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Something Borrowed, Something Chewed

Seven rules for a successful dog-inclusive wedding

By: Olivia Zauli Fellows

Last Updated:

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Photographs Susan Sabo /

In Hindu imagery, Dattatreya, who symbolizes the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, is always depicted accompanied
by dogs, symbols of fidelity and devotion. In Mesoamerica, the dog-god, Xolotl, was believed to serve as a leader
and guardian to humans travelling the underworld (which, most married folks can attest, marriage’s rockier shoals
sometimes feel like). To this day, dogs continue to be hailed and respected as protectors and partners, so it’s little wonder
that when it comes to milestone moments in people’s lives, our furry friends are often guests of honour. One particular celebration
seeing ever-increasing canine participation is the wedding ceremony.

Colleen Paige, a pet-lifestyle expert and wedding planner specializing in dog-inclusive ceremonies, points out that many of
us consider our dogs to be family, making them a natural addition to the wedding party.

“A dog is an important part of a couple’s relationship and they want to include them in the wedding just as they would
include anybody else they really loved,” she says. Now a pro at the art of incorporating couples’ pets into their weddings,
she can look back and laugh at some memorable experiences—a dog peeing on a wedding dress, for one—that have taught
her it takes a lot of work to design a ceremony that ends happily for the couple, the wedding guests, and the dog.

Paige remembers one of the first experiences of her career
as a lesson in trusting your instincts. When commissioned to
plan a wedding that included 50 dogs on the guest list, she
learned that some requests just begged for a “no.” This dogloving
bride had made up her mind that she wanted the dogs
in the wedding ceremony to have just as much fun as the
people. Before the wedding, the guests thought it would be a
good idea to let the dogs expend their energy playing at the
beach. As one might guess, instead of calming the dogs, frolicking
in the sand proved to be the key ingredient in a recipe
for disaster. Not only was the flower girl knocked over by a
rambunctious, hyped-up dog, but as the bride walked down
the aisle, she was greeted midway with a dirty, sandy, wet
dog-hug. Paige quickly learned Rule #1: Always keep the dogs
on leash.

David Tutera, host of WE TV’s primetime show My Fair
Wedding and event planner to the stars (past clients include
Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Lopez, and Elton John), also
follows a rule: preparedness is the key to success. Looking
back at a roster of weddings that involved animals such as
elephants and horses, Tutera says that planning a wedding
with a dog did not daunt him at all.

“Like any other wedding element, it’s important first to educate
yourself on the topic, and once you figure out the considerations
that need to be made for a pet, it’s no problem,” he
says. He asserts that if you follow Rule #2: Know what you’re
getting into, you’ll be prepared for any eventuality. Which is
important, because with dogs, even the best-laid plans may
not go off as planned.

Just ask Jon and Tamara Peterson of Carmel, CA, for whom
Paige planned a dog-inclusive wedding. Even after months of
training sessions and a flawless rehearsal, on the big day, their
two Dachshunds noisily play-fought their way down the aisle.
Half way to the altar, they came to a stop, one sitting on the
other’s head. But to the bride and groom, it turned out to be a
memorable, if unplanned, part of the day. As long as you have
a sense of humour and are prepared for the possibility of some
canine hijinx or perhaps even upstaging, proceed as desired.
Otherwise, tread with caution or your white wedding may be
marred by muddy paw prints.

The Ceremony

In an effort to prevent any unexpected reactions from the dog,
Tutera suggests that for the wedding day, you should have
someone whom your dog knows and trusts take charge of her,
making sure that she is clean and well-groomed, and walking
her through the area of the ceremony to let her give the whole
space a good sniff.

However, all the preparation in the world cannot guarantee
that everything will flow smoothly when the actual wedding
day comes. This is when the next rule kicks in—Rule #3: Have
a Plan B in case the dog is overwhelmed and unable to cooperate.

“You have to be prepared that at the last minute your pet
might not be capable of participating,” says Paige. “Because
if you’re not ready and something happens with the pet, you
run the risk of feeling like the wedding is ruined.”

It is also important to provide a place for your dog to rest in
case she gets nervous or is over-stimulated by all the commotion,
and to have plenty of fresh water for her to drink. Which
brings us to perhaps one of the most important considerations:
bathroom breaks. Have an area for your dog to relieve herself
and someone in charge of taking her there to do so. Rule #4:
Happy dog, happy wedding.

One aspect that couples often forget to consider is how Fifi’s
wedding attire will make her feel. While it might be tempting
to cover your dog in lace and sequins, it might not be the best
idea for a warm summer wedding or if she is uncomfortable
wearing clothes. According to Paige, “If it is really hot, a full
tuxedo on a dog is brutal. Weather should dictate the wedding
couture.” Rule #5? Dress for success.

Another important detail to take into account is how the
other people at the wedding will feel about having the couple’s
four-legged friend wagging her tail around the altar and
the canapés. Rule #6: Give guests a heads up. Paige recommends
that, in the invitation, you advise your guests of your
dog’s participation. That way, if anyone is afraid of the dog
or has severe allergies, they can let you know and request to
be seated far away from your dog. However, as Tutera points
out, animals can feel like family members and, as such, easily
make it on the guest list, so guests should be prepared if they
are attending a wedding where the couple is known to have a
tight relationship with their pets.

The Reception
Many people choose not to have their dogs involved in the
wedding reception, mainly because they don’t want to worry
about checking up on Fido on top of making sure Uncle Larry
isn’t sharing too many family secrets. Paige advises that if
you do want to have your dog present at the reception, you
hire someone (or ask a very, very dedicated member of the
wedding party) to look after the dog and always keep him
leashed and in sight. A wedding reception can be the devil’s
playground for a dog. Whoever is taking care of him should
be entrusted with ensuring that he doesn’t eat anything he
ought not to (cooked bones, chocolate, gum, fatty foods…).
Alcoholic drinks are also a source of hazard because not only
does booze pose a serious threat to a dog’s liver or pancreas, it
is also known to induce the Chicken Dance amongst humans,
putting Fido at risk of getting kicked, elbowed, or stepped
on by revelers. Rule #7: Alcohol and rowdy guests are everywhere
and you have a responsibility to ensure they’re not posing
any threat to your dog.

Though including dogs in a wedding certainly takes extra
care, consideration, and flexibility, for many, the extra effort is
well worth it, as Kishin and Liliana Kirpalani can attest.

“Overall it’s easy, you just have to be committed to it,” says

Before their ceremony, Kishin and Burt, his French Bulldog
took their last walk along the beach as single men, while
Liliana and her Shih Tzu, Baby, were getting ready to walk
down the aisle. What was once a rocky relationship between
a bumptious Frenchie and a quiet, polite Shih Tzu had turned
into a nurturing relationship that mirrored the one being formalized
by the bride and groom. Burt was walked down the
aisle by Kishin, and Baby was accompanied by one of Liliana’s
bridesmaids. The two pups stood proudly next to the altar
while Kishin vowed: “I will give water and lots of treats to
Liliana and Baby for as long as we shall live.”

For Kishin and Liliana, the decision to include their dogs in
the wedding was easy.

“They are like our children and we couldn’t imagine not
having them included in our most special day together,” says
Kishin. “We wouldn’t have done it without them.”


Last Updated:

By: Olivia Zauli Fellows
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