Dogs at weddings

My Stanley

Is having dogs at weddings a good idea or a terrible one?

I’m asked some version of this question a lot in my work as a wedding celebrant.

Whether the couple wants to have their beloved pooch as ring bearer for their wedding ceremony, or they have guests with canine chums they’d love to have there on their big day, it’s often a subject that comes up in our meetings.

My answer?

It depends

(Well thanks Claire, that was super useful…)

Yeah, fair point. Let me lay my cards on the table.

Personally, I bloody love dogs at weddings. They bring joy, innocence and a lovely chaotic element. They’re a member of your family too, after all, so why wouldn’t you want them with you there?

But there are some big caveats – things you’ll really need to think about if you want to bring a dog to your wedding – and to make sure that everyone (including and especially the dog) is happy about it…

Your wedding venue

The first and possibly one of the biggest hurdles is whether you can have dogs at your wedding venue. Ask them about their thoughts on bringing a dog. It might be a hard no of course but, even if it’s a yes, you might want to ask them about restrictions such as whether the dog has to be on a lead at all times, what happens about feeding them and where you can take them to have a poo!

Hugo, a guest at Allegra and Torria’s wedding

Also, try to see the venue through your dog’s eyes. What are they likely to love or hate? James and Rachel tied the knot in 2017 in front of a beautiful lake. Their dogs, who had been looking picture perfect with their bows on their collars before the ceremony, didn’t look quite so pristine by the time they were exchanging their vows. Just before the ceremony started, the temptation of the lake had proved too much for Murdo, who decided to make a break for it and take a dip, encouraging Bella to do the same. They had an amazing time swimming around in the lake, watching all the people on the bank shouting at them to come back in. They returned the favour by shaking pond water and bits of weed over the guests who were trying to sort it all out before the bride arrived! Fortunately, all of James and Rachel’s guests were as dog-mad as they are, so they didn’t mind too much.

Obviously, if you’re getting hitched at home or in your garden, there won’t be any restrictions and your dog will feel comfortable and familiar in their space. Although, even then, think about how they might react to lots of people and even other dogs being in their territory all day. They will probably need a space they can go to get away from young guests who won’t leave them alone (or just to take that chicken leg they stole off the table to eat in secret…)

Wherever you get married, if you take your dog you will need to make sure that they feel comfortable and they’re safe. Then you can all relax and have fun.

Your other guests

Now, this is a contentious one, as it might come down to a difficult choice…

Are any of your guests allergic to dogs or have a dog phobia? Obviously, if they do, it’s going to be a no. But will it be a no to inviting them, or a no to your dog coming to the wedding…?!?

Your dog’s temperament

Michelle and Rob’s Stanley

Whilst I’d love my dog Stanley to be at any ceremony I had, he’d hate every moment of it. He’d be overwhelmed and grumpy and would no doubt add to the ambience with his trademark room-clearing farts. So I’d not even attempt it, as it wouldn’t be fair on him or on anyone else, and it would be distracting for us to have to deal with him in this state.

Some hounds, however, are super sociable and love a bit of a do. In fact, at Michelle and Rob’s wedding earlier this summer, they were very excited to have their fur baby (another Stanley, although as different as could be from my Stanley) as their ring bearer and to be around and about during the day. He was there as they were getting ready, for the ceremony itself (where he did his ring bearer duty with aplomb and curled up between them as they said their vows in a heart-melting moment), and right into the night. He was adored by everyone, and he revelled in every moment of it.

Have backup!

Even if your dog is more like Michelle and Rob’s Stanley than my Stanley, it’s still essential to have someone else on ‘dog duty’. This person would need to be someone who isn’t a close family member or in the wedding party, preferably. Choose someone who could take your dog out if they become distressed, even (and especially) if it’s right in the middle of the ceremony – or just as the pudding comes out. You might consider hiring someone for the day to do just that.

After all, even the most well-behaved, even-tempered dogs need to go to the loo sometimes and you don’t want to be poop-scooping in your wedding finery!

Expect the unexpected!

Stanley (not mine) was the dream dog at Rob and Michelle’s wedding and behaved just like every owner hopes their dog will on their big day.

But he was very much the exception rather than the norm. And, as every dog owner knows, you can’t always predict what your four-legged friend is going to do in any situation.

Tony thought that his dog Milo would trot down the aisle to him with the rings when he called her at the opportune moment (with a treat as extra motivation for her). After all, she’d been excellent help at the proposal, so she’d had ring-bearing experience…

When the dog minder let Milo off her lead, she did indeed trot down the aisle towards Tony. But then halfway, she spotted someone else she knew and went to say hello. Then another person along the row. Then she had a wander round the other side of the chairs and a sniff at an interesting piece of grass before realising that everyone seemed to want her over by her dad and eventually ambled over.

Dogs will do what they want, and they don’t really understand that it’s not good etiquette to start licking themselves when they’re the focal point of a pivotal ceremony moment, or that the dip in the lake will undo the primping and preening they just had an hour ago. That’s the gorgeous, in-the-moment nature of them!

Hannah with her dog River by Eliza Claire Photography

A handy list of things for a dog-friendly wedding day:

  • Make sure there’s plenty of water for your dog to drink and that they know where it is.
  • Have someone on ‘dog duty’ (a friend or professional dog minder).
  • If they are your ring bearer, maybe consider having the real rings elsewhere if they’re likely to have to be taken out or they do something daredevil in the moment.
  • Take plenty of poo bags, treats and whatever their usual food is.
  • If they are going to be wearing anything wedding-specific, like a bow on their collar or a little doggy dicky-bow, make sure they’ve tried it on before and they are happy with it. Even if they look cute, if they’re uncomfortable they’re unhappy.
  • Keep little ones away from the dog, especially if they’re likely to pull tails etc.
  • Make sure there’s somewhere quiet for your dog to go if it all gets a bit much.
Oscar at Mino and Jon’s wedding by Lemontree Photography

So, will you have dogs at your wedding? If you decide it’s a yes, hoorah! Do give me a shout if you need a dog-friendly celebrant! (link to contact page)