Dogs at Work? 6 Tips for a Canine-Friendly Workplace

Allowing dogs at work is an increasingly popular perk offered by creative firms. Here are six things to consider if you want to maintain a safe and happy dog-friendly domain.

Take Your Dog to Work Day is a time to celebrate our four-legged friends in the office, but some creative organizations are embracing this perk year-round. Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University found that having dogs at work increases job satisfaction, lowers stress and boosts employee loyalty. Dogs also force employees to take much-needed breaks to keep their bodies healthy and the creative juices flowing. Plus, the perk alleviates the guilt many dog owners feel about leaving their pets at home all day.

Employees at Barefoot Proximity, a Cincinnati-based ad agency, can reap the benefits of interacting with their canine companions 24/7 thanks to its dog-friendly office environment, where six to eight dogs work alongside 100 people on any given day. "Having dogs in the office sets a fun, casual tone and stimulates connections between people," says Julie Hanser, director of talent development. "I also like to think that our furry friends serve as a reminder of the importance of play and being fully present, attentive and loyal."

While most people can imagine the creativity-boosting power of a nuzzle or quick walk with Fido, they may overlook some of the less warm-and-fuzzy logistics of running a business with canine coworkers. If you're considering allowing dogs at work – or already do ­– here's the scoop on how to provide a safe, respectful environment for both people and pooches.

1. Temperament and training

Before any dog enters the workplace, it should be housebroken and tested to make sure it's not aggressive toward people or other pups. "The dog would also need to be trained to the point that it will reliably come when called, lie down and stay for extended periods, and stop barking when it's told to stop," says Brian Cron, DVM, a veterinarian and co-owner/co-medical director at Glenway Animal Hospital in Cincinnati. The key is making sure the dog is trained to obey its owner in the office environment and around other dogs ­– not just at home.

It's also important for canines to be socialized to play nice with other dogs and strangers. At The Nerdery, which operates offices in Bloomington, Minn., Kansas City, Mo. and Chicago, dogs must be kept on a leash unless it's "Puppy Fight Club" time. "Once a week we unleash the hounds and let them frolic ­– run off some steam and just play," says Mark Malmberg, communication director and co-president. The Nerdery's staff of about 500 has 52 registered dogs across all three sites, and about half accompany their owners daily (along with one brave cat).

2. Veterinary care

Vaccines protect both pets and people, and reduce the liability of having dogs at work. The Nerdery requires owners to have their veterinarians fill out a form and provide a vaccination history, which should be updated annually. "Rabies, Distemper-Adenovirus-Parvovirus and Bordetella vaccinations should be required," Dr. Cron advises. "The dogs should also be taking a heartworm and intestinal parasite prevention product. Flea and tick control should be strongly considered."

Dr. Cron advocates that all dogs be spayed or neutered, not only to prevent reproduction, but also to minimize any, um, undesirable behavior.

3. Rules for having dogs at work

Although guidelines will vary depending on things like the size and setup of the office, number of dogs and types of clients, there are a few important rules that will make any workplace more harmonious. At Barefoot Proximity, for example, owners must:

  • Create a comfortable, safe place for the dog in their workspace
  • Supervise and have the dog on a leash at all times
  • Clean up after the dog and ensure it's not disruptive
  • Take the dog outside every few hours to use the area designated for "doggy business"
  • Keep the dog off all furniture and out of eating areas, conference rooms and restrooms
  • Be aware of and respect that not all coworkers or visitors are dog people
Dogs are such a big part of Barefoot Proximity's culture that the agency has a "Pup of the Month." Meet Gipper (Ms. September). Gipper loves Notre Dame and tennis balls, but dislikes baths.

"Fortunately, we've not had any negative reaction or problems with having dogs in our office," Hanser says. "We do have several employees and clients who are allergic to dogs, which is why our policy restricts dogs from being in common areas and on furniture."

Firm owners may also want to consider having a trial day or week for new dogs to make sure they're a good fit for the environment. "Some dogs may not take to it right away, so we give them a few days to adjust," says The Nerdery's Malmberg. "We also encourage owners to bring dogs in on the weekend when there are fewer people around."

No matter what your firm's specific rules are, it's important to write an official policy, and then re-evaluate and communicate it often. "Ninety percent of 'dog problems' are actually 'dog owner problems,'" Dr. Cron says. "Despite what everyone says, there are bad dogs out there, but there are infinitely more bad owners. Both have to be identified and retrained or they don't get to come to work." Barefoot Proximity regularly updates its policy to reflect the evolving needs of its growing employee population and clients.

4. Environment

It may seem like a no-brainer, but you should check your lease to make sure dogs are allowed on the premises. Many creative firms start small with the founders bringing their dogs to work. Eventually, they hire more people with dogs and find that they're working alongside a pack of pooches. When this happens, it's important to take a step back and make sure you're not violating any contracts.

The Nerdery's Zach Iniguez hangs out with Penny.

Dogs have been a part of The Nerdery culture since day one when the cofounder started bringing his dog to work. "An open-door dog policy has been a must-have in every lease negotiation," Malmberg says. "When we began looking for office space in Chicago, our agent said, 'I have dozens of places to show you.' When we said it would have to allow dogs, he said, 'I have one place to show you.' Done deal there."

5. Supplies and food

Even potty-trained pups have accidents. Stay well-stocked with cleaning supplies, including disinfecting spray, stain and odor remover, rags, paper towels, and a mop and bucket. Depending on your cleaning service schedule, you may also want to invest in a Swiffer, a vacuum and lint rollers. Malmberg recommends providing biodegradable dog waste bags at every exit along with a place to dispose of them. And if you have a grassy area outside the building, it's good to designate a spot for potty breaks.

Typically, owners are responsible for providing their dogs with toys and food. If you decide to provide a communal treat jar, use caution because some generally mild-tempered dogs can be food-aggressive.

6. Liability

Thomas B. Allen, an attorney with Frost Brown Todd LLC in West Chester, Ohio, encourages carrying additional insurance if dogs are on site. "An employer should make sure to check with its liability insurer to ensure that the employer has coverage if something goes wrong," he says. "If there is no current liability coverage for pet incidents in the workplace, find out if it can be added to the existing policy. If not, find out if a separate policy can be purchased from another insurer. If customers or visitors will be exposed to the animals, ensure that the policy provides coverage for incidents involving those parties as well."

Allowing dogs in the office can make creative agencies more attractive to potential new hires, at least the canine-loving ones. Still, there are downsides. Some people just don't like dogs ­– or even fear them. Others have allergies that can't be managed with medication or allergy injections. "We had one employee regrettably leave because of his bad allergy to dogs," Malmberg says. Surely it's a mix of good and bad for recruiting, but an overall net positive for the Nerdery. "Job candidates who visit or do any due diligence will come to know we have dogs in the office. It's kind of like people who move to homes near the airport: The airport was there first."

Incorporating dogs into the office environment is manageable and beneficial provided you use sound judgment and create consistent policies. Dr. Cron, who has worked alongside his dogs for years hits on perhaps the biggest benefit of all: "I think having your dog at work means that no matter how hard your day is, there's always someone in your corner if your dog is there."

Does your company allow dogs at work? Leave a comment with your own advice or anecdote.

Thinking about perks to offer your team? Check out our post on the top perks and benefits that win employees over. 

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