Couldn’t possibly dream of having a wedding without involving your dog? We totally understand—Washingtonians really, really love their pets. So we talked to Carlos Mejias, founder of Alexandria’s Olde Town School for Dogs, about the proper steps to take to ensure that your pooch is ready for their walk down the aisle. Practice enough, and it can be done—even without a leash!
Step One: Evaluate.
Make sure your dog has the right temperament for the task: friendly, outgoing, not hyperactive, and not reactive to sounds. If you have a party at your house and have to put the dog away, or if you take him to Georgetown and he just wants to crawl under a car, it’s not going to work. A year to six years of age, depending on the breed, is generally when the dog is going to adapt to this the best.
Step Two: Build a Solid Obedience Foundation.
Your dog is paying attention to you if he can walk nicely on a leash and right at your side. He needs to sit automatically when you stop without having to be asked. He should be able to do a sit, stay and a down, stay. They’re simple exercises, but a dog needs to be able to perform them around distractions.
Step Three: Leave Yourself Enough Time.
If you want your dog to walk off-leash by himself, you need about three weeks of general off-leash training and three weeks of practicing going up and down an “aisle.” If you have access to your venue, try to rehearse there or somewhere similar. Create an aisle between chairs in your back yard, walk down a sidewalk with trees on one side and houses on the other, or go to dog-friendly Home Depot and train in a store aisle. Practice five minutes at a time so the dog doesn’t get bored, but go through the routine at least three or four times a day. After that, you should still practice at the wedding rehearsal and again the day of the ceremony.
Step Four: Use This Practice Strategy.
• Once you’ve got the obedience training down, teach your dog to go up and down the “aisle” while on a leash. Use dog food—not special treats—to reward him.
• Once the routine is familiar, trade the leash for a longer rope your dog can drag behind him—giving you something to grab if he tries to wander.
• As his skills improve, reduce the number of rewards—only offer three per run-through—and switch to a lighter nylon leash.
• When he’s got the idea, remove the leash and don’t offer any food—the promise of a reward should be enough at this point, and you don’t want your dog begging for food on the wedding day.