centerpieces, flowers are an integral part of a wedding ceremony. But if you plan to have your pet be a part of the ceremony, it’s important that you opt for plants that are not toxic to them. Certain flowers like daffodils and azaleas are harmful to dogs. Dr. Stelow recommends avoiding using those types of plants in your celebration when you include dogs in weddings. “There are toxic plants that are ornamental. The bridal couple should work with their florist to avoid all of them—just in case the dog gets curious,” she explains.
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Watch Out for Smaller Pets and Dog Safety Hazards
Stephanie Wiggins had her Dachshund Django make an appearance during her wedding reception. But in order to keep him safe, she made a point of holding him or passing him along to friends “to avoid having him getting stepped on by stilettos.”
They also took pet safety precautions while they had him in the room with their bridal party. “Django hung out with me and my bridesmaids during the pre-wedding festivities. We did our hair and makeup in a large hotel suite, and the door was constantly swinging open with hotel and wedding professionals. To ensure there was zero chance of Django sneaking out, we built a makeshift barrier a few feet from the door using chairs and pillows,” she explains. Ordering dog gates ahead of time and keeping them handy in the hotel room or at the salon or rehearsal venue can help ensure pet safety. Wiggins also made a point to alert the hotel and wedding professionals well in advance that Django would be in the room so that they made a point of keeping an eye out for him.
Check in on Your Pet
“Couples have to remember that their big day can be even more overwhelming for their pet. The people, loud sounds, new atmosphere and unknowns can be too much for a pet and cause them fear and stress,” says Holly Gray, a wedding planner with Anything but Gray Events. “I have heard a horror story from a client's friend who had a pet run away on their wedding day because of the band noise,” she explains.
It’s important to ensure that your pet is comfortable at all times and for you to periodically check in, even though you have a designated sitter. If for some reason he becomes overwhelmed, have a contingency plan where someone can remove him from the venue and allow him to go relax in a safe place like a hotel room.
Bring Your Pet’s Essentials
Weddings can be an all-day ordeal. If you are including your pet in your wedding, it’s important that you pack the things that he’s used to having to keep him safe and relaxed at home. Bring plenty of dog treats, dog food, dog toys and a comfortable bed for your pet to relax in. Also keep him on a dog leash whenever he is in a public area and provide him continuous access to fresh water.
Having your pet in your wedding can be a very special memory. Following the dog safety tips above will ensure that the experience is fun for both you and your furry friend.
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