How to plan a dog-friendly wedding

As we reach peak wedding season, Dogs Trust is providing advice for dog owners wishing to include their four-legged friends on their big day.

The UK’s largest dog welfare charity advises that, whilst involving a dog in a wedding is a wonderful way to celebrate how much we treasure them, it is important that pet owners consider how their dog might feel when accompanying owners up the aisle.

Jenna Kiddie, Head of Canine Behaviour at Dogs Trust, said: “Many owners consider their dogs to be members of the family, so it’s only natural to want to include them in their big day.

“However, a crowded, noisy environment like a wedding can be confusing and frightening for an animal, so it is important to consider your dog’s welfare throughout the day to ensure they have as good a time as everyone else.”

Dogs Trust advises the following tips for good dog welfare at weddings:

1 View the day from your dog’s perspective

Make a day-plan by creating a sequence-of-events from hour-to-hour and think about how your dog usually responds to similar situations. This will help you to highlight key moments of the day when your dog might need extra support so you can prepare them well in advance. For example, some dogs enjoy meeting new people, while others might prefer to avoid guests and busy situations, they might find overwhelming.

2 Make them a cosy den at the venue where they can relax undisturbed if necessary.

Taking your dogs bed or crate along with favourite toys and blankets that smell of home, can help them to settle in an unfamiliar place. This might be a useful place for them to relax in during dinner. A non-spill water bowl can be useful, so you can be confident they’ll have water available at all times.

3 Have people your dog knows and trusts care for them throughout the day

It’s important to be realistic about how much of the day you will be able to spend with your dog/ You’re likely to be in great demand for multiple congratulations, toasts and celebrating with guests. It will be helpful for someone your dog has a good relationship with to take over ‘doggy duty’ for some of the day. It is a good idea for them to spend some quality time with your dog so they understand how they communicate and can understand any signs they give when they might be feeling uncomfortable.

4 Include dog training in your wedding planning

The Dogs Trust website has lots of dog training tutorial videos that show you how to teach these skills in fun, rewarding ways that you and your dog will enjoy. Teaching your dog how to behave around food is particularly important, especially if you will be having a wedding cake as this can be very dangerous for your dog if they were to get hold of it. It’s best to keep your cake out of reach and to inform your guests not to give your dog cake or other treats from the table. It’s also worth thinking about the types of flowers you will have as some plants can be poisonous to dogs.

5 Be mindful that your dog might get more and more excited or overwhelmed during the day

It’s worth considering the effect of ‘situation-stacking’ throughout the day, which is where often short-lived and completely separate situations that a dog experiences – whether fun and exciting or worrying and stressful -happen in succession so that all the feelings of excitement or worry stack up until suddenly the dog appears to become overwhelmed and completely unable to relax.

6 Would your dog rather not come?

Some dogs might just simply feel better not coming along at all. It is important to respect your dog’s feelings so if they would struggle, then making plans for them to be elsewhere is a gift to them. You can involve them in other ways, such as having different pictures of them as your table centrepieces.