How to Include Your Dog in Your Wedding Ceremony

By Christopher Baity

When planning a wedding, you may feel obligated to include every family member, friend and second cousin twice removed. However, as most dog owners consider their family dog a family member, these beloved companions are often left at home and not included into the festivities.

After ensuring the venue will allow a non-Service Dog, your first consideration is temperament and training. Does your dog have what it takes to remain obedient and focused during a onetime attempt as a ring-bearer or as a member of the wedding party? If your dog can or has completed a basic obedience test (e.g.,  Canine Good Citizen(CGC)) they may have the obedience and ability to perform during the ceremony.

Typically, a well-trained family pet needs several weeks of specific training to conduct a few simple tasks during the ceremony. Two of the easiest would be an escort of a groomsman or bridesmaid, a Ring Bearer or Flower Girl. Both only expect your pet to follow five or six basic commands (sit, down, wait/stay, come, heeling/walking, focus, and hold/carry).

Another consideration would be an outfit and wearing a pillow or carrying a basket. Prepare your dog ahead of time if you expect them to wear special attire or have additional weight on their back. Start simple, a bandana, harness or dog clothing. When your dog is accustomed to wearing different types of
clothing, transition them into their attire for the event or wearing a pillow.

Prepare, prepare, prepare.
Your setting and event play a huge part of your success on the big day. There may be 100 people, and countless new sounds and smells that your dog will need to ignore. Start to take your dog and train in every dog friendly environment in which you have time and access. Treat every new or old training
environment just like the big day. If your dog is not very social to people or exciting situations, don’t expect them to fake it on the big day. Make the training as fun and enjoyable for you both as possible.

Have an exit plan in place.
Arrange to have someone who is not a guest at your wedding come and take them as soon as the ceremony is over, or as soon as they finish walking down the aisle. You don’t want to have to worry about your dog at the reception. If you want your dog to stay, be sure you have that designated person on hand for bathroom breaks, etc.

But if you do bring your pup to the reception, get them a cake. 
A lot of people will get their dog a special cake from a doggie bakery on their wedding day to make sure that they also have something special happening. They look like regular cakes, they have icing and a similar design to the wedding cake, but they’re made with dog-friendly ingredients. Most bakeries should easily be able to make something for you.

Getting Groomed
While you probably expect your wedding party to get their hair and nails done before the big day, don’t forget about your pet! Take them to the groomers for a fresh bath and cut. Here are some basic tasks that your dog will need to know for their prospective roles:
1. Ring Bearer/Flower Girl:
• Carrying the rings or flower petals during the ceremony
• Walking with an usher or escort while carrying a basket or wearing a pillow
• Coming down the aisle unescorted. A controlled recall or ‘come’ command while carrying a basket or wearing a pillow

2. Usher:
• Escorting the wedding party to their position at the altar
• The dog takes the position of an usher, escorting a bridesmaid or groomsman
• The dog will be handed off to the designated person who will maintain control of them for the duration of the event.
3. Groomsman/Bridesmaid:
• The dog is escorted to their position and remains standing or sitting during the entire ceremony. (This would require the most training and preparation.)

Christopher Baity is the founder and Executive Director of Semper K9 Assistance Dogs, a 501(c) (3) organization that trains service dogs for disabled service members and their families. He has over 15 years of dog training and handling experience. Currently a Certified Dog Trainer (CDT), evaluator and service dog instructor, Baity is proficient in animal behavior, obedience training and kennel management. As a Marine Combat Veteran and military working dog handler and kennel master, Baity has worked with all types of breeds and temperament of dogs.

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