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The impact environmental variance in waiting rooms has on the expression of fear in canine patients

02 November 2023
14 mins read
Volume 14 · Issue 9


Canine patients commonly express fear-related behaviour while in practice. Prior research predominately focuses on the efficacy of interventions, such as dog appeasing pheromone, often without consideration for surroundings. This study aimed to identify and evaluate the influence environmental factors in the waiting room may have on the expression of fear-related behaviours in canine patients visiting a veterinary practice. Convenience sampling was used to test a canine sample population of 54 dogs (aged 1–10 years old) across 5 different practices. Patient behaviour was observed pre- and post-consultation during the period of time patients were in the waiting room. Analysis of these data demonstrated a significant reduction in fear during the post-consultation phase (Z=-3.821, P<0.001). Environmental aspects of each practice were scored and analysed against behavioural data, demonstrating weak negative correlation (rs=-0.27, P=0.050) between environmental scores and pre-consultation behaviour scores. A weak positive correlation (rs=0.28, P=0.035) between slippery flooring and increased fear was also found. Negative aspects of the environment such as flooring, noise and footfall should be considered and manipulated where possible to promote positive patient experiences. Further research should use a stratified sampling method to ensure variance between patients and practice designs. This research has provided proof of concept for this methodology and field of enquiry, providing scope for further research of this kind on a larger sample population of practices and patients.

Fear-related behaviours are commonly observed by veterinary surgeons and registered veterinary nurses in practice, and present a prominent welfare and safety issue when dealing with canine patients (Dawson et al, 2016). Poor experiences may lead to negative associative learning which may influence behavioural expressions used in the future (Rooney et al, 2016; Hargrave, 2017). Increased levels of stress and fear in patients may lead to an increase in defensive or fear-aggressive behaviour, potentially limiting clinical treatment options and inherently impacting patient welfare and health (Edwards et al, 2019a).

Döring et al (2009) concluded that 78.5% of dogs studied (n=135) demonstrated fear-related behaviour, with 13.3% of dogs requiring ‘dragging or carrying’ into practice. Stanford (1981) and Edwards et al (2019b) found that 70% (n=462) and 55% (n=26 555) of patients expressed fearful behaviours in practice. Although periods of exposure to medical settings are generally short, this perspective fails to consider the impact negative experiences have on the animal after the event, and before similar events in the future. Not only may this impede positive mental states and wellbeing, it may increase specific learned behaviours and affect the experiences dogs have during unforeseen periods of hospitalisation (Riemer et al, 2021).

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