Wedding Day Training

by Meg Veitenheimer, Wildrose Texas

You might think training a dog to be in a wedding would be an easy task; but, once you sit and consider a wedding is one major task, along with a truck load of mini-tasks, you might think differently. In this article, I will break down typical wedding day obstacles, necessary wedding day skills and describe how to turn these into training drills to prepare you and your fuzzy friend for your biggest day! Most importantly, consider your dog’s breed, age, training level and comfortability in public places before expecting too much of your dog on one of your biggest days.

The most important mini-tasks/skills involved in a typical wedding day would be potty training (obviously), heel, sit/stay, and recall.  Always start your training drills at home with little to no distractions.  The best approach is to set your dog up for success by working on the basics at home or somewhere he/she is familiar.  Potty training is often thought of as a given, unless your venue is strictly outside, or, you and your guests don’t mind the wafting smell of dog urine or poop (highly doubtful).  Kennel/crate training is very helpful with potty training in that consistency is the key to being successful.  Additionally, starting slowly is the best way to set your dog up for success. 

Photo from Hannah Harris, Training the Wildrose Way group page on Facebook

First, begin working towards heel and sit while your dog is on lead.  Heel might be the most important wedding day skill, especially if you are wanting them to walk calmly and controlled down the aisle accompanied by someone or on their own.  With your pup on your left side, encourage them to stay close to your side while walking.  You do this by adding influence to the lead (meaning giving small quick bumps on the lead) until your dog stops pulling forward or lagging behind.  A reverse heel is also helpful at this point in training.  If your pup is pulling ahead of you, stop walking forward and begin walking straight backwards.  This process requires the dog to turn around and follow you.  After approximately 10-12 steps backwards, start walking forward and help the dog into a heel position.  Repeat this over and over again, increasing the amount of influence on the leash as needed.  When training the ‘stay’ command, place boards work wonders.  They give a physical boundary for the dog to learn that is where he/she is expected to stay. Direct the dog onto the place board, and if he/she breaks, firmly place the pup back and repeat the command ‘stay’ or ‘place’ more firmly.  A lot of ‘wedding pups’ are expected to stay up at the altar with a wedding party member or on their own.  This is why ‘stay’ is such a crucial wedding day skill.  

Second, recall can be a tough skill, especially when adding a plethora of wedding day distractions. One great way to start working on recall is with your dog on a long lead. Put him/her into a sit stay, back away from your pup and call the pup to you using the pup’s name and a ‘here’ or ‘come’ command. Repeat this and continue expanding the distance between you and your dog. Many ‘wedding dogs’ are expected to recall from the back of the church, down the aisle. You can set up a drill like this within your home or on a public patio, with multiple chairs. Line a group of chairs and create an ‘aisle’ scenario. Heel/recall your dog up and down, repetitively, until he/she is proficient and then add more distractions.

Picture from Training the Wildrose Way group page on Facebook

If the actual wedding day is to be considered the one major task, you must consider each of the following factors, and how they might affect your dog’s behavior on the wedding day: crowds, chaos, loud noises, distractions, young children, elderly, food, the occasional real or faux fur attire, purses, etc.  The good news is that you can turn each of these factors into some sort of training drill to help you prepare your pooch for the big day.  The most important thing to consider, when thinking on these particular drills, is that dogs are very adaptable creatures.  That being said, they need help along the way…”shepherding,” if you will.  The best way to shepherd your pup into a calm, confident, and obedient wedding show stopper, is by getting him/her out and about as much as possible.  AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.  Riding in the car to the bank, the gas station, the grocery store on a cool day, etc. are all wonderful ways to introduce dogs to traveling and experiencing new things.  Keep in mind, you need to project and expect a calm confidence in order to achieve this goal.  When your dog gets flustered, take a deep breath and shepherd him/her into displaying the mindset/behavior you are expecting.  Home Depot is a wonderful place to do training drills in public.  Stores and atmospheres such as this, encompass the crowds, chaos, loud noises, and distractions, but in a very controlled environment.  Dog-friendly restaurant patios or bar/grill patios are equally as effective in helping you guiding your pooch into being the bell of the ball, so to speak!  The more your pup gets out and experiences these car rides and public places, the more calm and confident your canine will be on your big special day!

Photo from Colin Harris, Training the Wildrose Way group page on Facebook
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