Gary Jude remembers the first time he photographed a dog at a wedding. It was 2018, in rural Essex, and the bride and groom had brought their pet beagle to the reception.
“They were quite outdoorsy people,” he says. “The dog was wearing a Barbour wash jacket.” Jude wanted to take group photos, but the beagle wasn’t looking into the camera. “I had to try to get this dog’s attention. I thought, well, I could do what I do with my dogs at home, and I’m going to sound like an idiot, but I went…”
At this point he takes a deep breath and then makes a series of incomprehensible, high-pitched noises and gurgles. Apparently the dog loved it.
“He started tilting his head and everyone burst out laughing.” The 39-year-old wedding photographer may have been “in a room of 50 people I’d never met talking stupid baby dogs,” but he was having a good time nonetheless. “I’m a huge dog person.”
These days, dog-friendly weddings are big business. Dogs are allowed to attend ceremonies and receptions in more locations
Luckily for him, Jude photographed 40 dogs at one wedding last year.
The bride and groom had rented a field in North Devon and allowed guests to bring their pets. “There were dogs everywhere,” says Jude.
“I was in my element.” Still, the pet-positive day wasn’t without its problems. Halfway through the groom’s speech, one of the dogs cocked his leg against a table in the marquee. Fortunately, the bride was fixated on the groom and did not notice.
These days, dog-friendly weddings are big business. Dogs are allowed to attend ceremonies and receptions in more locations; wedding photographers have special “dog” sections on their websites, and dog groomers offer pre-wedding pampering.
Smarty Paws, in Nottingham, sells a gold pack from £250: dogs have their fur trimmed, nails trimmed, ears cleaned and, according to the website, ‘cologne applied, if you wish’. (Jude, for what it’s worth, didn’t have dogs at his own wedding because it was 2013 and the venue wouldn’t allow it.
However, he got to fly a trained barn owl named Rosie down the aisle and deliver the wedding rings — swings and roundabouts.)
In 2018, professional dog trainer Lizzie Benge founded Here Comes The Hound, a chaperone service for dogs at weddings.
Benge, 39, is based in Kent, but she and her business partner Claire travel across the country to work on the wedding dog circuit. Their services don’t come cheap: a day pack costs £550.
So what do you get for your money? Benge first offers a pre-wedding ‘consultation’ with the bride, groom and dog, to get to know the animal and find out what the couple wants.
On the wedding day, Benge cares for the dog during the ceremony and reception, drives between locations, lets him participate in photos, and takes him on two walks
Then, on the wedding day, she’ll look after the dog during the ceremony and reception, drive it between locations, let it participate in photos, and take two hour walks — one in the morning and one in the afternoon — “to ease the nerves of to shake off the great day’.
She can also, upon request, release the dog into the aisle of the church with the wedding rings on its neck.
And for an extra £100 there’s an overnight service, ‘which includes snuggles on the couch, good food, sleepovers, a 90-minute morning-after walk and a taxi back home or to the holiday home for honeymoon’. Last year,
Benge worked on 16 weddings; she promises that all dogs behaved impeccably.
Of course I have many questions. How does Benge make the dogs behave for photos? “We come armed with squeaky toys, balls and treats.”
How many dogs can she take care of at once? It depends on how big and well-behaved they are; she once guided three labradors, with the help of a colleague.
Which breed is the most popular? “Cockapoos are everywhere. Or a variation on poop: cavapoo, shih-poo.’ Are there any breeds she hates working with?
“I would never say no to any type of dog,” she says diplomatically, before adding:
‘I wouldn’t want to work with chihuahuas at all. Just because they are normally quite nervous. People want them in their day, but I’m not sure chihuahuas want to be part of their day.”
I DON’T WANT TO WORK WITH CHIHUAHUAS – THEY ARE NERVOUS
And the biggest question of all: why would anyone want their dog at their wedding? And why would they pay over £500 to do it?
Lock, probably. If the country was dog-crazy at all, being stuck with our dogs for hours on end has only made us more dog-crazy.
Between March and September 2020, 2.2 million dogs were purchased in the UK; by 2021, the dog population in Britain had increased by more than ten percent. And thanks to working from home, so many of those lockdown puppies have grown up and never been alone.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” says Benge. ‘I think it’s wonderful that people care so much about their dogs. But I also believe that from the animals’ point of view, they need to learn to be left alone.”
Still, your wedding is no ordinary day, and if you want to have your pet there, you might as well do it in style.
That said, there are some animals that Benge says are best left at home — wedding day or not. When I ask if she would consider expanding her business into guiding cats, all previous expressions of diplomacy are abandoned.
‘No!’ says Benge laughing. “I just don’t think that’s a good idea.”
A who’s zoo of animal guests
According to the wedding website Wedition, the curly-haired camelids are “extremely social and inquisitive animals” who are “very polite wedding guests – they will rarely spit!”
From £300 for two alpacas, tedandbessie.co.uk
According to marriage website Wedition, the curly-haired camelids are “extremely sociable and curious animals” (stock image)
They are a symbol of love and peace, so it’s a classic choice. Plus, Victoria and David Beckham hired bird breeder Warren Foster to release one at their 1999 wedding (and Foster named two of his own Vicky and Becks in their honor).
From £170 for two pigeons, thewhitefeatherco.co.uk
Doves are a symbol of love and peace, so it’s a classic choice. (stock image)
For some variety, they can be used as ring bearers, confetti bearers or children’s attractions. Or they could pull a carriage to escort the newlyweds out of the church.
From £200 for two ponies, lollipopponyparties.co.uk; from £3,575 plus VAT for a Shetland-drawn carriage, hartlandcarriages.co.uk
For a bit of variety, Shetland ponies can be used as ring bearers, confetti bearers or children’s rides (stock image)