How To Train Your Dog To Walk Down The Aisle At Your Wedding, According To Pet Trainers
If you've decided that you want your fur baby walking down the aisle with you on your wedding day, you're probably wondering a few things. How do you get them to actually walk calmly? How long will it take you to train them? Is asking a dog to walk slowly in a crowd of people inviting chaos into your ceremony? According to experts, training your dog to walk down the aisle probably isn't as difficult as you think. With a little patience and a lot of treats, you'll soon be able to teach your pooch the skill.
But first, a few warnings for the big day. "Dogs — just like people — tend to have to go to the bathroom when they are nervous," professional dog trainer Steffi Trott, tells Bustle. "You want to absolutely make sure that your dog has gone potty before he enters the church on your wedding day!" You may also want to tell your guests to not reach out their hand and call or pet the dog as they are walking down the aisle to make sure that they can focus on their job, she says. Put one friend or family member in charge of taking your pup outdoors after they have made their way down the aisle so that you don't have to worry about any wiggles or barking during the ceremony.
Don't forget to have fun. No dog is going to be perfectly well behaved, and that's OK. They're lovable because of their excitement, not in spite of it. Here are some steps to take to get your dog walking calmly down the aisle.
1. Start Practicing With A Leash
"For the purposes of walking loose, calm, and relaxed down a wedding aisle, one would most likely benefit from using loose leash walking," Russell Hartstein, CDBC, CPDT-KA, a certified professional dog trainer and founder of Fun Paw Care, tells Bustle. Make sure that the leash is shaped like the letter "u," he says, so that your pup isn't pulling ahead, but instead is right beside you. While you don't have to have someone walk your dog down the aisle on a leash, starting out training this way can help solidify the behavior.
2. Have Treats On Hand
The key to any dog's heart is treats, and so positive reinforcement is essential when teaching your pooch to walk down the aisle, says Hartstein. Put some of your dog's favorites in a pocket or pouch on the side that your dog is walking. "When the leash is loose and when they look back at you, click or mark that behavior and treat," he says.
3. Start Practicing At Home
The end goal is to get your dog ready to walk calmly down the aisle at your wedding venue, but starting things off in a place that's familiar to your dog can ease them into the behavior. "Practice in a boring familiar place like your home, for just a step or two in each direction," says Hartstein. "With each step, as the dog learns to stay by your side where great things happen, you can slowly expand to a few steps in each direction," he says. Eventually, slowly progress to other rooms in the house.
4. Take Training Outdoors
As your pup's comfort zone with walking calmly beside you expands, take training to the front yard, then on the sidewalk in front of the house, then a few more steps in each direction, says Hartstein. Once you can do this with no problems, begin walking around your area so that your dog practices obeying even with a variety of external distractions like squirrels or other dogs. "You want to 'be the cookie' and focus of attention when outside," he says.
5. Don't Rush Things
Hartstein says that the key with training is to go slowly and steadily, using graduated incremental increases in exposure and difficulty along the way. How long your pup will take to follow your lead depends on a variety of factors. "Since all dogs are individuals," he says, "some other factors to consider about the dog and venue are the dog's age, breed, size, medical condition, energy level (overall and at the time of the wedding) behavior and training."
6. Do A Dress Rehearsal
It's important to mimic the exact environment of your wedding as closely as possible so that your pet is fully prepared, says Hartstein. Although you won't be able to fill the venue with all of your guests ahead of time, do your best to ensure their success by practicing on gravel, grass, red carpet, etc. Whenever you and your wedding party have a dress rehearsal, set aside a few minutes to do the same with your pup, familiarizing them with what's going to happen on the big day.
7. Keep Them Calm
The day of your wedding is sure to be a little stressful, both for you and for your fur baby. In the weeks leading up to the occasion, practice stress-relief strategies that work for your dog. "Do they know how to settle and stay calm, especially around lots of people, noise, smells, and stimuli?" says Hartstein. If your pup is already anxious, spend some time desensitizing them to different people and environments, so that they can learned to be calm in different circumstances. That being said, if your dog has health problems or behavioral issues, it might not be worth risking having them walk down the aisle, so keep their best interest in mind.
"Training should be a positive experience that builds confidence in your dog and strengthens the owner-pet bond," Chewy pet behaviorist Dr. Wailani Sung, tells Bustle. "He should be excited when you ask him to perform his known behaviors and he should be eager to show them off to you." Make sure your training sessions are fun for you both, and chances are, you'll have a very well-behaved little pup when your wedding day arrives.