Pets in the Workplace
While Elayne Fletcher works on building designs in her office, one of her three Border collies keeps her company. Her primary motivations for bringing her pets to work include close proximity to an agility training field and the chance to take lunchtime runs with a member of her high-energy pack. She also simply likes having them around—even her youngest, Strummer, who shredded the recycling until he adjusted to life on the job.
The culture at the small engineering firm in Boulder, Colorado, where Fletcher works as a structural engineer, is pretty laid back. “There are no strict rules about dogs at all,” Fletcher says. On a typical day, between two and five dogs join the nine people who work there.
For years now, we’ve been bringing our sons and daughters to work with us, showing them the ins and outs of office life, and now the trend seems to be extending to our four-legged friends. According to a 2006 survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA), nearly one in five U.S. companies allows pets at work. Of the 1,000 adults surveyed, the APPMA also found that:
- 41% believe having pets in the workplace leads to a more creative environment.
- 37% believe it helps coworkers get along better.
Dr. Alan Beck, director of the Center for the Human–Animal Bond at Purdue University, explains that animals make us appear more positive and available, more nurturing and likeable. Dogs, especially, serve as “social lubricants,” making others more likely to engage you in conversation. “We’ve done this experiment with line drawings and photos,” Dr. Beck says. “Pet owners are viewed as being smarter, richer, kinder, and healthier than those without pets.”
Dr. Beck says that allowing pets in the workplace began in software companies during the tech boom of the 1990s. Relatively younger staff without children tended to come early and stay late to get the job done. However, many of these people had pets that they didn’t want to leave alone for that long, so their employers started allowing them to bring their pets to work. Of course, some employers worry about the potential distraction and concerns from other employees who aren’t so pro-pet. “I’m sure there are some cases where every time you have an animal, there are three people in nearby cubicles complaining,” says Dr. Beck.
Although Dr. Beck isn’t necessarily a pets-at-work crusader, he explains, “We try to make the work environment nicer. We want the environment to be comfortable because there is enough performance anxiety in the workplace. For some people, having an animal might be nice. Obviously, however, there are some environments in which it isn’t in the best interests of the animal or the people.”
WHEN IT WORKS . . .
Vicky MacKay, executive director of a synagogue in Northbrook, Illinois, brings her two German shepherds, Tova and Shira, to work most days. It began as a solution to her long hours and 45-minute commute. Over time, however, the dogs’ great reputation took off. Thanks to the dogs, one student with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder did not have to increase his medications to attend religion classes. Once, MacKay even returned to her office and found the bookkeeper snuggling with the dogs on the floor. “She said, ‘I needed a puppy hug,’” MacKay recalls, “and I just started laughing.”
"Having my dog at work makes me feel great—It gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling. I just love looking under my desk and seeing him there. "
Such malleability, however, does not come easily. MacKay’s dogs get plenty of exercise throughout the day, and they are well trained not to react to people walking by or entering her office. They also know not to leave the office without her permission, greet visitors without the go-ahead, or enter the sanctuary or kitchen.
. . . AND WHEN IT DOESN’T
Training aside, some dogs are simply not cut out for the workplace. Take Julie Schick’s dogs. It would completely stress out her youngest Australian shepherd. But Boone, 7, is a natural who lazes about or wanders at will. “He’s relaxed and laid back. Not much bothers him,” Schick explains.
Schick lives in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and works as a receptionist at a swimming pool supply company, where the owners always bring their golden retrievers to work. Once while fostering two puppies, Schick got special permission to bring the youngsters—only 9 weeks old at the time. “That was on a trial basis,” she says. “If the babies behaved themselves, then OK. But if they were screaming and barking, then that wasn’t going to fly.”
A JOB OF THEIR OWN
Sometimes after workplace visits, dogs end up with their own jobs. Laura Anne Welch’s 7-year-old German shepherd, Pollux, occasionally assists in the after-school tutoring program Welch runs in Raleigh, North Carolina. Kids measure him for their math homework. They read to him. They burn off energy racing him through tunnels. And, on occasion, he helps immigrant students overcome their fear of dogs.
Several of Susie Fain’s eight dogs have also found work at Canyon Ranch, a posh resort in Tucson, Arizona, as companions and entertainers for visitors. It began as a test program that fizzled, but now repeat visitors know Fain’s dogs are available and simply ask for walk dates in advance. Her dogs, some of whom model for big-name pet retailers, also perform at summertime agility demonstrations for visitors from a wish-making charity. Fain, a tennis pro at the resort, sets up the shows on the court.
WHY DOG DAYS MATTER
When we talk about pets at work, aside from the occasional “office cat,” we’re talking about dogs, many of whom crave human contact. They give us comfort, like pets in classrooms. They give us social cachet, showing we are lovable. They teach us lessons about life and the need for breaks (bathroom, play, or otherwise). Plus, jokes John Long of Pet Sitters International, the company that founded Take Your Dog to Work Day 9 years ago, “Who has ever heard of working like a cat?”
TAKE YOUR DOG TO WORK DAY, FRIDAY JUNE 22, 2007
Now in its ninth year, Take Your Dog to Work Day celebrates the special bond between dogs and their owners. John Long of Pet Sitters International says, “We believe that by experiencing the human–animal bond, there will be those in the workplace who feel encouraged to go out to a local shelter and adopt a pet of their own.”
Intended to benefit local animal welfare agencies, Take Your Dog to Work Day is about more than just pooches on the job.
TRAIN YOUR CANINE COWORKER
In addition to rock-solid socialization, people who bring their dogs to work say these behaviors and training will serve your pet well in the workplace:
- Heeling on or off lead
- Playing quietly with toys while you work
- Eliminating on command and only in approved spots
- Honoring boundaries, where the dog does not cross certain doorways without permission
- Using permission-to-greet training, where the dog does not bound up to every person she sees
- Crating, in case the dog needs some time to herself or you have a long meeting
TIPS FOR TAKING YOUR DOG TO WORK
The creators of Take Your Dog to Work Day offer these tips to keep the experience fun and safe:
- Check with your boss for permission, and ask your coworkers about any allergies or fears, which may nix the idea.
- Dog-proof your workspace, so electric cords and toxic items such as correction fluid and permanent markers are out of reach.
- Bathe and groom your dog before her visit.
- Leave aggressive or shy dogs at home. They won’t enjoy the environment.
- Supply yourself with food, treats, toys, clean-up bags, and cleaning supplies, just in case. Bring a baby gate or a crate so she has a safe spot in which to retreat and rest.
- Plan feeding and bathroom breaks carefully, and clean up after your dog.
- Don’t make people interact with her. Trust us: Dog-friendly people will find you.
- Have an exit strategy in case your dog gets stressed out or becomes too excited.