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The Dog Friendly Return to the Office

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There has been one clear winner from the pandemic: our dogs. No longer are many of them left home with nothing but time to lament their owners’ betrayal. Now they have their favorite person right by their side, albeit not paying enough attention to them. It isn’t just canines that have benefited though. Having an animal for companionship during such trying times has been a solace for many. But this pinnacle of animal husbandry is bound to come to an end. As vaccines continue to roll out nationwide and the end of the pandemic draws closer, experts are cautioning pet owners to prepare their furry friends for a tough time when their humans start to leave again. 

Your cat may not care about your incessant presence, but dogs in particular thrive on routine. As most dog owners can attest, your pup will let you know when it’s time for bed. For most dogs, the past year has drastically altered their routine. “When things change suddenly, it could come as a shock. Even the most resilient of cats and dogs can get worried at times,” Clinical animal behaviorist Sarah Tapsell told Tyla. Owners returning to the office are left with two options to help their friends, bring them to work or prepare them for your departure. Both are significant changes to their routine. 

It doesn’t have to be that way. While we’re rethinking the entire office experience, let’s rethink pets’ place in the workplace. Today, roughly 20 percent of employers in the United States are pet-friendly workplaces. Many co-working places allow pets. As Millennials become a larger part of the workforce, companies are adopting pet friendly policies to establish an attractive company culture in competitive fields. More than any generation before, Millennials love their pets. Pets have become major factors in vacation, rental and home-buying decisions for the generation. 

Banfield Pet Hospital’s Pet-Friendly Workplace PAWrometer shows 60 percent of Millennials state they are more likely to continue employment at a company that implements pet-friendly policies compared to 39 percent of the older generations. HR decision-makers report that 64 percent of candidates ask about pet friendly workplace policies during the interview process and 70 percent of employees believe pets in the workplace have a positive impact on the office. It’s clear that pet-friendly workplaces aren’t just a gimmick. They’re already a major factor in offices and their popularity continues to grow. 

If you’re considering implementing a pet-friendly workplace policy to help ease employees back to the office, there are several critical factors to consider. First, not everyone loves dogs. About a third of Americans suffer some form of pet allergy, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. A fear of dogs is also one of the most common phobias in the world. Then there’s all the things you expect from four-legged friends; the barking, the energy, disobedience, messes, and an adorable face you just can’t stop squeezing. While the benefits of dogs in the workplace is well documented, so is the distraction. 

Start by contacting your landlord. Sadly they may not love dogs as much as you do and implementing a pet-friendly workplace may be prohibited by your lease. The good news is a languishing office market has created the perfect conditions to renegotiate your lease and the increasing popularity of bringing a pet to work has many landlords reconsidering their stance. If the landlord is on board, creating pet-friendly workplaces doesn’t take much from a design perspective. Make sure your office has a convenient place for your per to take bathroom breaks. Still, be prepared for messes, buy an extra vacuum for the hair. Pets create additional wear and tear on furniture and surfaces, so beyond making sure your pet-friendly office doesn’t have fine finishes and furnishings to worry about, you’re good. 

The most challenging part of implementing a pet-friendly workplace is the social aspect. Policy is the most important part of a pet-friendly workplace. Not all dogs are fit for the office and that’s okay, a busy office is a stressful place even for humans. From the outset, make it clear to employees that their dog is their responsibility while in the office and they are liable for any damages caused by their dog, a simple waiver should do. Require that all dogs must be house-trained, spayed or neutered, up to date on shots, and on flea medication. 

Most people don’t bring a dog to work unless they are friendly, but behavior can become an issue quickly. It may help to require proof from owners that their dog has been through some form of obedience training. Think of a dog in the office as a new hire. Are they a good fit? An initial adjustment and monitoring period are recommended. Depending on the size and layout of your office, a leash requirement may be best. Baby gates, crates, and kennels can be useful. Some suggest putting a limit to the number of dogs in the office and managing who’s turn it is with an online sign-up sheet.

Creating dog-free zones will help employees who need a break or simply don’t like dogs. Meeting rooms can be tricky. Often meetings are the most valuable time a company has, not allowing dogs in the conference room can prevent distractions. Lastly, a three-strike rule for bad human or dog behavior will help to enforce the policy. There must be a zero-tolerance policy for aggressive behavior, aggressive dogs should be removed from the workplace at the first sign of trouble. 

Going through all of this may sound insane to some, but the benefits make a compelling case. Dogs have been shown to help with workplace stress and studies show workplace productivity is hardly impacted. Some work more, some work less, for most employees, having dogs in the office has virtually no impact on their productivity. Perhaps the greatest benefit is what dogs can do to build trust and collaboration in the workplace. Dogs are man’s best friend for a reason, thousands of years of friendship have created bonds between dogs and humans that’s almost like magic. In 2010 Central Michigan University Professor Stephen Colarelli led a study, finding workers were friendlier with each other, made more eye contact, displayed more open body language, and had a greater sense of trust and cooperation while in the presence of dogs. 

“Dogs are a social lubricant,” Colarelli said. “When work teams are first formed, it often takes a while for people to get comfortable with each other, but having a dog in the room seems to put people more at ease.”

If none of this sounds like it’s for you, your dog isn’t fit for the office, your landlord won’t allow it or your employer said no, preparing your dog for separation is best. Give your dog time to get back into your regular work routine. Wake up when you normally would, get ready to go like you normally would, and get feeding and walking schedules back to normal before you head back to the office. Practice being away from your dog by taking a walk without them, going to the store or simply sitting outside while they’re inside. Time isn’t the issue for most dogs, it’s the act of leaving, so don’t worry so much about the length of your absence. Once they’ve accepted your departure and gone to lay down or calm themselves, the lesson is over. 

For millions, there’s nothing we wouldn’t do for our dogs because we know there’s nothing they wouldn’t do for us. Our connection with our pets is one of life’s greatest joys. If you’re lucky enough to work at a dog friendly workplace or are thinking of implementing one, the prospect of finally returning to the office may not sound so ruff.

Associate Editor
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