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The Vet’s Office: Waiting Room or Dog Park?

I love going to the doctor. It’s my absolute favorite place to meet new friends.

I especially like meeting new friends at the doctor’s when I feel really sick or have a painful injury. I like to shove the icky, hurty part of my body in stranger’s faces, so they’ll poke at it, while slapping me on the back.

Sometimes I’m just there for an annual check up and I feel fine physically, but I’m nervous. I’m worried that I’m going to sit in the waiting room all day and be late for work. I’m anxious that I’m going to get a mean doctor that will pinch me and talk to me about my BMI again.

When I’m really stressed, that’s when I like to look around to see if there are any people I can make friends with in the waiting room. And when I feel this way, there’s nothing I enjoy more than when other patients run up to me and ask me to do a few Zumba moves with them before it’s my turn to see the doctor.



Yep, I love being sick and nervous, in a tiny space, with no way out, and meeting new friends at the same time.

And see that quiet lady in the corner who’s nervously eating a 100 calorie pack of almonds and trying not to make eye contact with me? I asked her to arm wrestle while I was waiting to pay my bill, but she said “No thank you”.  The nerve!

So you know what I did? I turned to the receptionist and I said, in my best stage whisper, “Some people are so MEAN. I guess that patient’s not friendly, huh?”  I sure showed her how rude she was for telling me no.

SCRREEEEECH! Hold the phone. This is bananaballs, right? No one wants to do group aerobics in the waiting room at the doctor’s. No one goes to the doctor’s to meet a new BFF.

So why are so many people doing this with their dogs in the waiting room at the vet’s office?  If there’s ever a place where dogs need space from each other and the dog owners need to ask permission before their dog approaches another, it’s the vet’s office.

Seriously, why do I have to even explain this? But I do, because this happens constantly, every day, to DINOS owners at the vet.

Lots and lots of people seem to think that socializing at the vet is a good thing and dogs who can’t do that are “bad dogs”. Is it me, or do we have some totally out of whack expectations for dogs when they’re at the vet?

Dogs at the vet are sick, injured, anxious, stressed, or just plain don’t wanna play. Almost every dog at the vet is a DINOS (at least temporarily). It’s not the dog park. It’s a doctor’s office for dogs (and other small animals stuck in their carriers).



Next time you’re at the vet, keep in mind how much you would hate it if every time you went to the doctor’s office, you had to deal with a parade of “friendly” people who invaded your space, touching and poking at you, and talking non-stop. You would hate it and rightly so.

Common sense rules for the vet:

Keep your dog on leash when entering, leaving, waiting, and paying. That’s everything except the exam room.

Lock your flexi-leads. Don’t let dogs wander around, scaring cats and upsetting other dogs.

Ask permission before you allow your dog to approach another dog.

If they say “No”, just accept it.

Don’t call the other dog owner or the dog “mean”.

Don’t passive aggressively whisper about how “unfriendly” that other dog is.

News flash: When you do that, YOU’RE THE MEAN ONE. People go home and cry about how mean you were to them and their struggling dog.

To the staff at the vet’s office: please require and enforce the rule that all dogs must be on leash. Require that all small animals be secured in carriers. Stand up for your clients when other’s treat them badly by reminding everyone that the waiting room is not a dog park and there are sick, injured, and stressed pets in the room – they have a right to their personal space. It’s just safer that way.

And a final note to DINOS families: If you can, wait outside or in the car with your dogs. Ask the staff to let you know when a room is ready, then go directly into the exam room. Ask if there is a back entrance (there usually is) that you can use, so you can avoid the waiting room entirely. Let the staff know ahead of time that your dog needs space – there may be a particular time of the day when it’s slow and you’re less likely to run into crowds.

Fair enough, right? We can do it folks. Respect, compassion, manners – we’ve got that.

  1. marie davis #

    better yet…. burn your flexi lead and take your dog in on a 4-6 ft leash!!!!!

    June 21, 2012
  2. Megan #

    Awesome post with excellent points, per usual.

    June 21, 2012
  3. Matt.S #

    Another spot-on post. I’ve learned this the hard way. I’ve been adopted by two DINOS over the years. I think the worst thing that happened to me at the vet was when someone brought in their dog, who triggered something in Herman. When Herman barked, the person started smuggly spouting denegrating nonsense about pit bulls, and worse, loudly insulted me & Herman. Aaargh! the guy was so mean I just took Herman outside. The vet staff said nothing.

    June 21, 2012
  4. Jen #


    Happily, I haven’t seen a whole lot of bad owner behavior at my vet’s office. I’m not sure how we dodged that bullet, actually. I hear the horror stories, though…

    June 21, 2012
  5. Shearaha #

    I always make a point to take my DINOS in as a first appointment. My vet has been very accomidating and leaves extra time for us, and we go out the back instead of the front. I never sit in the waiting room, it’s just too hard for my boy to do.

    June 21, 2012
  6. We normally tag team it at the vet. One of us will wait outside with the dog and the other will go in and wait for our name to be called. It’s just a lot easier that way.

    We have ridiculous expectations for dogs at the best of times, this is just tripled when it’s in a small, stressful space like a vet’s office. Parents don’t expect their kids to be friendly with all other children when sick or injured, right? Or maybe they do, I have no idea.

    June 21, 2012
  7. So TRUE!!!! Melvin loves the vet *(we are there a lot) and is very rev’d up by the time we get there due to also loving car rides. Since the vet knows us well we will often just stand behind the desk at reception, since is is leash reactive. My favorite is when other dogs on leash are barking and lunging at us (and Melvin is being calm due to safe distance) and the owner will say “let me just them over to you, they really want to play!”. Uh… this is a wating room, not a playground and your dogs do not need playtime (nor does it seem that is what they want). They need you to realize that we need space.

    June 21, 2012
  8. MG #

    And don’t forget the vet hospital with the resident loose dog or cat. That’s always a fun time!!

    June 21, 2012
    • LOL. Good point MG! My vet’s cats loves to block entrances 🙂

      June 21, 2012
  9. I always remind people to take treats with them to the vet to help their dogs cope. It also keeps your dog’s focus on you rather than all the other scary stuff going on. I even take treats when my pups need to be fasted, after the blood work is done they can have treats galore! Taking a DINOS to the vet isn’t fun, but respecting others space does make the difference for us and our dogs.

    June 21, 2012
  10. Is it okay to say I love you?

    June 21, 2012
  11. This has always been strange to me also. If I am at the vet possibly my dog is sick, why would he want to play and why would anyone want to play with him?

    June 21, 2012
  12. I actually ask for an appointment surrounded cat appointments, if possible. Cat’s don’t set Max off and dogs do. If we do go when there’s a dog we sit in a side hallway and play training games. Since I’m actively engaging him through the wait period even if no other dogs are present, (generally more so than other dog owners there) the “bad dog” label doesn’t usually get applied, they just work with us. I’m lucky we only have two vets in the office so it’s usually not as busy. If I can, I try for a slot toward the middle of the day when people are usually at work so it’s not as busy. I also tell the staff he’s dog reactive when I make the appointment and they’re really good about taking him around the back of the reception desk so he see’s other dogs less, if at all.

    June 21, 2012
  13. Once again, you sooo speak the truth. “the vet is not a dog park” I LOVE that.
    Sigh, here are my experiences

    1. My Matt-Matt was standing there in the office minding his own business. Looking worried and wearing a basket muzzle. A guy walks up to him and asked him (ask the dog, not me) if he can pet him. I say “no” and the guy pets my dog anyway. I can’t snatch my dog away because it will cause a more negative association. So when the guy finished molesting my scared dog, he starts telling me how has been a lab breeder for many years. I thought to myself: Really! You breed dogs but you don’t know enough about dogs to know that you don’t pet a muzzled dog without permission.

    2. Another visit. So in addition to the muzzle, I put Matt-Matt in his “In Training. Give Us Space” vest and I wear an orange vest so I can look official.
    We are sitting at the edge of the waiting room. A lady is at the other end of the waiting room at the reception desk. She asks what the vest is for. Now normally, when we are dressed up, I just ignore people. But she was far enough away and being polite so I told her the truth. “I’m hoping the vest will keep people from approaching us without permission.” Is what I said.
    So when the lady finished paying her bill, guess what she did. Yep, you guessed it. She approached us. Aarrrrggghhh!!!

    So we finally wised up and started doing as mentioned in your post. We ask the receptionist to call on my cell and we wait outside.

    Too hot to leave the kiddos in the vehicle down here in south Texas. Besides, I just don’t trust people to not bother my dogs if they happen to pass by my vehicle.

    June 21, 2012
  14. “Is it me, or do we have some totally out of whack expectations for dogs when they’re at the vet?”

    No, it isn’t you. It is us humans having different rules for the vets office versus a human doctor’s office.

    BTW, just wanted to comment on the Garfield comic use – LOVED IT! I’m a huge Garfield fan so it turned your blog post from awesome to super-awesome LOL 😀

    I’m sharing this on my social media 🙂

    May I have your permission to re-publish part of this on my website’s blog with all authorship to you plus links to your website and facebook pages (to ensure everyone knows it is you that published the blog article) ?

    June 21, 2012
    • Everything I know I learned from Garfield ; )
      And yes, you have my permission – thanks for asking and sharing!

      June 21, 2012
  15. Coming for the Veterinary perspective – nothing irritates us more than the minute a client walks in the door they immediately let the dog off the leash to wander around (and inevitibly the dog soils somewhere in the clinic as a result). We are located on a main road, when I advised people to put the lead back on the dog (or even better – put the cat back in its carry cage!) people appear affronted and insulted. I try to explain we are on a main road and somebody could enter through the front door at any time, the owner may not be quick enough to stop their dog escaping onto the road! The thought is “it is a vet clinic, we shouldn’t mind” or when they allow their dog (usually the ones with the huge long nails) to jump up on the seats and scratch the living day lights out of them, or jump up at the windows tearing the treatments apart and we have to reapir them. It is a lack of manners, we dont necessarily
    We try to make appointments so there wont be clashes. If we know there is a nervous dog coming, we either see them out the back verandah or if we have to bring them in, they come in the back entrace or we do a revolving door system.
    Just last week I had to ask 5 different clients to please not allow their dog to encroach on another dogs space in the waiting room. here are just some of the examples:
    1) One client who always brings dog in without a lead, and then spends the rest of the visit yelling at the dog because it wanders around – doh – one particular visit a friend of his came in with their dog. these two dogs usually play together at the park. The owner of the first dog allowed his dog to wander up to the other one as soon as it came in the door (strick one). The second dog was not well, hence the visit (strike two) First dog stays in second dogs face (strike three) I had to ask the owner of the first dog to leave the second one alone. 1st owner said “but they play together all the time” I had to explain this situation was different, 2nd dog was sick and under stress. The 1st dog owner has ALWAYS prided himself (to us) what a good and knowlegable dog person he was (I have had personal contact with him and my dog in the past, and stopped because of his lack of knowledge in my opinion)!
    2) Very sick dog was in the waiting room – pervious client with new puppy came out of the consult room and both puppy & owner went straight up to the sick dog. The poor owner was trying to protect her dog (it is usually a bit reactive but this time was really too sick to bother) and the new puppy owner was clueless to the body language coming from both the other dog and it’s owner – again I had to ask the new puppy onwer to back off.
    3) the clients that come into the vet waiting room and allow their dog to pull them all over the room to sniff everything in sight including me behind the reception desk while I am trying to answer enquiries on the phone or do paperwork. Then these same people allow the dog to wander all over the consult room making it impossible for the vet to do a proper examination.
    I think I have lost count of the times were people have done the staged whisper of the “unfriendly dog/person” – I do stick up for them, saying it is an unatural and scary environement for the dog – every dog reacts differently. I remind them how they feel when they go to the dentist.
    It is heartwarming though when I do hear people ask permission for the dogs to meet. In fact just as I am writing this very reply, (in between consults) a client did ask the next one if their dogs could meet!

    June 21, 2012
  16. handvolldackel #

    I never get why people would do this – apart from anything else, you’re at the vet. The dog might have something contagious.

    One time at the vet, me and the dachshund were alone in the vast waiting area.
    Then a guy came.
    With a carry-on.
    With a little bunny inside.
    And sat right next to us.
    He thought I was very impolite when I went to the other end of the room. The dachshund didn’t like to be removed from his appetizing little lunch as well.
    I am so mean.

    June 22, 2012
    • Matt.S #

      I agree. If there’s open seats why sit right next to someone else & their sick pet?

      June 22, 2012
  17. Ashley weymouth #

    I love this Jess! And Wiley does, too:)

    June 22, 2012
  18. adorabully #

    This post totally hits home for me. With 2 DINOS myself I used to dread the vet until I just spoke up and told them my concerns. When my one boy ruptured his CCL and needed weekly post op visits we scheduled a set time every week and they had the room ready to go. We never had to wait and if there was another dog waiting to pay in the lobby they’d let me wait in my car until they left. If we were ready to go and there was another dog outside they’d let us wait in the room. Now we usually take the last appointment of the day for any well checks and they make sure we’re the last ones there. I drive 20 mins to my vet because they’re so wonderful to us.

    June 23, 2012
    • Matt.S #

      After the situation I mentioned in my earlier post I changed gets. The vet I went to from then on is the best I’ve ever been to. Herman & I were treated like family.

      June 23, 2012
    • Matt.S #

      Good for you for speaking up! You’ve got to be your own advocate. Sometimes it’s the only way things get better.

      July 2, 2012
  19. Matt.S #

    Having a vet who’ll work around my dog’s needs is a must. Herman had been seeing the vet at the first clinic I mentioned, where the problem took place, when he adopted me, so I went with it. Big mistake! I soon bolted for the vet I chose after that and never looked back.

    June 23, 2012
  20. Nicole #

    My “regular” vet is wonderful about getting my dogs into a room quickly and has a large waiting room. We rarely have to worry about a “too close for comfort” situation there. The staff is also well trained in body language and strive to make sure everyone stays safe and as comfortable as they can be.

    Even better is my veterinary behaviorist’s office. She’s at a large university clinic with many specialties. When are you coming to the behavior clinic, they ask you to leave your dog in the car and check in. At check in you are asked whether your dog is comfortable in the (very large) waiting room. If not, you get a buzzer (like you get when waiting for a table at a restaurant!) and can go wait in your car with your dog until it’s your turn to come in. You can also come in a side door if you need to and they will clear the hallways of any other dogs and/or people. I love them 🙂

    June 26, 2012
    • Love the buzzer idea!! I hope that catches on with other vets!

      June 26, 2012
    • Matt.S #

      The buzzer thing is a great idea!

      June 26, 2012
  21. Jenn.S. #

    Oh yeah, love the buzzer idea! I changed vets because the front desk staff at the first one always sighed like I was making her life difficult when I said we were going to wait outside and call us when the room was ready.

    June 19, 2013
  22. Diana #

    We had a dog who was TERRIFIED at the vet’s office. She had to be muzzled at home before getting into the car because otherwise she wasn’t getting out once we pulled into the vet’s parking lot. One thing we did that helped a lot was to take her for “happy visits.” We went to the vet’s office and just walked around and got lots of treats and petting from the staff and then went home. That worked great (until she had major abdominal surgery in March and broke her leg in June of the same year. It was all downhill after that…)

    June 19, 2013
  23. Reblogged this on Zerobites Dog Training.

    June 19, 2013
  24. Sheena #

    I have a human aggressive and animal aggressive dog, and have had several problems at vets.

    1. My other dog had a seizure while we were out at petco and they’d told me to bring her right in – no appointment needed – if she had a seizure while on her meds. I had Liam with me, and he had his basket muzzle on. I left them in the car with my mom and told the vet we were here and that my other dog was aggressive so we’d wait outside. When the vet tech came out to get us she told me to leave liam in the car……then argued with me for 15 minutes. Im not leaving my dog in the car in florida, are you nuts? Not only that but he’d see a dog and go through the window. No. ALSO he was muzzled and obviously i can handle him if we were out in public. Needless to say we changed vets.

    2. At the new vet this lady and her daughter were the only others in the waiting room. It was just Liam because he had a large open sore on his mouth right where the muzzle sat. So of course he didnt have his muzzle on but it was around his neck. The little girl kept bouncing over to pet liam(Without asking) and the mom kept calling her back and telling her to leave liam alone. The fourth time she did it, Liam wheeled around and let out a deep growl and curled his lips. Liam is fear aggressive towards humans, so for him to tolerate her three times previous was good to me. The girl froze and the girls mom scolded her, saying Liam didnt do anything wrong and that the girl was in the wrong. After that i asked if we could wait in a empty exam room and they let us, because i didnt wanna risk her trying it again and Liam biting her.

    June 20, 2013
  25. Great post. I always inform the receptionist when I sign in that I’ll be in the car with my dog, then he’s speed-walked into the exam room before he has time to fixate on the other dogs. He has leash anxiety issues, and it’s just too stressful on me, the other owners, and especially the other dogs, not to mention himself, to subject everyone to his antics, haha. He’s a great dog, just not great in social situations. But, I know his limitations by now, so I just work around them 🙂

    June 24, 2013
  26. Maire #

    As a veterinary technician entering the exam room I would like to add, leave your dog on a leash AT ALL TIMES. I cannot count how many times I have walked in to a room as a dog either 1) tries to bolt from the door I am entering 2) attempts to lunge at me and presumably eat my face. Same goes for kitties, they do not need to be out of their carrier exploring all corners; once the door is open a crack they may make it to the back exam area and I cannot promise a cat-eating dog is not back there or is leaving an exam room.

    June 24, 2013

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