As workplaces look for ways to improve the working environment for staff, and in some cases, motivate them to spend more time there, bringing pets to work is growing in popularity. At the time of writing, about 8% of workplaces in the UK and US allow employees to bring their dogs to work.
Employees are also changing. Millennials are committed pet owners. Although less likely to be married or living with partners, they are more likely to have pets than any other generation, with 75% of Americans in their thirties having a dog. So for employers, finding ways to facilitate pet ownership has the potential to give them the edge when it comes to recruiting this demographic.
Studies have shown a host of benefits to companies and employees having dogs in the workplace - everything from reduced stress to increased job satisfaction and employee retention, to the health-boosting effects that come from having pets around.
But what about the canine perspective? While capitalising on the benefits of implementing a dog-friendly policy that will work for the business and the employees, we mustn't forget to consider the advantages (and disadvantages) for the dogs themselves.
My experience working with clients who have taken their dogs to work has highlighted that the experience is not always plain sailing. Going to work is not a universally positive experience for our dogs. With a little planning, however, most working environments can be tweaked to lessen the chances of the dog becoming stressed and potentially misbehaving at work.
Here are some top tips for setting your dog up for success if you’re thinking of bringing them into the office,
1. Plan a pre-visit
If this is going to be your dog’s first time in the office, it may be worth trying to get them in for a ten minute visit over the next few days when the office is quiet. Dogs are curious creatures who spend a lot of time investigating their environment. Giving them the opportunity to do this ahead of bringing them in for a longer period of time will help them feel more secure and make it easier for them to settle.
2. Reduce the chance of accidents
If you’re worried about accidents, when you bring the dog in for the pre-visit, or if you beat the rest of your colleagues in in the morning, it’s a good idea to scatter some food for them. Dogs don’t tend to want to go to the toilet where they eat, so if their first association with your office floor is that it’s a place for eating, you reduce the chance of them peeing there!
3. Create calm through calm
To quote veterinary behaviourist Amber Batson, ‘calmness is a way of life, not a trained behaviour’. If you want your dog to be calm in the office, promoting calm behaviour the rest of the time will make this much more likely! It’s not uncommon for people who bring their dogs to the office to try and tire them out by engaging them in fast exercise like ball chasing or other fast play before work or on their lunch break. While this might give you a quick win because the dog will initially be physically tired, their system will remain full of adrenaline and other glucocorticoids for hours after. These stress hormones make your dog more likely to engage in undesirable behaviour like barking/reacting to other dogs and people or being hyperactive. Activities that use the brain like slow sniffy walks, puzzles or nose work are a better way to tire your dog out in a calmer way.
4. Think about the journey
Think about your journey into work. No matter how you’re getting there, allow extra time! If you need to travel to work by public transport bear in mind that there can be restrictions on dogs on public transport. Dogs can often ride buses at the bus driver’s discretion. Public transport can be really unpleasant for dogs at peak times - being in crowded spaces with people who may stand on their paws or tails or insist upon petting them can be stressful. Travelling off-peak can make this a more enjoyable experience for your dog. If you’re walking, allow plenty of time for your dog to sniff - trying to drag them along at your pace will be frustrating for both of you, and your dog will miss out on all the mental stimulation that comes with sniffing. If you’re travelling by car, make sure you factor in time for a short walk between the car ride and getting to the office so your dog can go to the toilet if they need to.
5. Create a calm and quiet space
It’s going to be a long and tiring day for them, so allowing them as much down time as possible is important. It’s likely that many of your colleagues are going to want to greet your dog. Watch your dog’s body language for signs of stress - your dog may lick their lips, look away, move away, or yawn. These are what we call calming signals, and dogs use them when they’re feeling worried or threatened or are trying to diffuse a situation or communicate peaceful intent. You can find more information on calming signal in Turid Rugaas’s book Calming Signals: On Talking Terms with Dogs. Encourage your colleagues to allow your dog to approach them rather than the other way around, and ensure your dog can move away when they want to. If your dog is looking uncomfortable, help them out!
Things to bring:
Food and water
Dogs need access to fresh water at all times. Depending on your dog’s food routine, you may or may not want to bring food. Having treats on hand may be useful, especially if there are going to be coffee breaks. Dogs always like to be included in any eating that’s happening!
Clean up stuff
Accidents happen! It might go without saying, but I would recommend bringing a roll of kitchen paper to soak up any accidents, some carpet cleaner if you have carpet and some disinfectant spray if you have hard floors. And don’t forget the poo bags! Dogs need to pee when they get excited or stressed, so don’t be surprised if there are accidents, and be sure that they have plenty of toilet breaks.
Things to chew
Chewing is a really nice way to keep your dog entertained and to relax them. Chewing releases happy, stress busting hormones in the brain, and providing appropriate things to chew can reduce the chances of them finding their own things to chew. In my experience dogs in need of things to chew in offices often go for wires! In my house, natural chews are always popular - pizzles, ears, dried tendons, moon bars etc. Some are smellier than others, so worth trialing these before bringing them to work if you don’t want to alienate your colleagues!
My personal favourite is a snuffle mat! These are now widely available online (I'm a big fan of the ones made by Knauder’s best). The idea is to hide food in them which the dog can sniff out. This is a tiring, calming activity, and once done, the dog will often use the mat as a bed. If you don’t have a snuffle mat, scattering treats in long grass is just as good.
Bed and comfort things
Dogs do about 40% of their sleeping during the day. Bringing a cosy bed to work, and putting it in a quiet spot by or under your desk will set them up for success. Cushions, soft toys etc can also be added for extra comfort. And don’t let your colleagues disturb your dog if they’re sleeping! Tired dogs can be hyperactive and restless, something I’m betting you don’t want in the office.
You can read more about dogs in the workplace in my new book Office Dogs: The Manual. It includes:
tips for getting your colleagues on board
things to consider when drafting a dog-friendly policy
the potential stressors your office dog might meet and how to reduce or eliminate these
case studies showing how being an office dogs has been for dogs of all shapes, sizes and ages in many industries
useful skills to teach your office dogs
trouble-shooting for some common problems