How to Throw a Bark Mitzvah

A guide to designing the perfect rite of passage for socially anxious, high-maintenance older dogs.

“Your dog is turning 13? You have to throw him a bark mitzvah!”

With the frequency of this exclamation, I had assumed there would be online how-to guides aplenty. And there certainly is delightful content for canine party games and plushie bagels

But for Ozzy? Our sweet, elderly, highly anxious miniature dachshund who thinks he’s a person? We needed to do things a little differently. Here’s a Bark Mitzvah how-to guide for socially anxious, high-maintenance dogs.


Pick a spot where your dog is happiest and most comfortable. Some dogs love the dog park or outdoor patios, but Ozzy doesn’t like leaving the house and prefers the couch any day! So we hosted at home in our Chicago apartment.


We used a Canva template and included our COVID precautions, dress code, gift notes and details. These went out via email and text, but printed and mailed invites can be a lovely, personal touch.

Dress code

Everyone should look and feel their (comfy) best for a celebration! This kippah and tallit for dogs seemed like an obvious choice, but Ozzy hates things on his head. So we opted for this graphic-tee-equivalent bandana instead. He looked great! And we made up for the lack of traditional garb with a two-dimensional Pin-the-Kippah-on-Ozzy instead. (Human guests were invited to wear cocktail attire for the evening event.)

Bark Mitzvah
Courtesy of Jackie Maris


This is a pretty personal aspect of the Bark Mitzvah — you can select activities that resonate best for your family. Ozzy is one-third Jewish on his step-mom’s side and two-thirds atheist on his moms’ sides, so we wanted some celebratory ritual reflecting his interfaith background. (Plus, he has a terrible memory and was struggling through the learning of his Torah portion.) So we got creative!

  • We made a collage using photos of Ozzy, pasted onto a piece of cardboard from Staples, and had guests write messages and well-wishes to him on his special day.
  • Using the leftover photos of Ozzy (he’s so cute that I selected too many for the collage), we asked guests to write their favorite Ozzy memory throughout the evening. Then, when it was time for the ritual, we placed these notes into a jar and we passed them around our circle, and each guest read a selection from the memory jar.
  • Brooklyn-based poet Trisha Arlin has a wonderful collection of writing about animals. We selected one of her blessings to read aloud to Ozzy, offering gratitude to him for his presence in our lives.

Food and drink

Pick your traditional faves! Most of our guest list was not Jewish, so this was the perfect opportunity to introduce them to traditional Jewish food from my South African Ashkenazi upbringing. We served blintz, latke and crudité appetizers (shoutout to Trader Joe’s frozen foods section), falafel and hummus mains (shoutout to Salam Chicago) and babka and cheesecake dessert (shoutout to our oven and pre-made graham cracker crust).

Our attempts at this blue Midnight Kiss Cocktail were thwarted by our inability to procure blue curacao, so we used the remaining ingredients with a couple of drops of food coloring. Be sure to have non-alcoholic beverages on offer too!

Ozzy is allergic to all poultry (which appears in basically every dog treat) so we baked him his own homemade cake! We made this peanut-butter-and-applesauce recipe in little ramekins and dolloped the mini cakes with whipped cream frosting (and a mazel tov cake topper).

Bark Mitzvah
Courtesy of Jackie Maris
Bark Mitzvah
Courtesy of Jackie Maris


Etsy and Party City have an array of colorful partyware, so we covered our living room in blue and silver balloons, tassel garlands leftover from Chanukah, and glittery star garlands. (Plenty of additional options can be found on Etsy!) We also set up a photobooth using blue door streamers and silver balloons spelling O-Z-Z-Y and a letterboard that was very on brand for our queer household.

Bark Mitzvah
Courtesy of Jackie Maris
Bark Mitzvah
Courtesy of Jackie Maris


There are copious b’nai mitzvah party playlists on Spotify! We opted for a selection of Jewish hits, dance vibes, songs about dogs and pop songs that came out in 2009 (the year of Ozzy’s birth). You can listen here!


Ozzy doesn’t care for chew toys, has too many sweaters and has his aforementioned allergies. As a result, gift-giving for him can be challenging! Instead, we offered suggested donation sites for guests. A printed QR code linked to the donation pages of PAWS Chicago (a local animal shelter) and Muddy Paws (Ozzy’s dog adoption organization).

Overall, we had a wonderful day honoring Ozzy — watch here for full vibes! He had had a tough health year, so we loved the opportunity to celebrate him. Somehow, he seemed to know that the day was all about him and was on his best behavior! What a joy to have this little guy in our lives. May your pet smichot be just as special!

Jackie Maris

Jackie Maris (she/her) is a queer, South African Pisces working in Jewish LGBTQ+ education. When she’s not working, Jackie volunteers with Midwest Books to Prisoners (mailing books to incarcerated folks) and collects zines on fat liberation (shoutout to Etsy).

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