Over the years I have seen many things at vet clinics that could lead to bad things happening. I have watched dogs be allowed to go after other dogs (the offending dogs were often on extending leads). Cats have jumped out of owners’ arms and scurried off. I have had my dogs targeted by children. I have seen everything from loose cats, snakes, parrots, large lizards to unsecured (running loose) dogs in waiting rooms. I have listened to owners excuse dangerous actions. I have friends who are professional groomers who also lament about what pet owners allow in waiting rooms.  What are some things you can do to keep waiting rooms safer for all?

  • Just because your dog is friendly, does not mean the dog, cat, bird, iguana or human across the room will appreciate his attentions.  Be respectful of others.

  • Never use extending leads in waiting rooms or parking lots. They are too risky.  Use a regular leash and keep your dog close. 

  • Keep small animals in carriers.  Unsecured pets stand a greater chance of stressing someone else’s pet, injuring someone or being injured. 

  • Learn stress signals with your species of pet. Punishing stress may stop the visible signals but does nothing to address the cause.  Instead, work with a trainer and learn how to make clinics a more positive experience.

  • Do not hesitate to advocate for the safety of your pet. Allowing people to pat your stressed pet is not a good idea. Advocate kindly: “No, I am sorry, Sparky is too scared/upset/stressed/sick, at this point.  Thank you for asking, though. That was very kind.”   

  • It may be safer to wait outside or in your vehicle depending on how your pet and/or other pets are behaving.  Let the office staff know where you will be.

Waiting rooms are stressful areas even for the most easy-going pet.  As owners, we must respect our pets, the other humans and animals sharing the space.  As owners we must speak up if someone is creating a dangerous situation. Office staff must work to create a safer waiting area, even if it means offending a pet owner or parent who is allowing a bad situation to happen.  Failing to intervene could result in something far worse than an insulted client.

Using vet clinics and grooming salons as part of your socializing routine can help reduce the anxiety your pet may feel.  A couple times a week, visit the clinic or groomer. Make it pleasant. Lots of food and fun. Have staff calmly interact with your critter.  At home, work to make body handling, being crated for trips, etc., a good thing. Careful, gentle, positive work makes a world of difference for those who need to work on your pet.  If your pet is anxious, talk to a trainer who understands the science behind working with animals for advice.

Finally, a note to parents.  Please do not allow your child to run around and interact with waiting critters.  It is not fair to the animal. They are under enough stress as is. They do not need a strange child barging up to them.  Bring things to entertain your child and teach proper clinic etiquette. Even little ones can learn proper manners. Do not expect staff to babysit your child.

Please, next time you go to the vet or groomer take a moment and think about what you can do to make the visit safer for your pet and for others.


Karen Peak is the developer of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project and owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County.

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