When you’re planning your elopement, it’s only natural that you want to include some of your family. This might include your fur babies too! If you’re looking to wed each other in a unique and intimate way, including your beloved pet in your special day, this article is for you.
Is Bringing My Pet A Thing?
Absolutely! Including dogs during a wedding ceremony is becoming more mainstream; popularized by celebrities who brought their dogs to their wedding. In fact, it’s one of the most frequent things that couples ask me about, and luckily, the vast majority of the time you absolutely can bring your pet to your ceremony. After all, elopements don’t follow traditions, so you have more freedom do whatever makes the two of you happy.
However, you will to plan your elopement with them in mind, including finding a location and ensuring that they are looked after throughout the day.
Planning A Dog-Friendly Elopement
You’ll need to carefully consider the pet policies and facilities available at your chosen elopement destination. Before embarking on your adventure, take the time to plan the logistics to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience for both you and your pet.
The very first thing you need to check out is whether dogs are allowed at your location. In many outdoor locations, they will be fine, but remember to follow proper etiquette and keep them leashed if there are other people or wildlife around, pick up their mess and generally do the things you normally do as a responsible pet-owner.
Some locations will allow pets with certain restrictions, while others will not allow them at all. This means that is absolutely essential to have checked beforehand, with plenty of time to spare in case you decide to change to a more dog-friendly location.
National Parks And State Parks
Many national parks and state parks will allow pets, but not without restrictions. Restrictions on pets usually means that they cannot go on some, or all, of the trails in the park. They can be included in your day, but it often does make it very difficult and you may not be able to take them to some of the most scenic locations where you’ll get the best photographs.
Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas allows dogs on all 26 miles of trails. This makes it a great location for eloping with your four-legged friend, and the opportunity for epic photos of you and your dogs near some very scenic overlooks. Dogs will not be allowed inside any of the buildings, so bear that in mind.
Gateway Arch National Park in Missouri and Illinois welcomes well-behaved pets and they are allowed in almost all areas of the park. They will not be allowed to accompany you inside the famous arch or inside any of the buildings.
Shenandoah National Park in Virginia in Virginia allows pets on most of the trails, with a few exceptions, but they only total around 20 miles of the 500 or more miles of trail available, making it still an excellent choice for a pet-friendly elopement.
Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona allows pets on trails, however they are not allowed below the canyon rim. This does open up the possibilities for epic photos overlooking the canyon, as long as they’re carefully managed and dogs are well-behaved.
The most important thing to have in mind, wherever you choose to go, is the B.A.R.K Ranger Principles:
B – Bag Your Poo.
Keep the park healthy and safe for all visitors, and wildlife, by picking up after your dog and disposing the bag in a proper waste bin.
A – Always Wear A Leash
Even the best-behaved dogs can act impulsively at times, especially if they’re in an unfamiliar place or get spooked by wildlife, other visitors or their dogs. Keeping dogs on a leash, less then 6 feet in length, means that both you and everyone else can enjoy the park.
R – Respect Wildlife
Dogs love to chase. Unfortunately, the local wildlife don’t enjoy it quite so much. Remember, the place you’re visiting is the home for many creatures.
K – Know Where You Can Go
Restrictions on your dogs may seem mean, but they’re in place to ensure your safety, your pet’s safety and the safety of other visitors. Sticking to the areas where dogs are welcome will keep your elopement running smoothly and ensure that you have the most enjoyable day.
Following B.A.R.K will mean that you can include your pet at a national park elopement, without breaking any regulations.
For state parks, it is advisable to research and find out with the state where you may be able to take your dogs and ensure that everything remains legal.
Like national parks, many beaches don’t allow pets, but there are plenty of them that do. There are enough around the country that you can find one in most places. I find beach elopements much easier for planning and logistics than parks, as they are generally more spacious than the hiking trails and if you time the day right they can often be less crowded. You only need to look through my portfolio to know that I adore beach elopements: the sunrise and sunsets, the colors of the sand against the blue sea just looks incredible.
If you want to have your ceremony at a beach and include your fur baby, you’ll need to find out whether they’re allowed and if there are any caveats. Some beaches may allow your dogs in certain areas, while others may insist that they remain leashed. Other beaches allow dogs only at certain times of the year.
New Jersey has some of the best dog-friendly beaches, including a huge dog park and beach at the Wildwoods on the Jersey Shore. This area includes dog-friendly businesses, and dog-friendly accommodation which can make it a fantastic option for a travelling wedding.
There are many dog-friendly hotels around the country where you could involve your pet in your special day. Although outdoor locations tend to be easier to organize and keep your pet happy, you absolutely could include them at a hotel wedding with a little planning.
As usual, check with the location whether your pet is allowed and what restrictions are in place. Some super dog-friendly locations have staff on-hand to help take care of your dog while you’re off getting photos taken, or they may help walk them down the aisle!
Incorporating Pets Into Your Ceremony
Once you have found the perfect location, it’s time to think about fun and cute ways to include your dog in your ceremony. While there may be some caveats based on your venue or destination, I have some favorite ways for your beloved pet to be a part of your special day.
Before deciding how to include them, you also need to assess how viable it is. Prioritize safety considerations for your dog. Evaluate their behavior and assess how they interact with other people and animals. This will help determine if they are suitable for the role you want them to perform and if any additional precautions need to be taken. If needed, you could hire professional assistance from a trainer or animal behaviorist to address any concerns.
Walk The Aisle
Having your dog walk down the aisle with you is super cute, but also shows the important place they have in your family. Our pets are as important to us as humans, so why not have them come down the aisle with you?
A classic way to include your dog is to have them be the ring bearer. The ring can be attached to their collar to prevent any mishaps or accidental swallowing (yes, I’m thinking of that scene from American Pie: The Wedding). Alternatively, you may use a dummy ring while having a trusted human take care of the real thing, which is a good way to include your dog and reduce any anxiety about your ring’s whereabouts.
Ok, this sounds a little “out there,” but hear me out. Many states in the USA don’t officially require a human witness, or they may require one but have extra space on the marriage license for additional optional signatures. This opens up the possibility for your dog to be a witness. I love this because your dog’s paw print will always be there as a reminder of their important role in your day.
Can your dog perform the role of officiant? You’ll either need a super talented dog that can speak and register with an appropriate ministry, or a little imagination on your part combined with a suitable location.
Colorado and District of Columbia are self-solemnization states, meaning that you don’t legally require an officiant to perform the ceremony and sign the marriage license. This makes them a very popular elopement destination, as it’s one of very few places where it could literally be just the couple with nobody else present. It also opens up the possibility of having your dog perform the role of “officiant,” in a ceremonial capacity.
Prepare Your Dog
Having seen dozens of elopements and weddings featuring dogs, one major piece of advice I have to offer is make sure you prepare your dog beforehand. Although we know and love our furry family members, we can’t always be sure how they’ll react to new situations. Ideally, you don’t want the elopement to be the first time you try something out.
Here are some things to have practised or prepared in readiness for the ceremony.
Exercise Before The Ceremony
What we love about dogs can also make them unsuitable at times for weddings: their boundless energy, need to explore and play, and interact with others. If you don’t meet these needs before the ceremony, it’s likely that they could be a huge ball of energy by the time it begins, which might lead to them going crazy.
If you have the time to exercise and play with your dog before the ceremony, it will also create a beautiful memory of just you two as a couple and your beloved pet on your wedding day. If you can bring your photographer along it will also help to create some fantastic photos.
Your Dog’s Attire
Some couples like to dress up their dogs in little suits, tuxedos or wedding dresses. This makes them just like any of the other guests who put on their best clothes for the special day. I always think this looks super cute.
However, you don’t want to dress your dogs for the first time on the day of your ceremony. Many of them don’t like having clothes put on them, and although they are usually fine once they’re dressed, you don’t want to deal with an anxious pet with so much else going on. Doing this a few times before the wedding date can help to relax your dog.
You’ll want to take cute, fun and beautiful photos with your dog. Getting an excitable pup to sit and stay still for lengthy periods isn’t always easy, but with enough practise and patience you can definitely capture photos with your pet. Exercising your dog beforehand is helpful for keeping them calm, and choosing a photographer with experience of working with animals will help: they’ll know just how to pose you and your dogs and recognize the signs of dog anxiety, and when it’s time to take a break.
With so much going on, it’s possible to assume that your dog will be fine. However, new situations and people can sometimes cause anxiety in our pets which can in turn make them behave differently. If you’re having an outdoor elopement, there are also hazards presented by nature and other people that you will need to consider in your planning..
Some of these tips may seem like common-sense, but with everything else to plan during an elopement, they can get overlooked.
When packing for your dog-friendly elopement, make sure to include the essentials. Bring enough food and water for the duration of your trip, along with food and water bowls. Don’t forget to pack their favorite treats, toys, and a comfortable blanket or bed to keep them comfortable and relaxed. It’s also important to have a leash, collar with identification, and any necessary medications.
Planning For The Weather
To make the day both comfortable and enjoyable, both for you and your pup, you’ll want to plan for the time of year. You’ll want to avoid extreme heat or cold that we experience in certain states. In addition to packing essentials, bring any specific needs your dog may have based on the location and season. If it’s cold, bring a doggie sweater or paw protection. If it’s hot, ensure your dog has access to shade and water.
Prepare For Activities
If you’re incorporating any physical activities, such as hiking or swimming, you’ll want to take certain safety precautions. Make sure your dog is fit enough to handle the length of hike you have in mind, and that they’re comfortable on the terrain. The last thing you want is for your dog to give up and refuse to move any further, and if they’re a large breed you won’t be able to carry them.
If you’re eloping at a beach or lake, your dog may want to go for a swim. Maybe you’ll join them? Either way, ensure your dog is a strong swimmer and enjoys the water: some breeds are more drawn to the water than others. Remember your own safety as well, and avoid rough seas or high tide.
Bring Your Dog
Although it does bring additional planning and responsibility, including a dog in your wedding is definitely possible. There is lots to consider, but I think it adds a special touch to your day that makes it totally worthwhile.
If you’re looking to elope, or want some more advice on bringing a pet with you to your ceremony, feel free to get in touch. I absolutely love talking all things elopement!