Dogs in the workplace are not unusual. Ever walked through a small retail storefront to be met by the proprietary tail-wagging welcoming committee? Maybe you’ve observed a friendly Lab near the reception desk at a hospital entrance. A K9 dog is every bit the crime-fighting police officer as his human counterpart. Nursing homes and hospitals routinely employ therapy dogs. Other working dogs lead the blind, predict seizures, watch over children and adults with autism, ameliorate the PTSD symptoms of war veterans, or locate disaster survivors.
Less common is finding companion dogs in corporate settings. But the practice of routinely bringing a dog into an office environment is gaining momentum with emerging evidence of its many benefits. And it really stands to reason: our pets help make us better humans when we invite them into our homes—why should things be any different at work?
Pivotal research at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2012 demonstrated that dogs in a corporate setting encouraged collaboration and trust among coworkers, and stimulated team cohesion. The explanation may be a chemical called oxytocin, the so-called “cuddle hormone.” During an interaction with a dog, a human’s oxytocin levels increase and stress levels moderate. Dogs have been shown to boost worker morale, reduce absenteeism, encourage a willingness among their humans to work longer hours, and to make work more satisfying in general. And employers who embrace a dogs-in-the-workplace policy have observed better employee retention. With the gathering momentum of this trend corporate employers can now offer bringing a dog to work as a perk to attract and retain talent.
If your office is not (yet) dog friendly, there are effective ways to introduce the idea to both superiors and colleagues, and to draft a plan to implement a dogs-in-the-workplace policy.
TAKING YOUR DOG TO WORK
Any successful plan to integrate dogs or other companion animals into the workplace must be undertaken from the top down: you need your employer on board first and foremost, and then your colleagues. As with any other idea, you must sell its benefits.
1. You’ll need top-down support from the outset: begin with your boss. First do your homework. Then, using your powers of persuasion, present your ideas by citing other examples of successful dog-friendly corporate policies. Anticipate questions and come prepared with answers. Organize a concise list of the known benefits of bringing a dog to work:
- Improves worker productivity
- Reduces stress
- Encourages a healthier, more active lifestyle
- Helps maintain a healthy work-life balance
- Builds positive work relationships
- Boosts morale
- Attracts and helps retain new talent
- Helps socialize companion animals
- Gives pets cherished time with their beloved humans
2. Then gather support from your co-workers. Take a survey. Get a headcount for your colleagues who are in favor of a dogs-at-work policy, and for those who are neutral. Listen to the concerns of those who are against it. If you have coworkers with known dog allergies or who are fearful, all bets may be off, unless it is possible to designate some part of the workplace completely “dog-free” for those employees.
3. Evaluate your office and its campus for dog-worthiness. Determine whether there is a suitable outdoor space for dog walking. Make sure there are spaces inside the office that can be designated off-limits to dogs: these will probably include restrooms, and break rooms or cafeterias, but may also include conference rooms and common areas. Identify needs; your list might include
- Waste disposal stations with poop bags
- Indoor leash ties
- Dog gates and/or crates
- Water bowls
- Paper towels and pet-safe disinfectant for accidents
- A litter box if cats will be included
Make sure the cleaning crew is apprised of the dog policy. If your company leases its building/s and campus you may also need the landlord’s approval. Prepare for this meeting in advance with statistics about animals in the workplace. Then let them know you’re prepared to create legal documents to allay any concerns about liability.
4. Volunteer to undertake the work of drafting a dogs-at-work policy. Take some of the burden off your employer; build a committee made up of dog owners and non-dog owners alike. Anticipate concerns and address them preemptively. Draft an employee waiver that speaks to liability issues. You can write the document yourself and have an attorney review it, or ask the attorney to write it. Every employee who brings a dog or other companion animal into the workplace must be willing to sign the document. It should include language requiring them to
- retain at work current copies of a pet’s medical records
- retain at work proof of current vaccinations
- agree to ongoing flea and tick preventive treatment
- clean up after the animal
- bring only a fully house trained animal to work
- never bring a sick animal to work
- never bring an aggressive animal to work
- never bring a “problem” barker to work
- never bring a fearful animal to work
- keep an animal leashed in or otherwise separated from off-limits areas
- pay for any damages a companion animal causes in the workplace
Drafting this document proactively will help your case.
RULES FOR DOGS IN THE WORKPLACE
Once everyone’s on board, you’ll need to work with your employer to create guidelines for successfully inviting dogs into the workplace.
1. Determine a reasonable “hire” policy. Your dog may not possess a sterling resumé, but she’ll still need to demonstrate a few essential skills during the “interview” process:
- She must be friendly to humans and other dogs.
- She must be house trained.
- She must be clean and healthy.
- Her demeanor must “match” the demeanor of the workplace; if the office tends to be quiet, so must she.
- She must possess basic obedience skills.
- If she is permitted in meetings she must be well-mannered, not distracting.
2. Determine a reasonable trial period. A single day is insufficient for a genuine test, as the focus of the day will likely be the dog. A one- to two-week period is more reasonable. Assuming a dog meets the behavior parameters outlined above, be sure to introduce her to the office slowly. If there are other “tenured” dogs in the office, introduce them in a neutral area first. And you might want to try her on a part-time basis in the beginning to give her a chance to become acclimated to her canine coworkers. If she seems unsure of herself around a particular colleague, hand that person some treats to give to your dog—sometimes that’s all it takes to earn a dog’s trust.
3. Practice good etiquette. Be considerate of your colleagues. Keep your work space clean. Provide your dog treats and quiet toys—not squeaky ones—to keep him busy. Monitor him for signs of stress, for example panting, drooling, or ears pinned back. Act responsibly: the office environment might not be appropriate for him. If your dog does not get along with a coworker’s dog, compromise with a rotating schedule so you can each have work days with your beloved companion. If there are allergy sufferers in the office, keep your dog clean and groomed and avoid their work space. And always keep a leash nearby, and your dog clearly identified with an I.D. collar and/or tags.
4. Establish and honor a “three strikes” code of conduct. This policy should describe consequences for both canine and human non-compliance with established rules and guidelines. Invoke a “zero tolerance” policy for workplace aggression: if your dog violates this policy, you must leave him at home.
DOGS IN THE WORKPLACE: SHARE THE NEWS
If you’re a corporate trend setter, you’ll want the world to know it. Make your dog-friendly office inviting for canine visitors with treats in the lobby or reception. And wear the badge proudly; hang signage around campus to alert visitors to your dog-friendly policy. (Likewise, clearly indicate pet-free zones.) Then scratch your colleague under the chin, toss him a treat, grab your coffee, and get to work.