Veterinary Visits: It’s Important to Be There for Your Dog

Why you should look for a veterinarian who doesn't take your dog into the back.


We switched to a new veterinarian last year. We made the change on a good friend’s recommendation and could not be happier. Our new vet is thorough, compassionate, smart as a whip, and an outstanding diagnostician. Her staff members are also competent and welcoming. An additional virtue of this clinic is the topic of this article. Our new veterinarian’s standard policy is that owners remain with their dogs and cats for physical examinations and for all health-care procedures that good veterinary practice allows.

Here is an example: Last summer, one of our Goldens, Cooper, developed an ear hematoma. I was away, so my husband, Mike, took Cooper to the clinic.

After an initial examination (conducted with Mike holding and talking to Coop throughout), our veterinarian recommended a relatively new approach to hematoma treatment, in which the site is drained with a large-gauge needle and an anti-inflammatory agent is injected directly into the remaining pocket. It is an outpatient procedure, does not require anesthesia, and is less invasive than traditional treatment protocols. But because it is a sterile procedure, Cooper would need to be treated in the clinic’s pre-surgery room.

Fortunately – amazingly – the vet told Mike that the pre-surgery room has a large observation window, so Mike could watch as Cooper was being treated, if he so desired.

Mike did so desire. As Coop looked back at him through the window (wagging his tail the entire time), Mike witnessed both the procedure and the gentle way in which Cooper was handled and spoken to throughout treatment. After the procedure, the veterinary technician (Cooper’s new best friend), brought Cooper back out to Mike, and they were good to go.

Again, for emphasis: Throughout the entire examination and treatment, Cooper was either with Mike (for weighing, examination, and diagnosis) or Mike could see him through the window (during treatment).

all about animals veterinary clinic

All About Animals


Being in the Room Should Be Standard Procedure

As many dog folks know, this level of transparency and owner involvement is no longer standard practice at many veterinary clinics. It is quite common today for clinics to require that owners relinquish their dog to a staff person while still in the waiting room. All physical examinations, vaccinations, and treatments are then conducted out of sight of the owner in a treatment room and the dog is returned to the owner at the end of the appointment.

I am going to be blunt; I have a strong opinion about this. There is absolutely no chance that I would allow any of my dogs to be taken “into the back” at a veterinary clinic for anything short of surgery. Our new vet does go above and beyond with her clinic’s degree of owner involvement, but we have never been clients at a clinic that required our dogs to be taken away from us for examinations.

Just as I assume that parents would not accept such a policy from their child’s pediatrician, I would not expect owners to agree to be excluded from their dog’s veterinary examination. Yet, this is not only standard protocol in many clinics, but also a requirement of some for acceptance as a client.

Yeah, that’s not going to happen to any of my dogs. I am my dogs’ advocate as well as their source of comfort and security. Our dogs trust us to have their backs and at no time is this more important than when they are nervous or frightened, a common state of mind of many dogs during veterinary visits.

Until recently, this was a matter of opinion. However, a new study, conducted at the National Veterinary School of Alfort in France, examined whether a dog’s stress level during a veterinary examination was influenced by having their owner present and providing comfort*.

*Source: Csoltova E, Martineau M, Boissy A, Gilbert C. “Behavioral and physiological reactions in dogs to a veterinary examination: Owner-dog interactions improve canine well-being.” Physiology & Behavior 2017; 177:270-281.

The Study

The objectives of the study were to measure dogs’ physiological and behavioral responses to a standard veterinary examination and to determine if having the owner present and providing comfort reduced the dog’s level of stress.

owner stays during vet visit


A group of 33 healthy dogs and their owners were enrolled. The dogs were at least six months of age and all had previous experience at a veterinary clinic. Heart rate, rectal temperature, ocular (eye) surface temperature, salivary cortisol, and stress-related behaviors were recorded before, during, and after a physical examination conducted in a clinic setting in two distinct conditions:

1. Contact: The owner stood next to the examination table at the dog’s side and comforted the dog by gently petting and talking to him or her quietly.

2. Non-contact: The owner was in the room, but did not interact with the dog and sat quietly in a chair located about 10 feet away from the exam table.

A balanced, crossover design was used. This means that each dog experienced two visits (timed one to two weeks apart) and was subjected to both conditions. To control for an “order effect,” the sequence of the conditions varied and was randomly assigned. Examinations lasted about five minutes and included mild restraint, examination of the dog’s eyes, ears, mouth, and teeth; palpation of the lymph nodes and abdomen; manipulation of joints; and heart and lung examination with a stethoscope.


Unsurprisingly, veterinary visits are stressful to dogs:

Waiting Room Stress

All of the dogs experienced at least a low-level of stress during the pre-examination period in the waiting room. As they waited, many of the dogs showed frequent yawning, which is considered to be a displacement behavior during periods of emotional conflict. Some of the dogs also whined and vocalized.

Examination Stress

The researchers found that all of the dogs, whether or not their owner was comforting them, showed a measurable stress response during the veterinary examination. Heart rate, ocular temperature, and lip-licking all increased during the examination period.

Owner Being There

When owners stood close to their dogs and provided comfort by talking to and petting them, the dogs’ heart rates and ocular temperatures decreased when compared with the condition in which owners were not interacting with their dogs. Both of these changes are associated with a decrease in stress. Dogs also attempted to jump off of the examining table less frequently when their owner was providing them with comfort than when the owner was not comforting them.

The authors conclude: “The well-being of dogs during veterinary visits may be improved by affiliative owner-dog interactions.”

Up On My Soapbox

I know, these results are a no-brainer for many dog folks: Veterinary visits are stressful to dogs and being present to comfort and reassure our dogs reduces their fear and stress.

Unfortunately, in my view, this study did not go far enough, since it did not study the condition that I am most interested in learning about: when dogs are taken away from their owners and examined out of the owner’s presence.

white husky at the vet


Interestingly, the argument that is made to support this practice at the clinics that insist upon it is that they remove dogs from their owners because the presence of the owner can cause the dog to be more stressed, not less so. Well, at the very least, these results provide evidence against that excuse.

And – an excuse it truly is. Perhaps this sounds harsh (remember, I am standing on a soapbox!), but my belief is that these policies are in place more for the convenience of the clinic than for the benefit of the dogs. No doubt, reducing client interactions in an examination room is more expedient and efficient (for the clinic).

And, there is also that pesky issue of transparency. An owner who does not have the opportunity to witness how her dog is handled, spoken to, examined, or treated cannot question or criticize. There is really no other way to say this: The risk of owner displeasure and complaints is reduced by not having owners present while dogs are being examined and treated.

So, personally, I am happy to see these results, as they can be used as evidence when responding to a clinic that insists it is less stressful for dogs to be removed from their owner during examinations and routine procedures. Petting and talking to our dogs when they are upset during a veterinary visit reduces their stress. We have the data. (Not to put too fine a point on it, but these results also provide more ammunition to combat the still-present [and false] belief that calming a fearful dog “reinforces fear.” I address that particular issue in more depth in my book, Dog Smart).

Hopefully, we will see a follow-up study that examines dogs’ responses to “no owner present” policies. Regardless, the data that we currently have encourage us to stay with our dogs during veterinary visits and examinations. It is quite simple really: Just. Be. There. Insist upon it.

Linda P. Case is the owner of AutumnGold Consulting & Dog Training Center in Mahomet, Illinois. Linda is the author of  Dog Food Logic, has a new book, Dog Smart, and writes The Science Dog blog.


  1. Thank you so much for talking about your findings on how effective it is to have the owner be in the room during a vet visit. My dog is a very clingy one, and it would often rush back to me if ever it found something that it’s not familiar with like an insect or a new household item. Since it’s this attached to me, I’ll make sure that I stay with it when I take it to a pet hospital for its regular checkups.

  2. Thank you for printing this article. Too many clinics, including most clinics that specialize in cancer, orthopedic surgery, etc., insist on taking the dogs to the back. I agree. This is not acceptable. Great read!

    • Most if those specialty clinics (especially oncology) require extremely sterile environments and use dangerous drugs. The less exposed personnel the better. Routine exams are one thing. But often times treatments require unpleasant procedures that owners unfamiliar with the medical field are not prepared for. Not to mention many people who don’t understand rather than ask questions will make assumptions and blast the practice. (Like routine SAFE restraint being described as “choking”) Not to be confused with actual choking where the patient can’t breathe. Also most owners want to get in the pets face and they become a liability. And no. The vast majority of owners do not listen when you tell them to back off for their safety. “He would never hurt me” turns into “I can’t believe my dog just bit me” Most people that own dogs don’t truly understand dog behavior.

  3. Luckily the no-owner-present protocol is very uncommon in my parts. But it is common to hand over your pet, prior to an operation. Having heard/read my share of stories of pets never making it out of anaesthesia alive, I will always do what ever I can to make sure I stay with my pet until the initial sedative has taken effect. Should the unexpected happen and my pet dies during the procedure, I’m not sure I’d ever forgive myself, if I knew I could have held him/her in my arms as they fell asleep from the sedative.

  4. I agree with this 100 per cent. But in my case the only vet emergency clinic within 2 hours of me insists on taking your pet to the back for assessment and treatment, siting liability issues. And they have no qualms about kicking you out if you argue. So I’m kind of over a barrel if I need emergency care for my pets. I have no arguments about the quality of care they provide. It’s just that I know my dogs would be much more comfortable with me.

      • The liability issue is that emergencies are often high stress for patient and client. Emotions are running high and people tend to cause commotions. The dogs feed off the stress and if you get bit trying to involve yourself you can sue the clinic. It’s not a blanket statement. You dont have time to vet every person as reasonable or not and you can’t predict how people will react in situations. So for the safety of everyone you’re not allowed. Plus painful dogs/cats are more likely to bite out of fear.

        • Yes, as a pet owner, I , totally,agree. Clients insisting staying with their pet, during an emergency ( and non emergency) is a huge liability and distraction to all staff and inhibits safe procedures! It’s common sense and all about safety of the staff,client and the pet!

      • Why are you taking your pets to a vet that you think might mistreat your pet?

        Why do you think someone would get into a field where they’re paid barely anything for doing a highly skilled job? Do you think it’s because they love animals? Or do you think they just want to mistreat a pet?

        Listen to yourself.

        • Jessica, I don’t think that pet owners have a clue that their pet might be mistreated by a particular vet or tech! The pet’s owners are possibly misled by a pleasant, front desk, and the vet’s, etc, attitude with them, the paying customer, and have no knowledge that sometimes this is just a “front” and actually can misrepresent the vet. So it’s extremely naive not to be aware that mistreatment of animals by vets and techs does definitely sometimes take place. Not all vets retain the good feelings over the years that may have drawn them into their profession at the start.

          • 100% correct. I used to work for a vet and he did mistreat the animals, it’s why I quit and made sure everyone knew this as well!

  5. A couple years ago we had to put down a dear sweet friend of ours who had bone cancer. I/we made the mistake of allowing the vet’s assistants to take her out back “for prep”. As it turns out, she was given a very heavy sedative just prior to them trying to return her to us. She never made it out of the back room door before she collapsed, all fours spreadeagled on the floor. I have never been as angry at another human being in my life as I was at that time. We were robbed of our ability to say good bye to our beautiful love, Tamaya. Never again.

  6. My experience – handling over 100 dogs per week – grooming not vet, the owners bring an un-necessary level of “emotion” to the party … let the professionals do what they do all day long – their job.