Science says you should bring your dog to work

Why more offices should open the door to staff bringing dogs into work.
Having a dog in the office lowers stress, raises morale and promotes collaboration among employees. Bernard Weil / Getty Images
Having a dog in the office lowers stress, raises morale and promotes collaboration among employees. Bernard Weil / Getty Images

With a growing body of research suggesting that a dog-friendly office could have a real effect on employee well-being and productivity, it’s no wonder that more companies are welcoming furry friends into the workplace.

First, some background. In perhaps the most famous study on dogs in the workplace, researchers at the US-based Virginia Commonwealth University Center for Human-Animal Interaction found that having dogs around the office produced a wide array of benefits for both pet owners and their pet-less co-workers.

The study, which was published in a 2012 edition of International Journal of Workplace Health Management, examined Replacements, a manufacturing services company in Greensboro in North Carolina, where several dozen dogs are present on a typical day. The study found that employees who brought their dogs to work experienced significantly lower stress levels during the workday and that a sizeable portion of pet-free co-workers also viewed the dogs’ presence as having a positive effect on their productivity.

These results were consistent across a wide range of departments, from traditional white-collar fields such as sales and marketing to blue-collar sectors such as manufacturing.

The VCU study also supports the idea that dogs could help inspire buzz-wordy concepts such as collision and cooperation. “When there were dogs at the office, we found that people who normally wouldn’t talk to each other did and that all of a sudden there was a connection and a feeling that they were part of a team,” says Randolph Barker, a professor of management at the VCU School of Business and one of the study’s authors. “The dog becomes a social lub­ricant.”

Further studies support the notion that pets are natural stress relievers.

“Animals reduce activity in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which is our primary stress response system,” says Evan MacLean, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona who studies the relationship between humans and dogs.

“Stress can have a wide range of negative impacts on cognition, mood, and our interpersonal interactions. Keeping this system in check is critical for keeping us in the best shape to be creative, interactive, and productive.”

q&a paws for thought at work

Seth Porges expands on why bringing your pet pooch to work could be a productivity booster.

What other benefits could employees gain from having dogs in the office?

Exposure to dogs could also increase the release of the hormone oxytocin, new research suggests. Oxytocin has a wide range of effects related to overall health, sociability, trust, and how we generally get along. “With so much of our work depending on team dynamics and interactions in the workplace, these effects can be critical for well-being and productivity,” says Evan MacLean, from the University of Arizona.

Surely an office with can­ine companions running wild would be unproductive?

Randolph Barker of VCU School of Business says organisations need to manage pets’ presence effectively. That means talking to employees before dogs are introduced into the office and accommodating those who may have allergies or phobias.

And what about the dogs themselves?

Having a comfortable place for the dogs is probably a good first step toward mitigating any potential issues. Mattress company Casper just released its first dog bed, which is made of foam the company claims lasts longer than a typical fibre-filled dog bed, while giving Fido a firmer surface.

Would HR departments go for it?

Giving employees permission to bring their pets to work could also serve as a low-cost wellness intervention, Mr ­Barker says.

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Published: September 14, 2016 04:00 AM


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