Dogs in the Office

Spending more time with my dogs was one of the benefits of leaving my job in a big office and it definitely influenced my decision to go. My parents had often generously walked my dogs during the day while I was at work, but I hated having these amazing companions that I got to spend less and less time with as my career got busier and busier. So I was very fortunate to be able to start a business that I could run from home.

In recent times, however, more companies (a few large but many small) are adopting dog-friendly workplace policies. There have been many articles on this phenomenon over the years, with the consensus being that having your dog at work generally increases contentment in employees and leads to higher productivity. Specifically, people report being less stressed, more willing to work longer hours and they more easily form good working relationships. Some companies even testify to it being a great ice-breaker with new clients.

Is there any scientific evidence that dogs make the office better?

In 2010 a study by Central Michigan University wanted to test the large amounts of anecdotal evidence saying that dogs in workplaces had positive effects on workers. So Christopher Honts and Matthew Christensen developed an experiment to try and test if the mere presence of a sociable, well behaved canine in the office might make coworkers more likely to cooperate with each other. The study involved conducting two experiments, all with volunteers who did not know each other.

The first experiment involved utilising 12 teams of 4 participants. Each team had to come up with a 15-second advertisement for a made-up product. Every member had to contribute their ideas but ultimately they had to agree and choose one ad. The second experiment involved 13 teams of 4 participants and was a version of the classic game theory problem ‘Prisoners Dilemma‘. All four members of each group had been ‘charged’ with a crime. Individually, they could choose (without talking) either to snitch on their team-mates or to stand by them. Each individual’s decision affected the outcomes for the other three as well as for themselves in a way that was explained in advance. In each experiment, the groups were randomly assigned after being screened for dog allergies and phobias to either a control condition (no dog present) or an experimental condition (dog present).

The results of the study showed there was a significant difference in how the dog groups and non-dog groups behaved. In the first experiment the volunteers were asked to fill out a questionnaire afterwards on how they felt about working with the other members of their team. The researchers found that the teams who had a dog with them ranked higher on qualities of trust, team cohesion, and intimacy than the teams who were dog-less. The results of the second experiment were that the teams who had a dog as a member of their group were 30% less likely to snitch on their other team members. These are very interesting and positive findings for one of the first experiments on the effects of office dogs, and it reinforces the belief that dogs facilitate the development of interpersonal variables such as trust and intimacy between people.

Who leads the way in dog work environments?

According to reports Taiwan appears to be ahead of the rest of the world, with half of all work places welcoming dogs! America —  based on survey data — leads the UK and Australia with 20% of work places reporting to be dog friendly and there is even a US website for job-seekers called Simply Hired that filters jobs only from dog-friendly companies. Most of these work environments are small-firms, though, with less than 50 employees and most are located in California. However, a few large companies embrace the idea with most of the well-known ones being tech giants such as Amazon, Autodesk and most famously Google.

Google’s Dog Policy

One of the most famous dog-friendly companies is Google. Many of its offices (not all) allow employees to regularly bring their dogs to work and the company’s affection for dogs is an integral facet of their corporate culture. However, the inclusion of these furry colleagues at Google premises comes with a strict dog policy that enforces many rules that benefit all staff and the dogs. These rules are fairly extensive but some of the most important ones include:

  • Employees should not plan to ‘raise’ their dog at Google everyday.
  • Before a dog comes to work an employee must check with their manager and their surrounding co-workers – if anyone has an allergy or is uncomfortable the dog is not permitted.
  • Some areas of the office are off-limits to dogs including any food areas, medical areas, bathrooms etc.
  • Dogs must be supervised at all times and if they are not contained in an office/cubicle then they must be on a leash.
  • Dogs must be well behaved, as any interference with another employee’s ability to work (including excessive bad odors 🙁 ) will lead to that dog being sent home.
  • Dogs must be vaccinated, have no fleas, be licensed and covered by liability insurance.

Although reliable sources inform me that not all of these rules are strictly enforced; they are mainly there for extreme situations.

Does every dog get its day at work?

Just like people, not all dogs suit the office environment. So before you dream about having your pooch next to your desk think seriously about if they would make a good workmate. Aggressive, territorial, hyperactive, vocal and shy dogs probably won’t fit in. Owners also have to honestly assess their dog’s need for more training before they bring them to work so they are under control, not annoying, nor distracting for others. I know personally my dog Cresswell would need to work on his “over-enthusiastic” greeting method.

Help with making your workplace dog-friendly

Given all the considerations I would still love to see more companies and offices embracing dog-friendly work environments. Here in Australia the number of companies that allow dogs at work is very low but I hope this will change in the coming years. If you are interested in making your office dog-friendly there are a number of things you can investigate. These include:

  • A book called ‘Dogs at Work: A Practical Guide to Creating Dog-friendly Workplaces‘ which has been developed in conjunction with the Humane Society of the United States. I have not read it as yet but my copy is in the post!
  • Get involved in the worldwide ‘Take Your Dog to Work Day‘ as a nice introduction or trial to see how it works at your office. In 2011 the date to mark in your diaries is June 24!
  • If you have floated the idea with your managers and co-workers and they are enthusiastic, look into forming a ‘Dog Committee’ with a few interested people and start to write an office dog policy before any canines have their first day. The most successful dog-friendly offices are those where all employees have a common understanding of the rules and dog owners know that having their dog there is a privilege and not a right.

At some point in the future I’d like to imagine that I might work out of a dog friendly coworking space or office where dogs enhance the working atmosphere and are a regular part of the day. We all know that the “long hours” working culture that has developed in many parts of the world is not only unhealthy for us but also for our dogs who are left behind at home.

I love seeing photos of dogs hanging out with their owners and colleagues at work so I have included a few in the gallery. But if anyone out there has a dog-friendly workspace (whether that be a home office or an office tower environment) please post some pictures of your office dog to our facebook page!

Otherwise just use the comments below to let us know about your dog-friendly office or your thoughts on having one!

Lisa Miller

Lisa Miller is a blogger, digital strategist, business coach, zoologist and crazy dog-lady! Lisa lives in Sydney, Australia with her husband, two kids, two dogs and two cats. That equates to a lot of fun and vacuuming. Her dog’s names are Cresswell and Edwina (or Cress and Eddie).