Pooch Power: What Dog-Friendly Workplaces Can Do For Your Business

Meet Louie, the slobbery, four-legged officemate who taught us a few things about how to work better.

No offense to any of my former bipedal colleagues out there, but the best coworker I've ever had is a puppy. Let me tell you why.

For the last five months, I’ve shared my home office with a yellow labrador retriever named Louie (pictured, top and right) and, yes, he's the cutest thing on earth. I can also genuinely say that he’s taught me a lot about how I work and how I should work.

The benefits of animal companionship are pretty well supported by research—whether it’s the health benefits of elderly pet ownership or the soothing effect therapy dogs have on hospital patients with severe dementia. But it's only in the past couple of years that important studies on how dogs can relieve stress and help productivity at work emerged.

In 2010, researchers at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant showed that dogs in the workplace may act as social catalysts and encourage collaboration. In one of the experiments, people were asked to complete a group task: those groups with a dog in their midst tended to score their teammates higher in terms of trust, team cohesion, and intimacy. Another study, published in the March issue of the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, found that dogs in the workplace may reduce stress and increase job satisfaction for both their owners and those they have contact with.

But you don’t need a scientific study to tell you that scratching a dog’s belly is a great stress reliever. As those who have shared workspace with a shaggy friend will attest, dogs have powerful ability to change the vibe of an office.

Take, for example, Clif Bar Company, the maker of organic food and drinks. They’ve enjoyed canines at their company since they were founded in 1992. Their Emeryville, Calif. headquarters are home to 242 humans and on busy dog days, 10 to 15 canines. "We’ve been dog-friendly from the beginning," says HR manager, Jennifer Freitas. "Our owners, Gary [Erickson] and Kit [Crawford] are animal lovers. They frequently bring their little terrier to work."

For Clif Bar, having dogs in the office makes sense for a lot of reasons. From a work-life balance perspective, employees don’t have to worry about their pooch sitting home alone all day, says Freitas, who often brings her dog, Crash, to the office. And the dogs help boost moral, relieve stress, and build community. "There’s a lot of people I probably wouldn’t know as well if they didn’t have dogs. I’ll make a point just to stop at their desk to interact with their dog, and in so doing I’m interacting with them. It really builds connections with our employees which, of course, increases collaboration."

A dog-friendly office contributes to the overall casual and comfortable work environment that Clif Bar aspires to, which Freitas says ultimately allows people to focus on what’s important: the business of being creative, collaborative, and serving the customer. "There’s a palpable sense of fun and good energy in the office and the dogs are a big part of that. If I see somebody’s dog I just gotta stop and scratch its belly. I just think there’s something that’s so relaxing and soothing about that. I think it really grounds people."

It turns out that more employers are seeing things that way. According to a survey from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, 17 percent of U.S. employers currently allow animals in the workplace.

As for me and Louie, we’ve had our ups and downs (mostly ups) and this is what he’s taught me about a better officemate and reducing work-related stress.

Get in Rhythm with Coworkers

I learned early on that Louie was going to be the one setting the schedule, especially when it came to bathroom breaks. The more I dragged my feet—trying to get one more email out before heading down to the courtyard—the more time I spent cleaning up puppy puddles. So I had to adjust—and to a degree, that’s what should happen whenever people share a workspace. Michael the designer talks to his wife on the phone around 2 p.m. every day? Good time to grab an afternoon cup of coffee. Or maybe first thing in the morning is when a couple people need to hammer out their blog posts. Concentration time. Save the chit chat for the mid-morning lull.

Take a Walk

This has got to be the most important thing Louie has taught me. When he doesn’t get enough exercise he’s a ball of energy, and not the good kind—nervous, unproductive energy that keeps both of us from focusing. So a couple times a day Louie and I take a hike around the block or a spin through the park. I’m amazed at how often these short jaunts result in a good idea. It’s because for that brief time, I’m not over-thinking whatever I’m working on; my brain has a chance to wander. Plus it’s all around healthy for you: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity physical activity to decrease the risk of developing diseases such as type-2 diabetes. That’s like two dog walks.

Eat on Schedule

When I worked in a proper office, I used to go to lunch with one of my coworkers almost every day. The thing was, he always wanted to eat at exactly noon. At first, his military-like routine annoyed me. I had always been more of an eat at your desk or go to lunch when you can squeeze it in kind of guy—waiting until I was starving and low of energy. But soon I realized how beneficial it is to actually take a true lunch. When my lunch cohort transferred to Stockholm, I was back to my evil ways, eating as late as 3 p.m. some days. But now, with a puppy around, that doesn’t fly. Labs live for food and Louie is no exception. If the food pellets don’t hit the bowl by 1 p.m. he’s looking at me like I’m a fur-less freak.

Grin and Bear It

I’m sure you’re having a stressful day—but bad moods are contagious and your sour looks spread to others. See, every time I look over at Louie, he’s got a winning smile for me—eyes that light up the room. That’s a powerful tool. And you’ve got it, too, if only you’d use it.

That’s not to say you have to fake unrelenting cheer, but much scientific research sings the praises of a simple smile, showing that people who frequently smile are perceived as more in control and attractive, that grinning can help your health, well-being, and the mood of those around you. When you lift someone else’s spirits it’s something they won’t soon forget. And even Louie knows that to get what you want—in his case a Milk-Bone—it can’t hurt to look cute.

Want to give it a shot at your company? Here's some tips for creating a dog-friendly workplace

What effects have dogs had on your company or employees? Tell us about it in the comments—or, better yet, show us a picture of your cutest office pooch by uploading your photos using the comment box below!

Related: The Dogs Of Zynga

[Image: Danette Pascarella]

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34 Comments

  • Mj

    Hi Dennis,

    Very much enjoyed the article and would like to re print it in  a magazine we are producing. If you could email me at my email listed here I can give you details and let you know how we will include your credts and links.

    M.J. Curtiss

  • Jul2873

    Unfortunately, dogs can put me in the emergency room in a matter of minutes with a severe asthma attack.  Employers really need to check their work force for allergies before allowing dogs.  I am fairly sure that prohibiting dogs would be a "reasonable accommodation" under the federal disability act.

  • tom cotton

    Whoops, forgot photo...Daphne (on couch) and Tsuki, thinking "big picture"...

  • tom cotton

    Tsuki and Daphne (on couch) are the Protagonista's best friends--when they make it in!  Our consultancy & agency in NYC (Be A Protagonist) loves having them, and there's NO hassle factor since they bring everyone together, everyone likes to walk them, and (knock wood) there have been no accidents!

  • Lorilferguson

    Great article!  I work from home and Lola, my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and Beau, my Chocolate Lab, are never more than a few feet away.  Everything you say is true--they 'keep it real' around here.  :-)

  • Robbie Eddison

    Lebowski  (@thedogabides:twitter ) - better known around the office by his official title, Softchoice's Director of
    Peanut Butter (you can see his official company profile here: goo.gl/VtlVI), has
    been raising morale and perfecting the art of napping at the office since 2007!

  • Daniel Janoff

    I'm all for dogs in the office -- if they're behaved. You wouldn't bring a tantrum-prone toddler to an office. Yet folks seem to think it's fine to bring loud, misbehaving dogs?

  • dogluvr

    Have you been in an office with loud, misbehaving dogs? Or are you making an assumption that people with loud, misbehaving dogs would actually bring them to a dog-friendly office?

  • Roxanne Pogue

    Evie of TPG Direct. Does a great disappearing act with coworkers lunches.

  • Roxanne Pogue

    Evie of TPG Direct. Does a great disappearing act with coworkers lunches.

  • Jess Grossman

    You've already seen Louie, but here's Baxter! He loves working hard at the Group Commerce office in NYC. 

  • FlutterBlade

    Our Wheaten Terrier Nelly reminds us to get up from our desks, do a little downward facing dog, grab a treat, and be happy we're here!

  • Robbie Eddison

    Lebowski (@thedogabides:twitter) - better known around the office by his official title, Softchoice's Director of Peanut Butter (you can see his official company profile here: goo.gl/VtlVI), has been raising morale and perfecting the art of napping at the office since 2007!

  • Teajai Kimsey

    Great article! I've always had some animal in the office.  Lately it's a little dog named Tuffy and a can named Prince. I watch my 2 employees interact with the animals and I can tell it's a stress release, relaxation break and comedic relief.  Don't think I would have it any other way and I know if I were to ever work for another company my pets would have to be allowed to come with me.

  • Martina Best

    Great article- more companies should allow pets in the office, even if just occasionally. My dogs come in regularly and sleep most of the day near my desk. They have a relaxing and comforting effect on the rest of the staff and make us laugh. Clients also love them as it shows there is more to our company than just business. Personally, my stress and anxiety levels are down since I take my dogs and the daily lunch walks also help to clear my head and be more productive. 

  • Martina Best

    My two greyhound girls make us laugh and contribute to a happy company atmosphere. Personally, my stress and anxiety levels are down and I take daily walks during lunch which clears my head and increases in turn productivity- Great article and I think more companies should allow pets, even if only occasionally. 

  • Lavanyaashok1

    While I was working at Clear Ideas in New York, our MD would bring his dog to work every day. Truly, it would lift everyone's spirits in the office and I completely agree with the fact that having a pup in the office increases collaboration and the overall good moods of people at work. Not only that, people also built stronger relationships with their co-workers as they had one thing in common to talk about - they love for the cute little puppy.. I loved it there!