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— September 2, 2014 —

The Vet Clinic is Not the Dog Park
by Caroline Bodnar

I have spent my fair share of time at vet clinics. I have 3 dogs of my own and I also volunteer for K9 4 KEEPS Dog Rescue. Nearly every time I take a dog to the vet, someone wants their dog to be best friends with mine. I am always flabbergasted that people think this is a good time and place for face-to-face leash meetings with unfamiliar dogs.

First and foremost, the vet clinic is one of the most stressful places your dog will ever go. When a dog is under a lot of stress and anxiety, their behavior can be much different than when you are walking down your street. Just because a dog is “friendly” on an everyday walk does not mean they will act the same while meeting others in a high-stress environment. I’ve been asked many times, “Are they friendly?” (And yes, I have even been asked this as the dog I am handling is lunging at their dog, hackles raised.) Sometimes, yes, I am with a very friendly dog. But that still does not mean I want the dog to meet your dog. I don’t know your dog and I can never be 100% sure how the dog I am handling will react, either.

Many vet visits are for routine check-ups and vaccine updates, but I have also been to the vet with some very sick dogs. Not only should people respect that some dogs may be feeling pretty crappy and will not want other dogs rushing up to their face or sniffing their backsides, but they may be very contagious as well. The vast majority of dogs pulled from an open-access shelter by K9 4 KEEPS has kennel cough. We have had dogs with pneumonia, giardia, ringworm, scabies, and a variety of other communicable diseases. It is never a good idea to have a sick dog interact with another dog! I don’t want my dog to get sick, and I certainly don’t want your dog to catch something from my dog. It is not easy to tell just by looking at another dog if it is contagious or not. Many times, when we bring rescued dogs directly to the vet from the shelter, we have no idea what they could be carrying until they are seen by the veterinarian.

In my experience, no matter how polite I am people are usually very put-off that I don’t want the dog I am with to interact with anyone else. People have also had negative reactions when I correct the dog I am handling for unwanted or inappropriate behavior. If I am with a dog who blows up when another dog walks in, I am going to give them a leash correction and redirect them. If I am with a dog who lunges at a cat inside a travel carrier, I am going to give them a leash correction and I am going to relocate. I was once with a dog who was frantically trying to get to a woman’s cat inside a carrier. The dog’s eyes were bulging out of her head and she was pawing at the floor trying to climb on top of the carrier. The woman tried to pet her and said “Oh it’s ok! She’s just trying to play!” Petting a dog in that state could lead to a number of bad things. It’s also not a good idea to encourage unwanted behavior by petting, but that is a Tail for another Tuesday.

I have been at the vet with an un-spayed female dog and a woman with an un-neutered Bernese Mountain allowed her dog to mount mine. That encounter was about a half-second away from becoming a full-on dog fight in a crowded lobby. The bottom line is, dog-aggressive or unsocial dogs have to go to the vet, along with sick, injured, or anxious dogs, and the already-stressful experience will be much safer and easier for everyone involved if all animals are kept separate. The vet clinic is not the dog park.

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