Must Love Dogs: Tips for a Dog Friendly Wedding

As many of you know from seeing my posts on Instagram, Chris and I included Boots and Ranger in our wedding ceremony. And how could we not?! They’ve been such a huge part of our lives as individuals and as a couple; they’re family!

Including your pup on your wedding day is obviously a very personal decision- you know your dog best, so consider how they’ll react to the amount of guests you plan on inviting and the nature of the venue. This was a balancing act for us- both Ranger and Boots have their own special needs, so we included them in ways we knew would work for them. Here are some of the things that I found important as we planned our day with our pups in mind!

1. Know your venue!! If having your dogs in your wedding is a priority, don’t even entertain the idea of a venue who’s less than thrilled with it. Having the dogs in the wedding was hugely important for us, so it was the very first thing I asked when I reached out to venues. If they said no, I didn’t read anything else they had to say, because I didn’t want us to fall in love with a place who wouldn’t happily accommodate our babies. Our venue, Nature Pointe, was lovely, and our venue coordinator, Courtney, even let us bring the dogs out to practice several weeks before the wedding! It made all the difference. Boots did have an episode of separation anxiety screaming when he walked away from me with my triplet sister/Maid of Honor to walk down the aisle, but it all ended up okay and everyone who knew him chuckled. I attribute that to the time we spent practicing!

2. Choose your vendors wisely. As I said above, our venue coordinator was not only understanding, but excited about helping us to include Boots and Ranger in our special day! As we reached out to other vendors, I always mentioned right away that our dogs would be a part of the getting ready process and the ceremony. Why? Because as absolutely foreign as it is to me, some people are afraid of dogs, especially big dogs like Ranger. Some people have far worse dog allergies than I do. Some people just… don’t like being around them (which I will never understand, but there’s no accounting for taste I guess!) The girls and I got ready at me and Chris’ house, so the dogs were around everyone who came in. I ensured our amazing photographers, hair stylists, and makeup artists were not only accepting, but comfortable and excited about the fact that there would be dogs around all day! I would highly recommend our incredible vendors:

3. Assign a Canine Point-Person! Based on our pups’ needs and our venue’s requirements, we knew that the dogs would need to leave prior to the reception beginning. I think this is really important as it ensured that they got to relax after such a big, busy day, and that we were able to attend to our guests without worrying who was taking care of them. Our dear friend Kelsey knows the boys super well and is well acquainted with their special needs. She made sure to be on hand after the ceremony to help give the dogs breaks from family photos, and drove the dogs home to rest when the ceremony and photos were done. She made sure they got the stuffed Kong’s that were waiting for them and returned to the reception, letting us know they were safe and sound. Having a trusted person who the boys love on hand made such a big difference for Chris and my peace of mind and their comfort!

4. Keep your dogs comfortable. This is one way in which we could have done better, admittedly. Our ceremony was outdoor and it was HOT. I wish we’d thought to provide something for the boys to lay on, but thankfully they both found some shade. We made sure to have water bowls in each dressing room and actually had one behind the alter as well. We didn’t dress them up, because neither is comfortable in clothes for long periods (with the exception of Boots’ winter sweaters.) Instead, we got them bow ties that matched the groomsmen & bridesmaids! We chose not to do the traditional Air Force saber arch because we knew it would be scary for Ranger. If you want to include your dogs in your wedding, considering little details like that is important because it’s not just about what you want, it’s about whether or not they’ll be comfortable and safe.

5. Include your dogs in the details! Though our boys were luckily able to be present with us on our wedding day, we also included them in smaller details. Our wonderful officiant, Pat, told our love story, making sure to mention how special it was that the dogs were included as they’d been what brought us together. We chose to do a hand-fasting for our unity ceremony, and when we picked that, Chris joked that we should use a dog’s leash instead of a scarf! At first that sounded silly, but the more we talked about it, the better an idea it became. So we did! We also got the cutest little silhouette topper from Etsy shop Rustic WD Art – they custom made it to my specifications as much as possible. Some other great ways to include your pups might be weaving an old name tag into your bouquet, or having custom drinks done with your pets incorporated into the names.

It’s hard to tell what it is from this angle, but I always have a little bit of Boots with me- his exact paw print is tattooed on the inside of my left wrist!

All in all, I think the most important thing was that our family and friends were completely behind us including the dogs in the wedding. One of the first comments made after we got engaged was, “So will Boots be walking you down the aisle?!” If our families thought we were being silly or obsessive, they (thankfully) didn’t say so- they seemed to truly understand why it was so important to us. For that, Chris and I are truly blessed!!

New Mexico brides, please feel free to reach out if you have any questions about our vendors or anything else! I’m happy to share what worked for us through the very hectic process of wedding planning.

Yours truly,

The new Mrs.,

A Dog Named Beautiful – Book Review

To start, this is my first book review so bear with me! I’m not exactly sure how to do this, so sharing my unbiased opinion will have to do.

I can’t remember how or where I first learned about Rob Kugler and his dog, Bella- people are always tagging me in stories about the profound bond between humans and dogs, and I’m sure I found out about the two of them the same way. I remember crying when I read their story- they were still on the road together when I first found them on Instagram in 2016- and I cried again when I saw the post that Bella had passed. Rob has a gift for story telling, and my heart broke for his.

As I’ve continued to follow his adventures on Instagram, I was thrilled to see that he was writing a book about he and Bella’s adventures! I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it, and downloaded from Kindle the day it came out.

As I said before, Rob definitely has a gift for storytelling and I truly enjoyed getting to read his backstory and Bella’s entrance into his life. When you’re close to a dog, when they’re your heart, they witness so much of life with you; so many changes in a way that’s not often experienced in human relationships. As someone who has that bond with my dog, I was honored to peek into someone else’s bond.

I come from a military family, with a brother who served an Army Infantry tour in Iraq and a fiancé in the Air Force, so I connected with the book in that regard as well. “A Dog Named Beautiful” shares an important perspective on military service that was certainly valuable for me to read. I don’t want to reveal major aspects of the book to those who haven’t read it yet, but I am truly grateful for all of those who’ve served our country and their families.

The original story that I saw on Huffpost or Buzzfeed or wherever it was, introduced me to so many possibilities! I did start writing a bucket list for Boots, though at that time it was probably weighted pretty heavily in the direction of things that would make me happy. As I’ve grown older and wiser, and as my relationship with Boots has continued to grow, my bucket list for the two of us has shifted to what I know he’ll enjoy. This book will definitely remind you of how precious the finite amount of time we get with our dogs is. I’m certain it will inspire many people to hit the road with their pups- I really hope Boots and I have that opportunity one day (Ranger isn’t a big fan of the car.) Something I really enjoyed throughout the book was the universal way that loving a dog deeply bonds humans- dog people just get it. I’m not surprised at all by the amount of people who opened their homes and hearts to Rob and Bella, as I know Chris and I would do the same if we had the opportunity.

If you know anything at all about Rob and Bella’s story, you know that there are very hard, sad moments in the book. I really felt as though I was going through them too. It taught me a lot about terminal illness, hospice, and end of life care in dogs. Despite working with them for a living, I really wasn’t aware of some of the options available to help your pup have the best last moments possible. Being able to honor your bond is so incredibly important, and the ways in which Rob described doing so definitely taught me some things. The grief process is very personal, but I did appreciate Rob sharing the reality of it with all of us.

I spent an entire self care day on the couch with Boots and my iPad on my lap- I finished reading it in about 6 hours total because I couldn’t put it down! I think anyone who has a special dog and a life altering bond with them will really enjoy this book.

If you pick it up, let me know what you think!

Our First Rally Trial

We competed in our first Rally Novice A trial yesterday!

Life has been crazy and busy recently, what with Chris & I purchasing and moving into our first home of our own, cleaning & wrapping things up in our previous house, and getting into crunch time organizing final details for our wedding in June. Even with the craziness, Boots and I have stuck with Rally and I decided that I wanted to take the chance to put our months of hard work to the test in a trial.

I can’t stress enough how nerve wracking it was for me to walk into class with Boots those first couple of sessions, 7 months ago. As you may have read in my previous post about our training journey, Boots and I have come a long way and learned a lot in this world of animal behavior. The ladies of East Mountain Dog Training were incredibly kind and understanding from the very beginning, helping me to see that Rally is about the relationship between person and dog, not about the archaic standards of obedience that were my unfortunate introduction to the world of dog training back in college. I’m so grateful that I learned a better way and have gotten to experience the joy of working as a team built on trust and mutual understanding with my baby boy.

That said, I woke up yesterday morning SICK TO MY STOMACH with nerves. I absolutely would not have bailed on the trial, but I can’t say I didn’t want to. I’m not a stranger to competitive ventures- as a kid I played tons of sports, was an All Star cheerleader on a national championship winning team, and competed with show choir, among other things. This just felt different, somehow. Adulthood & anxiety have a way of making any kind of security in your abilities go away, and I could see that my nerves were affecting little man. His bearing was off and I know that he was cuing off of the vibes coming from me.

The trial environment was totally foreign to me- I had no idea where to get my arm band number or where we should hang out and wait our turn. Yesterday was a lot of trial and error for Boots and I, and there are definitely some things I’ll tweak for the next go round. Thankfully, Wendy and Jeannie of EMDT came to support myself & Boots and my classmates, Nancy & her adorable pup Raven. When they arrived I didn’t feel lost anymore!! Chris, my mom, and my triplet sister Nicole also came along to cheer us on and their support was invaluable. All of the above know how hard I am on myself and how badly I can get into my head. They know I’m a perfectionist in certain arenas (something I’m working on!)

When it came to the actual trial itself, I kind of blacked out. I thought there was another team ahead of us so I didn’t go when our number, 406, was called. The judge had the good taste to compliment Boots’ adorableness, which I appreciated!! We made it past the offset serpentine but when we got to the next exercise, “Halt & Down,” I didn’t have Boots’ attention so we had to repeat it. We had a right turn after that, then one of my favorite exercises, “Come Front – Finish Left.” I panicked when Boots wasn’t lined up perfectly, a rookie mistake on my part, and bobbled my feet, which cost us the entire 10 points for the exercise. Fumbling that one made me even more nervous leading into our absolute least favorite sign, “Stop & Down.” Laying down on cue has been one of the hardest behaviors for Boots to perform consistently, and I was dreading the appearance of this particular sign. We missed it on the first go- I asked for a repeat and we missed it again, so we just moved on, losing another 10 points. We performed the rest of the course with only minor deductions- a point or two here and there for “lag,” but otherwise no big mistakes. When we left the ring I felt super relieved it was over, but to be totally honest, I felt disappointed in myself. I felt like I was the half of the team that let us down when I knew I could do better. We did earn our first qualifying score towards Boots’ Rally Novice title, coming in with a total of 73/100 points, but I definitely felt like my nerves and anxieties took the joy out of Boots’ experience of us working together.

Thankfully, I had a whole team to assure me that that was not the case and to remind me that I’d shown up for my dog, to remind me that this was our first time ever competing in the trial setting in a brand new environment, with a crowd of people watching us. They reminded me that we’re new to all of this, and that doing something new is really freaking hard!! Wendy and Jeannie reminded me of the most important thing- “It’s not about the ribbons, it’s about the relationship.” I am incredibly proud of the relationship that I have with my dog. I’m so proud of what we’ve learned and how we’ve grown together, what we’ve overcome. That’s what matters.

Boots slept hard last night, first pressed against me on the couch, then in bed, curled against my chest. He didn’t stir at all except occasionally to donkey kick me in his sleep. He trusts me, and loves me, and that’s what’s important to me. I’m his girl and he’s my dog and that’s really all that matters in the end.

So we’ll take what we learned and we’ll try again! As long as we continue to enjoy playing the game together, that’s what matters.

Our First Hike Up La Luz!

Hiking the La Luz trail up to Sandia Crest is a goal I’ve decided to conquer in 2019. La Luz is a beast, and seemed like an insurmountable goal for years- especially when I was first diagnosed with asthma at 19 and was told that I only had 73% of the lung capacity that I should. I’ve come a long way since then with my health and my fitness, but I tend to get off track without a specific goal in mind. My triplet sister, an incredible endurance athlete who runs marathons, suggested a hiking goal, and I thought it was a great idea!

Chris, Ranger, Boots & I about 2.5 miles up the trail.

I was never much of a hiker until a few years ago, after going through a bad breakup and finding it to be an empowering thing to do on my own, just me and Boots. I’m drawn to basically any activity where I can bring him along, so I was sold pretty quickly and began to do easy little day hikes with him. I always brought too much supplies and over-packed, but I did and still do consider it a great responsibility to take care of us both. Chris and my first date was a hike with our pups, and I credit that date as a big part of what built a solid foundation for our relationship. There’s nothing like just walking and talking in nature with dogs by your side!

Now that Boots is getting older, I do get a little more worried about what he can and can’t do, or about whether I’m pushing him too hard. For his part, Boots has always been able to keep up pretty well, despite his small stature! It has been really hard for me as we’ve entered his senior years to realize that he may not always be able to be as active as he was when we were younger. Hiking isn’t important to me without the dogs, though. So part of my goal for La Luz is to hike with Boots as far as he can make it, then let him ride in this super sweet carrier backpack so we can get to the top together! The together part is what’s important to me.

The majestic Boots surveying his kingdom.

Ranger is an absolute pro at hiking and has great off leash skills, though it’s super important to us to respect other dogs and their families by staying on leash in leash law areas. Knowing him as a scared, flighty puppy, it’s crazy to me to see how far he’s come and how confident he is both on and off leash while hiking. Chris started with him as soon as he was old enough to physically handle it, and it definitely shows.

Ranger is a pro on the trail- he always knows when it’s time to settle & take a rest!

After spending the last two years day hiking with these boys, I feel like we’ve got a system down. Is it like having kids in that it takes us twice as long to prepare to hike and we have to carry twice as much gear and water to ensure all of our safety and success, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

I’m no pro at any of this outdoorsy stuff, but if you’re going to start hiking with your dogs, here are my tips for doing so:

  1. Bring twice as much water as you believe you’ll need. Really & truly. There is nothing worse than being out on the trail and not having enough water for yourself and your dog to stay comfortable!
  2. Tell someone where you’re going, even if other people are coming with you. The Find My Friends app exists for a reason!
  3. Carry first aide for yourself and your dog- the thought of being caught in an emergency with no way to help my dog is a terrifying thought for me.
  4. Be respectful of other dogs and their people! Fearful and reactive dogs deserve to get out and explore nature without months or years of training being ruined by off leash dogs rushing at them.
  5. Hike your own hike! If you’re slow, that’s okay! If you and your dog have to stop and rest often, you’re doing right by both of you! Don’t let anyone judge your speed or ability- everyone starts somewhere.
  6. BRING TREATS! Of the human and canine variety! Hikes are more fun with snack breaks!!

The best hiking treat – a trail beer! 

Hope we see you out on the trails!