Dogs Friendly Workplaces - Dogs welcome

After the enthusiastic response to last Friday’s national ‘Bring Your Dog To Work Day’, we are urging UK businesses to consider the possibilities of allowing staff to bring their dogs to work.

Almost half (43%) of the respondents to a poll carried out on our social media last week had taken their dog into work to mark the day. Of these, 87% said it was a great experience.

Katharine Creagh, Canine Behaviour Officer at Dogs Trust, has shared her expert thoughts about welcoming canine colleagues into our workplaces. She provides food for thought on the demand for businesses to support their dog-owning employees, the reality of having dogs at work, and whether it’s in the best interest of our four-legged friends.

 

For some of us, working from home, pyjama-clad with our dogs acting as fuzzy foot-warmers, has been the silver-lining of a stormy few years. Although WFH is my preferred modus operandi, I do empathise with the many others who relish the idea of returning to their usual workplace, whether it be for the social stimulation of office banter, or for a 9-5 break from household responsibilities. But what about our dogs? Our constant companions through those long, rough months, who now expect our presence, day-in, day-out? The idea of leaving them home alone for eight hours a day is not a pleasant one, but the costs of dog-walkers, doggy day care and sitters add up to a considerable amount during a time of an unprecedented squeeze on household finances.

One solution that seems to be gaining popularity is bringing your dog to work. As people return to their offices, there is growing interest in dog-friendly workplaces, partly due to some evidence of benefits to employee wellbeing, and partly due to employee demand. Many hip, trendy companies, such as some of the household tech names, already allow dogs into their offices, a move they believe holds the key to attracting and retaining top talent, as well as reducing employee stress levels and promoting social interactions.

WeWork, the popular co-working space have been dog-friendly for some time and have found their members really value the flexibility of bringing their dogs to work. Jennie Becker, WeWork’s Director of Events & Activations for UK & Ireland commented:

“Our pet policy also makes sure everybody feels comfortable in our spaces, and we find that welcoming dogs can boost the overall well-being and experience of our members and can even facilitate more social interactions within our community.”

However, while there are many positive reports on human wellbeing and productivity in work when dogs are present, what do we know about the effect on these “office dogs”? As it turns out, not much. As a behaviourist myself, I can imagine the many ways in which an impulsive visit to their human’s place of work might spell disaster for an unprepared pooch. If you think your commute is hellish, imagine how it feels for a dog who has, up until now, been blissfully unaware of rush hour? The cumulation of stressful events throughout the day, known as “situation stacking”, could easily occur during the average workday, between the commute, weird new surroundings on arrival to the office, and shrieking, over-excited colleagues. Situation stacking happens to us humans too. Remember that day you were late for work thanks to a train delay, and when you finally arrived there was no coffee left, someone had dumped a pile of papers on your desk, and then you realised you had forgotten to bring your lunch? I’m sure you didn’t feel you were living your best life that day!

On the other hand, it is possible that some (not all!) dogs could benefit from dog-friendly workplaces. Separation-related behaviours have become one of the nation’s biggest dog welfare concerns as humans return to the office, according to Dogs Trust’s National Dog Survey. If dog-friendly workplace policies are implemented carefully and executed well, there could be welfare benefits for some dogs. Apart from avoiding separation-related anxiety, joining their best two-legged friend at work may give dogs the opportunity for increased exercise and socialization throughout the day, compared to being left at home, something many concerned “pet-parents” will appreciate.

But hold your horses! Even if your boss agrees to it, it’s probably not a great idea to bring your dog to work straight away. Many dogs thrive on routine so a big shift in activities can throw off their delicate sensibilities, and a worried doggy can end up with a dodgy tummy, so believe me when I say it’s in everyone’s interest not to simply bring your dog into the office and hope for the best! Lifestyle changes such as these need to be careful and considered, not only for the welfare of your dog, but for your own sanity, not to mention the good will of your colleagues and employer. A workplace “doggy code of conduct” can be a good starting point, to set boundaries and procedures for the new working environment that everyone can agree to, along with gradual introductions. If you have a small workspace and lots of fluffy potential new colleagues, you may need to agree an office day rotation, staggering on-site working days for different dogs, so your workplace doesn’t end up looking (and sounding!) like a doggy day care centre.

Apart from preparing your workplace, you will also need to prepare yourself, and your dog, for the transition. Some things (among many!) you should consider include: can your dog cope with the commute? Is your dog familiar and comfortable with the mode of transport (train, car, underground, etc.) that you usually take to work, and can they cope with it even at busy times? Is there space in your workplace where your dog can rest undisturbed, away from heavy footfall? Can you provide your dog with all their needs (fresh water, walks, attention) throughout the day? Not to mention thinking about who will take care of Fido if you’re invited to an important meeting, or when nature calls!

If your workplace is thinking of implementing a dog-friendly policy and needs help to make the transition, Dogs Trust can offer a range of advice via their brand-new Dog Friendly Workplaces support packages. Your manager or HR representative can inquire about practical methods to make your workplace more dog-friendly (MINI, for example, have just implemented a range of adjustments across their showrooms to safely welcome their four-legged customers). They might also consider making an addition to your benefits package with access to the exclusive Dogs Trust Dog Friendly Workplaces website, packed full of resources to help you teach your dog office-etiquette, training and advice from our Dogs Trust behaviour specialists, fun ideas to try with your dog and regular online webinars.  

Remember, not every dog will want to go into work, nor will every workplace be suitable. Nevertheless, with the proper preparations and a slow, gradual introduction, many dogs could benefit from joining their favourite human at work. Perhaps not every day though, their usual working hours tend to be shorter than ours. Which reminds me, I need to get some advice from Fido on collective bargaining agreements..! 

 

Katharine leads on Dogs Trust’s innovative Dog Friendly Workplaces programme, which aims to help ensure dog welfare by supporting organisations to create a dog-friendly environment which will benefit not only staff with dogs, but also clients, customers and visitors. The programme offers regular live webinars, training, and tips for dogs going into workplaces or while at home to make sure that ‘working with your dog’ is a positive experience for dogs, owners and their colleagues. 

Dogs Trust is holding an introduction webinar to their programme on 27 July. To register for the webinar click here.