Tips for a Dog-Friendly Elopement or Wedding

When your dog is a part of your family, it can be hard to imagine leaving them behind when you get married. Especially if you’ve raised your dog together, having your four-legged child by your side on the most important day of your life can make it even more special. If you want to tie the knot with your furry companion by your side, there are a few things you’ll need to know first. 

Important note: Although this post is designed for dogs being involved in your wedding, these can also apply to your cat and other companion animals!

As an elopement photographer, Certified Vet Tech, and fellow pet parent, I’ve got the scoop on keeping your pup safe and happy, and some tips for planning a dog/pet friendly elopement. I also have a whole guide to visiting POrtland, Oregon with your dog – so check that out too!

As well, I am very passionate about educating all wedding vendors of the importance of keeping pets safe and happy through understanding pet’s needs and behaviors. i hope that this elopement and wedding industry can use these tips to provide better care for clients pets and make it a more pet-friendly experience!

Choosing a Dog-Friendly Elopement or Wedding Location

Step one to planning a dog friendly elopement with your pooch is to find a dog friendly elopement location! Before you commit to one spot, do some research and make sure you’ll be able to bring your pets.

National Parks and dogs

Most national parks, for example, aren’t dog friendly at all. They’ll allow dogs in parking lots, paved walkways, overlooks, and campgrounds (basically anywhere that cars can go), but other than that, dogs usually can’t be on the trails or anywhere else in the park.

If you are wanting to elope in a National Park with your furry friend, check out other options than hiking trails like logging roads, forest service roads, or choose a more “pet friendly” National Park such as Great Sand Dunes, Acadia, Petrified Forest, or White Sands.

National Forests and State Parks

National forests and State Parks on the other hand, almost always allow dogs on the trails – as long as they’re on a leash. As an added bonus, they tend to be much less crowded than national parks, and are usually less strict about where you can have an elopement ceremony!

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

Bureau of Land Management, or otherwise known as BLM are great options for pet friendly elopements. Most of these public lands allow pets and are much less crowded than nearby national parks. The best part is that these lands are usually located near national parks – so you can get the best of both worlds by splitting your time between both spaces!

Lodging accommodations

Another great option for dog friendly locations are at your lodging location. Choosing a unique or well decorated Air BnB, VRBO, resort, or hotel is a great option to include them for photos. Especially if your pet is not going to be safe in the outdoors like birds, cats, or exotic pets – taking photos with them at your lodging location is a perfect place!

Remember to Check Rules and Regulations

When you’re looking at potential elopement locations, make sure to research if they allow pets! Rules vary from park to park and sometimes even trail to trail, so always double check. After you’ve confirmed that your fur baby is allowed to join, make sure that they will be safe to do so!

Ideas For Including Your Dog in Your Elopement or wedding

Whether your pet will be present for your wedding day or you will be incorporating them, here are a few fun ways to get your dog involved in the big day!

Get your dog Wedding Attire

Most dogs aren’t into wearing a three piece suit (but if yours is… go for it!), but that doesn’t mean they can’t get a little dressed up for the occasion. A bow tie is always an adorable addition, or a floral collar. You can ask your florist to make one for your dog to match the bouquet!

Make your dog Your Ring Bearer or Flower girl/boy

Ring bearers aren’t bears, but they can definitely be dogs! Traditional weddings have a flower girl, and so can yours! Attach the rings to your dog’s collar or load up a basket with flower petals and have your pup carry it – you’ll have everyone melting from the cuteness!

Create a “First Look” With Your Pup

We all know that a standard first look involves you and your partner seeing each other in wedding attire for your first time, but what if you broke that tradition with your beloved pet? It can be such a fun and cute way to get their reaction to you and vice versa.

Have Your Dog Sign Your Marriage License

This one might be surprising – but yes, your dog can be your witness! But only in some states. Marriage licenses always have room for two witnesses to sign, but some states only require one, or even none! Double check the marriage laws of the state you’re eloping in, but if that’s the case, you can bring an ink pad and have your fur baby stamp their paw print on the witness line!

Colorado and Hawaii don’t require witnesses at all, while Nevada only requires one. You can check the requirements for every US state here to find the best location for your dog friendly elopement!

Give Fido the Camera

Fido probably won’t be replacing your professional elopement photographer, but putting a Go Pro camera on them can get you some unique footage! This will be super fun to watch, and you’ll see your elopement day the way your dog did!

Bring a Photo or Cardboard Cutout of your dog

Sometimes the elopement location you choose doesn’t allow you to bring your pet safely and that’s okay! It doesn’t mean you can’t make them a part of your day. Bring a photo of your dog and take some photos that way or you can even be a little silly and bring a cardboard cut out of them!

Where to Get Your Pet Cardboard Cutout:

Make Them a Part of Your Attire

Putting your dog’s or pet’s face on your wedding attire can be really cute and make it feel like they are there with you all day long. They could be on your socks, tie, cufflinks, jacket, blanket, or even underwear! Check out some of my favorite sites to get your pets on your clothes here:

Keeping Your Dog Safe During Your Elopement

I know safety is always the number one priority when it comes to your four legged child, and your elopement day is no different. Here are some tips for keeping your dog safe!

Keep your dog Leashed

Even if your dog is a well behaved angel, it’s important to always keep them on a leash unless permitted. You never know how other dogs will react, or you may even run into an animal on your elopement day hike! Your pup probably doesn’t have a lot of experience fighting off bears, so keep them close and keep them safe.

It’s also a great practice to follow leave no trace principles, which is mentioned later in this article in more depth of the importance in doing so.

Bring the Proper Supplies

Your dog will need a few things, especially if you’re hiking or incorporating a physical activity! Here are a few things to remember to pack with you.

  • Food & water + dishes
  • Treats (to bribe your pup to pose for photos)
  • Paw protection (if you might run into snow); we recommend these at my vet clinic
  • Leash & harness/collar –> Check out these cute macrame ones **Make sure to bring or buy leashes that are neutral color or match your wedding attire. This will make a difference in your photos. I always recommend slip leashes instead of retractable ones as they look bulky in photos and are harder to control your dog**
  • Poo bags; I prefer these ones from Amazon
  • Optional: Fido Pro Pack (for emergencies)
  • Accessories: Bow ties, floral collar, handkerchief, or even a veil!

hire professional pet care

one of the best decisions you can make when incorporating your dog, cat, or even bird (the sky is the limit with me) – is to hire a professional pet care service. One of my favorite companies to work with is Wags & garland.

why you should hire wedding pet care

Bringing your fur babies along for your wedding adventure can be such a special moment for you all. I know how important these kiddos are in our lives, but it can also be overwhelming for your wedding day!

Even the most well-behaved pets can be stressful on your elopement and hiring professional care to help transfer, hold, and take better pictures for your pets is HIGHLY recommended. It’s one of those details that are commonly overlooked, so I would suggest seriously looking into it.

spotlight feature on wags & Garland pet care company

Wags & Garland is the Pacific Northwest’s first wedding day pet care company, and they can’t wait to design a pawfect day for your pup! Here it from steph, the owner and creator of Wags & Garland first hand:

“Let us be your pup’s plus one to your wedding or elopement adventure so you don’t have to inconvenience friends, family members, your photographer, or wedding planner with doggie duty responsibilities on your special day. You and your partner can enjoy having your dog by your side to share in all the special moments, your guests can enjoy your wedding celebration, and everyone can feel comfortable knowing your pup has their own personal wedding attendant whose main goal is to ensure they have the time of their life at their pawrent’s wedding! 

Whether your pup is walking down the aisle as a ring bearer or flower pup, delivering the rings during your ceremony, or simply there to take photos – we promise to provide your pup with the absolute best care and make sure all their special wedding day moments are captured.”

how wags & garland pet care company started:

“The idea for Wags & Garland came to me during my own wedding planning in 2010. My husband and I wanted to include our pup Kingston in our special day, but we could not find a stress-free way to make that happen. The thought of reaching out to a friend or family member to look after our 120 pound bulldog on our wedding day was too big of an ask for us to make, and we had no idea how to sort through all of the logistics to make it happen any other way. Not having him in any of our wedding photos or by our side at the venue was crushing and it became very clear to me how much this service was needed to assist couples in similar circumstances.

Fast forward to 2018, I had just completed my 21st season working as a special events professional for the National Basketball Association, and decided to take a leap from the sports industry to the wedding industry to do what I love most – having clients that are tail waggin’ happy to see me!”

“With my lifelong love, connection, and respect for animals, coupled with my event planning background and passion for delivering beautiful moments, I knew I could help create amazing memories for both my human and furry clients. 

It is such an honor to be the first west coast based wedding day pet care company to fulfill this specialized need within the wedding industry and I’m eternally grateful to my team of pet attendants who make this all possible. I’m not sure there are many things in this world we love more than dogs and we will never turn down the opportunity to experience the sweetest wedding day hangs with our client’s pups.”

pet services offered by wags & garland

“While it’s definitely important to make sure your elopement location allows dogs, it’s just as important to have an experienced, insured handler who is solely focused on your pup’s care and comfort.

Here are just a few benefits of hiring a professional to look after your pup on your wedding day:

  • Safely transport your dog to and from your elopement location
  • Provide experienced handling, care, and accompaniment during all of their elopement day activities
  • Familiarize your dog with your elopement location by taking them for a walk in the area or allowing them to visit your elopement space in advanced of your ceremony 
  • Assist your photographer in posing your dog when needed and capturing their attention with treats, squeaky toys, and lots of love
  • Keep your pup occupied and at ease when it’s time for photos with just the two of you
  • Stay prepared with all of the doggie essentials including plenty of water, your pup’s favorite treats, toys, poop bags, extra clothing, paw protection, towels, wipes, hand sanitizer, medications, and a first aid kit 
  • If your dog needs to stay back for any part of your adventure or if you only plan on having your pup join you for part of the day – we can take your dog back to your hotel or Airbnb and watch them until your return
  • We will always follow Leave No Trace pet principles by picking up after your dog, making sure they do not wander off designated trails, understand and follow all leash laws to prevent disturbance to wildlife, and remain respectful to others so we can all enjoy the outdoors safely
  • Capture behind the scenes footage of your day from your dog’s perspective 

why you should hire wags & garland

Your photographer, partner, your guests, and even your dog will be thrilled you made the decision to hire Wags & Garland to assist with your elopement. Having a dedicated handler for your pup allows everyone to remain present with you throughout the day.

We are registered, licensed, insured, pet first aid and CPR certified, experienced with all breeds and temperaments, and the majority of our handlers work in the pet industry in a professional capacity – many whom are vet techs, dog walkers, and pet sitters. 

With over 400 weddings under our belt, we are prepared for the unexpected and will support and guide you through the entire planning process. Our focus will always remain on your dog to make sure they are safe, comfortable, hydrated, and happy.

contact wags & garland pet professionals

if you are looking to hire wags & garland for your wedding, you can get in contact with steph and her team here:

practice leave no trace when you are in the outdoors with your dog

Just because your dog is tagging along, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice the leave no trace principles. Making sure you recreate respectably is important so that you and your fur babies can enjoy these special places in the future.

dispose of your dog’s feces properly

ALWAYS be sure to clean up your pet’s feces whenever you are outside. it may not seem like a big deal if you are out on the trail, but once one person leaves it – others think its okay.

not only is it unsightly and smelly, but it can actually spread deadly diseases like the parvovirus and intestinal parasites – which can live for years in the environment.

Lastly, always pack it out! Never leave a doggie waste bag behind. just because they are “eco-friendly” or “biodegradable” does not mean you can leave it behind. They still take years to decompose, and in the meantime can contaminate your local drinking water!

stay on the trails & minimize your impact

we’ve all heard the phrase “stay on the trail” but this couldn’t be more true when you are bringing your dog out into the elements for your outdoor wedding or elopement. Dogs stepping or running in fragile wildflowers, fields, or other vegetations can have a lifelong impact on preserving these spaces for us to enjoy in years to come.

if everyone let their dog go off trail, which has happened in the past, hiking trail or area closures are a real possibility. Please watch your dog while hiking and keep them on the trail so we can visit these areas time and time again in the future.

if you do want to let your dog off leash, please visit a designated off-leash space like dog parks, beaches, and outdoor dog trails like thousand acres in oregon.

how to Be Prepared to keep your fur baby safe

My number tip to keeping your dog safe on your elopement, is to make sure you Do your research before deciding if they should attend your elopement!

Research your hiking trail or elopement location

If you’re hiking, check if there are any tough rock scrambles or spots that might be difficult for non-humans. It’s important to bring up your dog’s hiking ability before deciding on a location!

Stay alert for wildlife, mystery plants that your pup might be tempted to eat, and anything else that might distract your fur baby.




Getting Great Photos with Your Dog on Your Wedding Day

Having your dog tag along for your wedding day and including them in photos can be a challenge, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get great photos with them! As a Fear-Free Certified Veterinary Technician, I’ve been through hours of training and education on understanding animal behavior and how to make them comfortable in new situations.

So here’s my tips to getting great photos with your pets!

1. Exercise your dog

A lot of photographers don’t understand that most dogs will just jump right into holding still and taking photos with their humans. Letting your pup run around at your location or taking them on a long walk/hike can be a great way to make them feel free.

Your wedding day will also not reflect a normal routine for them and a lot of times they’ll be hanging back at your lodging location or napping in their kennel. So, it’s important to incorporate their exercise into your wedding timeline. Think about strolling along the beach near your cabin or even visiting an off-leash dog park where your dog can explore with you without crowds.

Exercise is extremely important for dogs and will result in them being more engaged with you and your photographer when picture time comes. It’s also a great opportunity to get those candid shots with your dog!

2. Incorporate Their Favorite Treat or Toy

After you’ve let your dog play around and get some physical activity done – be sure to make this day special for them too! Bring their favorite treats or toys along with you so that your photographer can use these to their advantage during the photos. This also helps engage your dog and makes them feel extra loved today.

This could look like letting them lick out of the peanut butter jar or throwing their frisbee in the backyard of your lodging location.

3. Provide Mental Stimulation with Tricks and Commands

Although obedience training starts a long time before taking photos with them, having the basic commands of “Sit, Stay, and Come” are extremely helpful in getting those adorable shots of you and your pup. It’s also a great way to provide mental stimulation to your pet which helps them get their “energy out” in a different way than just exercise alone.

This is especially true for puppies as they have much more energy than an adult dog does! If you are looking for resources on training your dog before your wedding day, check out this info here:

*If you decide to bring more than one pet to your elopement, I like to bring my husband along for those pet portraits. This way I can focus on photographing you all while he will hold the treats, toys, and help with positioning. It’s such a great help and really does make a difference in your photo experience!*

4. Let your dog Warm Up to strangers & their environment

As mentioned before, your wedding day is not a typical day for you or your dog. Their entire schedule will feel different to them and especially if you have traveled long distances. It’s important to arrive at least 1 day before to let them get adjusted to the new schedule and environment to calm their stress.

It’s also a great idea (if your schedule permits) to arrange a time for your dog to meet your photographer before your elopement day. This is especially true if your dog is anxious or scared of strangers.

5. Let your dogs Be Themselves

A lot of the time, couples are solely focused on getting their dog to look at the camera the entire time. That’s exhausting for your pet and for yourself and is unrealistic.

I focus on capturing raw and candid photos throughout your entire elopement day and this is still true when incorporating pets into your wedding. I’ll be sure to get you some amazing images where you are all smiling and looking adorable, but I’ll also allow your dog to just be themselves.

Sometimes that means letting them run alongside you for “break time”, sniffing around, or even letting them explore on leash while you two are cuddling. I think this is a great way to show off their personality too!

how to incorporate a pet into your wedding without them there

sometimes when you choose to elope, you can’t always bring your furry friend along. maybe they aren’t great for the outdoor adventures and travel or they have now passed away.

so, here’s a few ways you can honor your pet or still have an animal-friendly elopement!

pet-friendly elopement ideas without them present

  • facetime sometime throughout your day
  • bring a framed photo of them (as mentioned previously)
  • get a pet pocket square
  • put them on your socks

ways to honor your pet on your wedding day

  • place their collar around your wedding bouquet
  • embroider their name into your elopement attire
  • lay your framed photo of them to have at your ceremony
  • include memories of them in your vows

This coupled shared a special moment during their first look by bringing a photo of their beloved dog who had passed away. Even though he wasn’t physically there, he was present in spirit throughout their wedding day.

enjoy an animal excursion or adventure instead

whether you can’t bring your pet to your elopement, or you don’t have a pet but love animals – don’t forget that you can still have an animal-filled adventure!

this could look like horseback riding, snorkeling, visiting a llama farm, backpacking with goats, or doing a whale watching tour.

Planning Your Dog Friendly Elopement

You’re in luck! As an elopement photographer, my job is to help with dog friendly location recommendations, getting the right permits, and building a timeline. But along with being your adventure guide and taking photos of the big day, I’m also ready with an animal CPR/First Aid Certification as Certified Veterinary Technician and Fear Free Certified. I’ve had over 6 years of experience working as a vet tech – so your pet will be in good hands.

It’s important to decide if you are bringing your pet to your elopement, so make sure to let me know as soon as possible so I can get all the logistics and tips to you right away!

Bringing your dog along can feel overwhelming, so I’ve provided a sample timeline of what your all-day dog friendly elopement day could look like below:

  • 8:00 am – Cook breakfast together
  • 9:30 am – take a walk/play fetch
  • 10:30 am – Getting ready
  • 11:30 am – Create a first look with you and your dog
  • 1:00 pm – Enjoy a picnic + kayaking
  • 5:00 pm – ceremony
  • 5:30 pm – Sunset portraits
  • 7:30 pm – End with a private chef catering

All-Pet Friendly Inclusive

I know dogs are most popular for couple’s elopements, but don’t forget about including your other pets like cats, snakes, birds, horses, etc. I have extensive knowledge in all kinds of pets and would LOVE to have them be a part of your day.

Here’s a photo of my sweet hedgehog, mango, that has now passed.

Remember that each pet is unique in what they are comfortable and safe with. If this means leaving your pet at home instead of traveling to your elopement with you, that is more than okay. Their happiness and safety is the most important thing! As you can see, that doesn’t mean they can’t still be apart of your wedding day.

whether or not you choose to bring them along, let’s chat more about how we can make your elopement day animal-friendly!

Ready to get started? Contact me!

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