As I may have mentioned, I have a dog in the office with me. We call her the Rolling Peke because of her hind-end weakness, a result of a ruptured T12-13* disk in her back on her second birthday. After her surgery, she required constant care, so I began bringing her along to the office and nursing her between my (other) patients. That was more than four years ago and she has made an excellent recovery. She is now able to walk well enough without her wheelchair to get wherever she wants to go, though the cart does make toileting easier. And she continues to come to the office with me every day, where she has become a fixture.
Although she spends a great deal of her time sleeping, she also frequently interacts with patients. She's gentle with little kids as long as they're quiet; she tends to shy away from the loud ones. Not infrequently she'll scratch on the exam room door when she wants to come in with me and the patient. Then she usually flops down by the door, falls asleep and ignores us. But it's quite clear that she forms relationships with specific patients.
Most of the time she's friendly, sometimes milking her disability by dragging her back end laboriously over to the patient (usually a woman or girl with a high-pitched voice saying something along the lines of, "Oh you poor baby!") soliciting strokes and belly rubs.
Then there are other people she barks at incessantly, literally from the moment they walk into the office until they're finally out the door. She'll actually follow them out, barking continuously, as if to say, "And STAY out!" That can be pretty annoying because, ironically, she does it to some of my favorite patients. This is why I've generally discounted the idea that dogs (this one at least) are a good judge of character.
There are others she routinely greets and hangs out with in the waiting room until I'm ready to see them. Some of those folks sit on the ground with her, either stroking or playing with her depending on their mutual mood. Others pick her up on their laps for a cuddle.
The point is that her reaction to people doesn't change from one visit to another. If she likes you the first time you come in, she's your friend for life. If you're one of the "barkers", you're stuck with that too.
One day last week I entered the waiting room to find the next patient sitting on the floor next to the flopped-over dog, respectively giving and receiving a nice belly rub. The patient looked up at me through misty eyes and said, "She's never come over to me before."
"Really?" I said. "She's usually pretty friendly."
"Oh, she's been friendly, but this time she came over to me as soon as I sat down. She's never done that before. She must know that I had to put my dog down yesterday, and I needed this."
She reached over and gave the dog another stroke. The dog's soulful brown eyes melted as she gazed up at the distraught patient.
"I guess they just know," said the patient.
I guess they do.
* It threw me for a loop the first time I heard it too. It turns out dogs have 13 thoracic vertebrae, as opposed to 12 in humans.