October 29, 2012 | Back to: Business

Taking your dog to work

Wonder what tech firms like Google and Amazon, a Washington D.C. doctor’s office and a chinaware-replacement firm in North Carolina have in common? They all allow employees to bring their pets to work with them.

And they’re not alone: almost a million and a half people in the U.S. take their dogs to work with them every day — and that doesn’t count those who share their workspace with other pets like cats, birds, and even reptiles.

Dog owners have always insisted that having their pet nearby helps them deal with everyday stress and anxiety as well as more serious problems like depression, and generally makes their lives more fulfilling.

Today, research is bearing that out.

According to a landmark 2012 study published by the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, dogs can have a profoundly positive effect on employees in a number of areas. The study found that workers who bring their dogs to work had significantly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol throughout the day, regardless of how many stressful events occurred. Researchers also found that dogs tend to boost overall workplace morale and lead to more open communication.

For the past 15 years, Pet Sitters International has worked to encourage businesses to establish a pet-friendly environment through their “Take Your Pet to Work Day.” There are signs that employers are paying attention — not surprising, when one of the side-effects of having dogs in the workplace turns out to be increased productivity.

So, what you can do to promote an open-door policy about pets in your own organization?

First, whether you’re an employer or employee, recognize that many firms have legitimate concerns about dogs in the workplace. Chief among those is probably liability: what if Fido or Fluffy bites another employee? Or worse, a customer or client?

Although the law holds pet owners legally responsible for any injury or damage caused by their pets, in today’s I’m-gonna-sue-you-for-even-sneezing environment, businesses and organizations are understandably leery about doing anything that could potentially result in a lawsuit (or bad press!).

Employers should talk first with their insurer to make sure their general liability policy covers any actions or accidents caused by an animal in the workplace. Next comes research to find out how other companies similar to yours that do allow dogs handle the issue. What kind of rules and regulations do they have in place?

What kinds of problems have arisen, and how has the firm dealt with them? (These are also great hints if you’re a worker who’s trying to convince your boss to test out a dog-friendly policy.)

Another issue that often arises about dogs in the workplace is allergies. The fact is that in most cases, people are allergic to dog dander or saliva rather than dog hair. However, it goes without saying that dogs not be allowed in the immediate area of anyone who suffers from animal allergies. Owners also need to ensure their dog is bathed and brushed to remove excess hair and dander.

Remember too that some people are afraid of dogs. It’s the owner’s responsibility to make sure that his or her pup isn’t allowed to roam freely, or approach people without first making sure they are comfortable with a dog.

A well-crafted “Dogs at Work” policy can go a long way toward easing any concerns. Some of the more commonsense guidelines include that dogs must be clean, free of illness and disease, and housebroken; that they be well-socialized, with no history of aggression toward other dogs or people; and that owners must provide proof of current vaccinations for rabies, heartworm, and other illnesses.

As I’ve mentioned before, you can turn to the Web for help: sites like Pet Sitters International and Dog Friendly.com have some excellent guidelines for animals in the workplace that you can easily adapt to your own place of work.

Don’t get discouraged if your first attempts to establish a pet-friendly environment are unsuccessful: whether you’re trying to convince your boss or you board of directors, just keep gathering facts and ammunition to support the idea of allowing pets at work, and enlist others in the organization to endorse the idea. Be respectful and understanding of differing points of view, but stay focused and determined to counter any argument with good, solid evidence and information.

And if all else fails and you simply can’t go another day without your beloved companion by your side, there’s always the option of last resort: find another job. Hey, there’s even a job search engine — SimplyHired.com — that allows you to look for potential employers that are dog-friendly!

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Casey (hence, “Casey’s Corner”). You can reach Joan at joan@joanmerriam.com. And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.

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The Union Updated Oct 30, 2012 02:44PM Published Nov 15, 2012 02:21PM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.