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How to Include Your Dog in Your Wedding Ceremony

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People love their pets and want to share their big day.

I have often been called upon to find ways to honor and mention beloved cats, birds, chickens, a ferret, and other animals in the wedding, but dogs are the pets most likely to be physically included in the ceremony.

Including your pooch of course will depend on his or her temperament and training, but here are some pointers for a smooth pet inclusion.

How to prepare:

  • Get a snazzy outfit for your pooch.
  • Arrange for someone to be in charge of pet so you don't have to be.
  • Make sure pet has an opportunity to go to the bathroom before walking down the aisle.
  • Make plans for someone to hold the dog during the ceremony.
  • Don't invite a dog to a wedding reception, unless he is very small or very well behaved and completely supervised.

I've seen everything from a dog in a tutu, acting as the maid of honor, to tuxedo-clad dogs as ring- or vow-bearers. And I've seen more than one overdressed dog come down the aisle or show up at a ceremony. One woman, a guest, brought a dog in her shoulder bag.

Dog trainer Anthony Jerone, of the Academy of Canine Training, told me he had 50 dogs at his wedding. They had a minister who was an animal activist. It was a very dog-friendly celebration in Queens. But don't try that at home -- unless you have a big back yard (or a willing venue) and plenty of plastic bags!

Ideas for including your pooch at your wedding.

  • Have someone walk him or her, and sit with the dog and bring a chew toy to keep him or her busy!
  • Don't give the animal real rings to hold.
  • Make sure the area is enclosed.
  • Make sure there is a place to take the pooch if he or she gets bored, restless, cranky, or barky.

How to honor and include animals who cannot attend:

  • For dogs, as well as cats, gerbils, birds, or dogs who cannot attend -- mention them in the ceremony. (That goes for honoring deceased pets as well!)
  • Include pets in your written wedding program with both photo and acknowledgment.
  • Keep the pet's photo on your wedding altar or at the family photo table.
  • Donate money to the ASPCA, the Humane Society, or favorite shelter in lieu of favors.

Include Pet In Vows

Here's a beautiful way Joe Jeydel and Kate Bartoldus-Jeydel worked their doggie into their wedding ceremony. Kate and Joe met on a warm Manhattan night when Joe's dog Duke insisted on a second nighttime stroll down familiar city streets, where they ran into Kate for the second time that evening! This is what they read to one another at their wedding:

Joe's Vows to Kate: I stand here before you today, the most important and significant day of my life so far, because of a single soul, an unlikely soul at that -- Duke. Not only is he the reason that you walked up to me the first time, but if it wasn't for his need to go out just two hours later, I would have missed you the second time around. He knew then, as I know now, that you were perfect. Perfect in so many ways. I let you go once, but I will never let you go again. I came to New York City because of my job, but the dreamer in me, no matter how concealed and quiet he might be, would tell you that I came here to meet you, and I cannot deny that. I love that and I love you.

Kate's Vows to Joe: For once and for all, you need to know that Duke was not the only reason we met that night. As I walked home and saw your incredible smile for the second time, something in me recognized you. Even though we had never met . . . something in my soul let me take the deepest, most peaceful breath of my life because in the middle of millions of people, I had found you. . . . That's not to say that everything is always perfect or as storybook as that first night, because to say that would take away from how rich and textured you've made my life. I remember one night early on in our relationship, we had an argument about something or other, and I was sure that it would be the end of us. I was so upset, I just sat on the kitchen floor with my head in my hands. But then I looked up and saw you sitting right next to me. Without ego or pride, we sat there on that awful linoleum floor until we figured it all out. That is why I knew I'd marry you and I can promise you, come what may, that I will always sit on the kitchen floor until we figure it out. I love you with a bigger heart than I ever knew I had. You are my peace, my joy, and, thankfully, my family forever.

Check with Your Venue

Of course, before you make plans for your pup, ask your venue way ahead of time if animals are allowed and if there is a special protocol. If you are getting married in a back yard, no worries, but some venues forbid furry friends. Even public parks may have rules about pets.

If your venue is okay with it, anything goes. Some people include their dogs in everything, even the dancing and and the feasting -- placing a plate of food down for the dog as part of the wedding celebration.