As I say goodbye to my clients with dogs, I open the door to the waiting room. Too often, the client allows the dog to rush headlong into the seating area and run up to other pets. Most of the time the pets sniff each other and all is well, but occasionally the hackles go up, and one or both humans are tugging on the leash to prevent an altercation. In a small waiting area, totally avoiding other pets is difficult. But a near miss the other day got me thinking: Shouldn’t there be some rules of decorum for the reception area? After all, a clear set of do’s and don’ts might help avert disaster.
I huddled with my staff, and we’ve come up with a dozen waiting room protocol tips:
1. All dogs must be on leashes or in carriers, but leave the retractable lead at home, or make sure it’s locked. Keep your small dog in your arms, and your larger dog close to your side, as you enter the waiting room. Lots of dogs in our office sniff each other, wag their tails, and seem to enjoy the experience. Nevertheless, I suggest restricting your pooch’s interactions with his own species to the dog park. Also, an excited dog running figure eights on a retractable lead can wind around the legs of both dog and human, resulting in injury to one or both. I was once lacerated by a retractable leash with a 15-pound dog on the business end; it took two years for that scar to fade!
2. Along the same lines as Tip #1: Don’t let your dog run up to cat carriers, even if the dog adores kitties. That will terrify all but the mellowest of felines.
3. All cats, without exception, should be in a cat carrier. Even if your kitty lives with a dog and isn’t afraid, some dogs are cat-aggressive. To them, your furry little friend looks like prey!
4. Be mindful about cell phone use. If you’re the only person waiting, a quiet phone conversation is acceptable. If others are around, go outside for all but the briefest chat. Nobody wants to hear about what’s for dinner, your cheating boyfriend, or your business transactions.
5. Very young children may become bored and whiny while waiting, which is apt to cause distress for them and their parents. They are often uninhibited and curious, and may approach a pet that doesn’t care for kids. That could result in a serious bite (usually to the face). Arrange to leave your child at home if he or she is likely to cause a disturbance. I often joke with my daughter that she seldom saw the inside of a grocery store until she was 7 years old; it took her that long to mature enough to handle the situation without turning into a little monster.
6. I’ve overheard pet owners dispensing behavioral and medical advice to other clients. I’m sure they mean well, but the person on the receiving end isn’t likely to be in the mood to hear something that might seem like veiled criticism, or something they already know about. Refrain from giving fellow pet owners unsolicited suggestions.
7. For some dogs, walking into our office is their cue to bark incessantly. It’s best to leave a barking dog in the car; if it’s warm outside, both of you should stay in the air-conditioned vehicle. Call us when you’re in our parking lot to let us know you’ve arrived, and we’ll give you a buzz when the doctor is ready to whisk you directly into the exam room. Consider having us prescribe an anti-anxiety drug such as Xanax to help the poor pooch cope with his over-excitement.
8. The same goes for aggressive dogs, whether they’re dog-aggressive or people-aggressive: Call us when you arrive, and stay in your car. Also, all veterinary hospitals really appreciate it when clients muzzle their cantankerous dog before they walk in the door. If you’re unsure about how your dog will behave, play it safe and use a muzzle (which we are happy to provide). Dogs usually bite out of fear; why subject them to such stress? I adhere to this variant of DuPont’s old slogan: Better living through chemistry! A little Xanax is in order.
9. Don’t pet other animals without the owner’s permission. Better yet, don’t pet other animals. I wouldn’t approach any but the most obviously friendly dog in the waiting room, because some owners are in denial about their dog’s propensity to bite.
10. If you suspect that your dog has something contagious, such as kennel cough or mange, let the receptionist know when you make your appointment. Other clients will appreciate it if you leave your pet in the car until it’s time to see the doctor.
11. It seems like our front desk bears the brunt of some people’s disgruntlement. If you have a complaint, It’s OK to tell the receptionist, but please be gentle about it.
12. Unless another client volunteers information, don’t ask them why they are at the animal hospital. It’s really not your business, and their reason for being there might be embarrassing. Even worse, they might be terribly worried about their beloved pet, or they might be there to have the pet euthanized. When faced with having to make difficult decisions, the most stoic person may dissolve into tears if they have to talk about it.
Even if you are a maven of manners, sometimes your own well-disciplined dog can misbehave or have an accident in the reception area. I know that might be embarrassing to some pet owners, but to them I say, “Gee, this hasn’t happened … for at least ten minutes!” Just do your best to follow these tips, but don’t worry: We’re used to all kinds of rowdiness in the waiting room. Unlike the supermarkets where I wouldn’t take my grouchy young daughter, the vet’s office is a place your pet can’t -- and shouldn’t -- avoid.