When you work from home, every day is “Bring Your Dog to Work Day!” My office decor includes two large dog beds and a container of treats for when my collies are quiet while I am on a Zoom call. For the rest of the working population, however, there is National Bring Your Dog to Work Day. What began 20 years ago as a fun way for dog owning employees to celebrate their love for their dogs, has now become a much sought after workplace benefit for many potential employees, particularly among millennials joining the work force. It is indeed the case that many employers are giving serious consideration to dogs in the workplace on a regular basis in order to improve company morale, reduce stress, and increase productivity. They may even use the fact that they have a dog friendly work environment as a hiring tactic!
Post-pandemic, many dog owners are hoping that they will be able to bring their beloved canine companions with them to work. When you’ve been working from home for over a year and your favorite co-worker is your dog, it’s hard to go back to a traditional office environment and not have their calm, loving presence there too. In addition, many dogs acquired during the pandemic are suffering from separation anxiety as their owners return to long workdays and they are home alone, something they’ve never done before.
For businesses, allowing employees to bring their dogs to work can result in less missed hours and days off for employees that must return home to feed/walk/toilet their dogs during the work day. Fewer absences and employees that are happy to stay and work longer hours are a bonus for employers. In addition, the presence of dogs in the workplace encourages interaction and engagement between employees who might not otherwise socialize; dogs are natural ice breakers, bringing people together from different departments. Dogs in the workplace can help reduce employee stress and provide needed relief during tense meetings or encounters. Right now, 8% of U.S. workplaces allow dogs. According to a 2017 study reported in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the feeling of social support is key to whether people with serious mental illness return to work or remain employed. Some familiar companies that currently allow dogs in the work place are Amazon, Nestle-Purina, Google, WorkDay, Zynga, Zoosk, Etsy, Bissel, and Clif Bars, to name just a few.
So, with all these benefits, why don’t more employers allow dogs in the workplace? The number one reason is legal or insurance issues surrounding aggressive incidents involving dogs on work premises. An aggressive dog who hurts another dog, hurts another employee, or hurts a customer is a liability for the employer. Thus, most employers that allow their employees to bring dogs to work with them do have requirements that the dogs be free of issues in aggression or fear and any dog who does not behave appropriately must be removed and not return, for safety reasons.
The second biggest reason employers are hesitant to have dogs in the workplace is that there are people who don’t like dogs or are afraid of them and will not want to work in that environment or patronize that business. Some employees may be allergic to dogs; it is estimated that 3 in 10 people are allergic to furred animals. While there are a few dog breeds that have hair rather than fur, the majority are furred thus creating an uncomfortable situation for allergy sufferers. Add in that dogs bark and said barking could occur when someone in the office is on an important phone call, and employers have one more reason to reconsider dogs at work. While employers all require dogs to be house-trained before coming to work with their owners, occasional accidents may happen leading to property damage for employers as well. And, finally, it is often argued that the biggest benefit of dogs in the workplace is afforded to the dog owners themselves; everyone else may receive some benefit, but it will be minimal compared to the dog owners themselves.
I know that many employers are allowing dogs in the workplace right now on a “trial basis,” waiting to see how doing so could impact business productivity post-pandemic. If you are fortunate enough to work for a company that will allow you to road-test bringing your canine companion to work with you, how can you prepare your dog for that job?
First, be honest with yourself. Does your dog like meeting new people? If not, then he is better off at home or at doggie daycare. Is your dog rambunctious, destructive, or overly needy? The workplace is not the place for a bouncy puppy, with a weak bladder and desire to chew everything. It is also a difficult place to take a dog with separation anxiety. You WILL need to leave your office/cubicle at certain times during the day and your dog will not be able to go everywhere with you. If your absence causes your dog to be anxious, drooling, whining, barking, and fussy, then don’t take them to work with you. That’s all very disruptive and stressful for everyone involved. Seek the help of a professional to get the anxiety under control first. If you know your dog doesn’t like other dogs, then don’t bring them to work. Other employees and/or customers will be bringing their dogs in too. It’s simply not worth the risk of an aggressive episode or disruptive barking frenzy. If your dog is unable to relax/rest quietly for long periods of time, then the workplace isn’t for them either. You need to do your job. This means your dog will need to rest quietly under your desk, in a crate, or on a mat or bed for extended periods of time. You can’t play ball or tug-of-war all day long! Train your dog now to rest quietly in a crate or on a mat or bed for extended periods of time without input from you. Reward them for this behavior at home. Build up to longer periods of time. While you can certainly give your dog a job of his own while you are working (bones, bully sticks, quiet interactive toys, etc.), those jobs are all short-lived and you need your dog to rest quietly the remainder of your work day.
You should have a doggie bag with you everyday on the job together. Your bag should contain food, bowls, water (no dripping water from the bathroom or water fountain back to your workspace is allowed!), treats, quiet toys, bones, bully sticks, paper towels, pet-safe cleaning products such as pet wipes, and poop bags. You should leave a baby gate or crate at work to confine your dog when you are away from your desk. Any bedding you bring should be cleaned regularly. I recommend teaching your dog to rest on a yoga mat. They are portable, easy to keep clean, and comfortable to lay on for long periods of time. Plus, if you get one in the company colors, you are sure to impress your boss and be the envy of your coworkers!
Finally, don’t push it. Be ready to remove your dog and take them home if they get overwhelmed or need a break. Be there to observe all interactions with people and other dogs. Being a responsible dog owner is a big deal. It’s even more of a big deal when your dog is sharing your work day. Be conscientious of the feelings of others, only toilet your dog where permitted, and make sure your dog is not negatively impacting anyone around you. Keep to a schedule for bathroom breaks, play time, snacks, and exercise. Keep in mind that all of those things are good for you too. Your productivity will be enhanced if you move around and think outside of the box…two things we really did learn working from home with our canine companions in the first place.