How Not to Be a Jerk in the Vet’s Waiting Room

If there’s ever a place where dogs need space from one another, it’s at the vet's office.

Jessica Dolce  |  Oct 11th 2013


I love going to the doctor. It’s my absolute favorite place to meet new friends, even when I feel really sick or have a painful injury. Sometimes I’m just there for an annual checkup and I feel fine physically, but I’m still anxious. I’m worried that I’ll be late for work, or that I’ll get painful shots. When I’m feeling really stressed, that’s when I like to make friends with other people in the waiting room. I’m always hoping a stranger will approach and ask me to bust a move with them while we wait for our turn to see the doctor. 

One time I spotted a quiet lady in the corner and I asked her to breakdance with me. But she said, “No, thank you.” How rude! So 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?” Yep, that’s me. I just love being sick and anxious, stuck in a tiny space, and meeting new friends at the same time.

SCRREEEEECH! That’s just crazy talk! No one goes to the doctor to meet friends or to have a dance party in the waiting room.

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

And yet, so many people seem to think that unsolicited socializing at the vet is a good idea. Not only do they think it’s appropriate to let their dogs (and cats) run up to others, but there’s no shortage of judgment for dogs who want to be left alone. It’s time we adjusted our behavior and expectations. 

The overwhelming majority of dogs found in a vet’s waiting room are: sick, injured, anxious, stressed, contagious, or just don’t want to play. That’s normal. It doesn’t make them “bad dogs” any more than a child is a “bad kid” if they want to be left alone in the pediatrician’s waiting room. 

It’s not the dog park. It’s a doctor’s office. 

Next time you’re at the vet, please 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 you, and talking nonstop. 

Please be respectful of boundaries. You may not be able to tell it just by looking at them, but the dogs around you might be contagious or in a great deal of pain or, sadly, they may be experiencing their last few moments before being put to sleep. You can make the waiting room less stressful for everyone with a few simple, respectful actions.

Common sense rules for the vet’s waiting room:

  • Keep your dog on leash at all times: entering, leaving, waiting, and paying. 
  • Use a standard four-to-six-foot leash. If you insist on using a retractable leash, lock it. Don’t let dogs wander around, scaring cats and greeting dogs.
  • Do not block the scale, the front door, or the receptionist’s desk. Whenever possible, take a few steps away from these high traffic areas and gather your dogs close to you in order to allow others easy access.
  • Have control over your dogs at all times, even when you’re paying. 
  • Be aware of where your dog is looking. Staring is considered impolite between dogs. 
  • Bring treats and keep your dogs focused on you during the wait. 
  • Ask permission before you allow your dog to approach another dog.
  • If they say no, just accept it. It’s not personal. 
  • Don’t call the other dog owner or the dog “mean.” Don’t passively aggressively whisper about how “unfriendly” they are. News flash: When you do that, YOU are the unfriendly one. People go home and cry about how mean you were to them and their struggling dog.

A tip for all dog owners: If you cannot get the space you need inside, it’s okay to wait outside or in the car with your dogs. Ask the staff to let you know when a room is ready (they can call you on your cell phone), then go directly into the exam room. Ask if there is a back entrance that you can use so you can avoid the waiting room entirely. Ask ahead of time for an appointment during a less crowded time of day.

Remember, dogs have a right to their personal space, just like we do. At the vet’s office, where dogs are sick, injured, and stressed, it’s not only polite, but it’s safer to give others their space. By being respectful, responsible, and compassionate, we can help make trips to the vet a little less stressful for all of us. Wouldn’t that be great?

Read more about vets: 

About the author: Jessica Dolce is a professional dog walker and cat scratcher who lives in Maine with her two dogs and three cats. When she’s not scooping poop, Jessica blogs about her life with dogs at Notes From a Dog Walker and runs Dogs in Need of Space (DINOS). She can sometimes be spotted at old post offices, drive-in movie theaters, and any place that serves a mean brunch. 

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