A mutt of honor? How to include your dog in your wedding

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We all have a good idea of what to expect at a wedding; the bride, the bridesmaids, the groom and groomsmen, the ring bearer and the flower dog.

No, that’s not a typo. A growing trend in weddings is the inclusion of dogs.  Many singles have pets they’ve lived with long before their future spouse came into the picture and they want to include them in the wedding festivities. Having your dog in the wedding can be a lot of fun, but you need to make your plans well in advance.

The first step is to evaluate your dog and his temperament. If he’s nervous or temperamental, or does not handle crowds, excitement or chaos well, it’s better to leave him at home. You also need to consider your dog’s abilities. A young pup just learning to hold his bladder and sit on command would probably not be up for the job.

If your dog has a personality suitable for the occasion, you need to make sure he is welcome. Contact the venues where you are holding the wedding and the reception and find out if your dog will be allowed entrance. Talk to your wedding photographer to ensure he’s comfortable working with animals. Also discuss your dog’s participation with the members of your wedding party, to ensure they are willing to interact with him.

Once those hurdles have been cleared, you need to do some pre-planning. Consider how you wish your dog to be dressed for the big event, and start shopping for canine wedding accessories and apparel. You can find all kinds of doggy wedding duds, ranging from tuxedo vests and ties to dresses, tiaras and jewelry, to fancy collars and leashes embellished with Swarovski crystals.  If your dog isn’t used to wearing clothes, it’s a good idea to get duplicates of what he’ll be wearing, or something similar to it, so he can become accustomed to it prior to the wedding.

You should also consider some additional training for your dog prior to the big day. At a minimum he will be expected to behave in a busy environment and remain calm, walk down an aisle, not jump on guests nor help himself to the wedding cake or hors dourves, for a lengthy period of time. If you want him to do anything special, like carry a flower basket or ring pillow, he will require even more training. If your dog needs to master a special skill, or if he’s not had any previous obedience training, he should start practicing four to five months before the wedding.

If at all possible, take the dog on a few visits to the sites of the ceremony and reception so he’ll become familiar with them. Rehearse what he’s going to do at the venues so he’ll have experience performing the behaviors where they will be required. Also make sure you schedule a professional grooming a day or two before the wedding. You’ll want your dog freshly bathed and trimmed, with toenails clipped, before you parade him in front of your guests.

Prepare a “wedding kit” for your dog. This should include food, water, a brush, his favorite treats, a bone or chew toy, a spare collar and leash, some clean up bags and some stain and odor remover — just in case. It’s also wise to bring along your dog’s crate, in case he needs some time away from the excitement.

Consider hiring a canine coordinator for your wedding. This is a service offered by some professional trainers. It can include everything from training your dog in the week’s prior to the ceremony for the specific behaviors he’ll need, to coming to your home the day of the event to exercise, groom and dress your dog and escort him to the ceremony and reception, to taking him to his after-wedding location. If you don’t hire a canine coordinator, be sure to designate someone your dog likes and who is not in the wedding party, to be in charge of your dog for the day and get him to his honeymoon arrangements afterward.

Our pets really are part of our families, so it’s natural to want to include them in a special way at events like weddings. Prepare for your big day ahead of time, and your wedding can be “doggone” terrific!

Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcomed to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for possible inclusion in future columns. Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.

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