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Shelly Pate

The Best Ways to Include Pets in Your Wedding

Couple holds dog in woods

Even though I love taking photographs of people for a living, I get even more excited when I get to take shots of people AND their pets. Speaking as a dog mama myself, my dogs are not just pets, they are part of our family. So, it only makes sense on one of the most important days of your life to have all your family members with you. Here are my best tips on how to include pets in your wedding! 

Most couples have concerns about their pet acting up or having to wrangle them in their expensive wedding attire. There is absolutely no reason why having your pets join you on your wedding day or at your engagement session should stress you out! I have 2 pups myself (black and chocolate labs: Moose & Luna) so I understand how important pets are in your life. There are so many ways to make it work so you will have no doubts of including your furry friends in your wedding photos!!

Be sure to bring up your pet family in our initial conversation and we will make a plan!

Couples runs with dog in field

How To Include Pets at Your Engagement Session

Couple holds hands with dog at Jefferson Memorial

If you prefer to not have your pet as part of your wedding day, another option is to include them in your engagement session. Couples choose to include their dogs in their engagement photos over their wedding day due to the flexibility, not wanting to risk their wedding attire, and generally how it can be easier to coordinate.

Think about your pet’s personality–no one knows them better than you! If your pup is super well-behaved and calm then they can probably handle the ceremony and being around guests. But, if your pup is shy or gets stressed easily, we should take photos with them in a quieter area after the ceremony, or restrict the photos just to the engagement session.

Dog walks through high grass at engagement session

There are a variety of approaches to engagement sessions that we can take and I’ve done them all! It is really what works best for you and your pet:

  • Option #1 The pet joins the whole time! A friend should come along to help hold your pet while he/she is not in a photo.
  • Option #2 Pup joins for part of the time! This could look like us going to your place for a home session or going outdoors through your neighborhood for part of the shoot. Then we can pop the pup inside and go exploring for a sunset session elsewhere. A friend could also help drop off/return the dog so they aren’t there the entire session.
Couple holds dogs at engagement session

How to Include Pets on Your Wedding Day

Couple pet their dog at wedding

The best way to include your pet on your wedding day is having someone there who is not associated with the wedding to watch them. The pet sitter can be in charge of your dog the entire day and bring them around for photos or the most important parts of the wedding. Then your pet can be taken elsewhere to take a rest and play!

One couple hired a pet sitter to watch their dog on site at Goodstone Inn during their wedding day. Afterwards, these two shared how thankful they were for the help. They really wanted their dog Murray to be part of their day but didn’t want to burden a family member or be super stressed out.

The sitter took him on walks, played with him, and then brought him to the ceremony spot right when it ended. The newlyweds were then able to take photos with their furry family member and he even joined them for cocktail hour! It truly was the best of both worlds!

Couple holds dog at wedding
Groomsmen walks down down aisle at Virginia outdoor wedding.

Another couple personalized their wedding day by including their dog as part of the ceremony! Airlie House and Farm is an outdoor Virginia wedding venue that allows dogs, so this pup became a part of the day! She was leashed and walked down the aisle by a groomsmen and then joined the newlyweds on their recessional walk too. Traditions for this family always include their dog so naturally their wedding day was no different!

Their fluffy family member even joined them for couples photos prior to the ceremony since she was dressed up with a beautiful floral collar. Their dog was then taken to the couple’s room to rest during the celebration. They really loved having her be a part of their big day!

How to Make Including Your Pets Work

Woman carries her cat in a backpack at sunset.

Here are some more ideas for how to include your pets in your wedding or engagement session:

  1. Do a Sunrise Session! Have your session at sunrise if you are taking pets to a busy location like a popular tourist spot or around a city. Less people=less distractions for your pup.
  2. Bring all the pets!! I work with all kinds of animals, not just dogs. This can include the occasional cat in a backpack or even a bunny! 
  3. Bring treats and their favorite toy–especially if it has a squeaker! This gets their attention and perks up those cute ears!
Woman holds her cat at sunset.
Couple walks dog at National Mall

The Best Advice for Including Pets in Your Wedding

Couple embraces dog in field

The best piece of advice I can give for including pets in your wedding is to both embrace and enjoy whatever happens. For example, if you are shooting at the National Mall in Washington, DC and your dog decides to jump into the Reflecting Pool to chase the ducks. Run with it and have a good time!! (and maybe bring a towel, just in case!)

Expect that your pup will be excited. You’ll be playing with them in an unfamiliar place so they will have a lot of energy. Our dog Moose clearly didn’t approve of my husband picking me up as you can see from a shoot with our pups below. We know that our pets won’t be around forever so it’s important to capture these hilarious memories together.

I know for us, our dogs are our babies and so important to our lives. Having them around can make for really great photos because they help get your jitters out and make the entire experience more relaxing! All you have to do at your photo session is relax, have fun, and just be natural with your pet. It’s OK if everyone isn’t looking at the camera, as long as everyone is having a good time!

Dog jumps on couple in field engagement session

The Best Venues to Include Pets in Your DC Wedding

For those in the DC Metro Area, here are the most dog-friendly venues where I love to shoot:

  1. Goodstone Inn
  2. LINE DC Hotel  
  3. National Arboretum 
  4. Josephine Butler Parks Center  
  5. Gallery O on H
  6. Tabard Inn 
  7. District Winery 
  8. Jefferson Memorial

Got pets? Let’s make plans to include your fur babies on your big day!

Couple kiss dog in grassy field

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