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Tips for bringing your dog to work

Most of us have heard of international Take Your Dog to Work Day which occurs in June, but what would it be like if more workplaces adopted an ongoing pet-friendly policy? This is definitely on the rise in Australia and, so far, mainly involves dogs, who can be ideal for the role—they are often social, easily trained and have that special knack of bringing people together and putting a smile on our faces. Pet-friendly workplaces have many benefits for both humans and animals, especially in the post COVID-19 transition back to a working routine. The key to success is for employers to address work health and safety requirements and for owners to take responsibility to ensure the welfare of any four-legged visitors.

How pets benefit our mental health

There is now ample evidence for how pets benefit our mental health. They reduce stress, act as a social lubricant, provide companionship, offer unconditional support, and encourage us to get out and about to exercise, play or just smell the roses. During the COVID-19 lockdown, many people reported that having pets around them was a protective factor that helped to cope with the stress and isolation.

How COVID-19 has impacted our connection with our animals

In fact, one of the positive changes during COVID-19 has been an increase in the amount of time owners have been able to spend with their pets. This has been true for every pet owner due to the restrictions on social gatherings but is even more the case for those of us working from home. While some cats and dogs may have found the change in routine and having people around all the time unsettling, most have thrived on being with their special human 24 hours a day, especially if this time included extra exercise, games, training sessions, cuddles or just hanging out together during work breaks.

Such quality time strengthens the human-animal bond, but our pets may experience some stress and confusion when we return to our usual routines, so we need to find ways to help them adjust. Some animals have been experiencing separation anxiety due to spending more time alone at home again after their families return to work and school.

The benefits of pet-friendly workplaces

This is where pet-friendly workplaces can assist both pets and their owners, and also the wellbeing and productivity of the entire team. Most often it is dogs who are best suited to coming to their owner’s workplace, but regardless, some careful thought and preparation is needed before deciding to take a pet into the workplace. Firstly it is important to be sure that this kind of situation is something your pet would enjoy and that they will not find stressful. Some preparation will help them to adjust too.

Happier and healthier workplaces

Owners who can take their dogs to work with them are spared the disruption of suddenly being unable to spend as much time together, which is upsetting for both owners and dogs. They also enjoy all the emotional benefits of their dog’s presence, which is known to reduce stress and increase job satisfaction. Interestingly, these benefits also extend to other workers. Pets in the workplace have an immediate impact on team morale.

You will always know when a doggie worker has arrived from the way people laugh and talk affectionately as they interact with the dog, and from the new routines of canine cuddles and playtime during breaks. Dogs have a way of bringing people together, which improves workplace relations and can ease tensions during stressful periods. It’s important to be careful they are not overwhelmed by constant attention from many different people and to ensure they have time alone in a comfortable spot. They also need to be taken out on breaks, which makes them good role models for maintaining a work-life balance and getting some movement in during the day. They can also instill a sense of calm and relaxation. There is evidence that having pets at work supports the mental and physical health of workers, such as by lowering anxiety and reducing blood pressure. Perhaps all this explains why having dogs at work also improves productivity, reduces sick leave and increases staff retention. Who wouldn’t want to join a pet-friendly workplace?

Provides enrichment for your dog and reduces separation anxiety

Pet-friendly workplaces that are well set up provide a unique opportunity to improve the welfare of our pets. Dogs are highly social animals and should not be left at home alone for long periods. Some dogs respond to this by excessive barking and destructive behavior, which can be signs of separation anxiety.

Although separation anxiety can be treated, it’s crucial to address the environmental causes by ensuring dogs have physical and mental stimulation. This can be provided through daily walks and interactive games, enrichment (through toys like Kongs, chews, food hidden around the location) and best of all, arranging company. Sometimes finding a friend or family member to pop in can be difficult, so appropriate dog walkers or doggie day care can be good alternatives. But if you have the chance to take your dog to work, not only do you have all day together and all the benefits that brings for you both, but it’s also free of charge!

Helps with socialisation

Remember, not all dogs are suited to all kinds of different environments. You should never take a dog to work who has not already been socialised with people and other animals, as this can pose safety risks. However, providing your dog has received this early training and enjoys spending time with other people and dogs in a calm and friendly way, a pet-friendly workplace can provide the opportunity to meet both new people and other dogs. By close supervision and rewarding calm behavior, this can be a wonderful opportunity to contribute to your dog’s socialisation and reinforce desirable behaviours. And your dog will probably love the attention from co-workers and the chance to meet new dogs to sniff and perhaps join for a walk or game during breaks.

How workplaces can accommodate this

There is some evidence to suggest that the benefits dogs bring to the workplace environment are greater when employees have had more experience in pet-friendly workplaces. This makes sense and would no doubt also apply to the benefits for the pets themselves. To ensure the welfare and safety of both pets and workers, employers must establish a policy and ground rules to create a pet-friendly workplace.

Developing such a policy could involve:

  • An initial survey of the workplace to determine the views of workers;
  • A checklist of criteria for dogs to be considered suitable to come to the workplace;
  • A risk assessment of all areas so that to prevent access to any that may be dangerous for dogs;
  • The appointment of a responsible person for implementing the policy; and
  • A ‘dogs at work’ trial to identify any unexpected problems.

Employers would also need to manage other risks such as allergies in staff members, potential falls or trips caused by pets, zoonotic diseases and dog bites, and to safeguard the welfare of dogs attending the workplace by preventing negative interactions between dogs and ensuring they are safely contained.

The role of owners

As a dog owner looking forward to the prospect of taking your dog to work, you have the most important role in making this a positive experience for your dog and everyone around them. You can use the following tips to help things run as smoothly as possible.

  • Communicate: Speak with your employer and ask about their policy and any requirements for bringing pets to work. You might need to develop a policy to clearly outline expectations for people who are bringing their pets to work.
  • Microchip: Check that your dog is microchipped and their details are current.
  • General health: Ensure your dog’s parasite prevention (worms and fleas) and vaccinations are up to date. Do not bring them in if they are suffering from any current illnesses.
  • Supplies: Bring a ‘day pack’ for your dog, including food and water bowls, food, treats, enrichment toys, a bed or blanket and poo bags.
  • Exercise: Take your dog on a good morning walk before work to burn off energy.
  • Supervise: Place their bed by your desk and organise for someone else to supervise them when you need to go somewhere your dog can’t accompany you. Alternatively, your workplace may have set up a penned area to contain visiting dogs.
  • Dangerous items: Supervise your dog throughout the day to prevent them wandering off, coming into contact with dangerous items (such as electrical cords or the contents of rubbish bins) or getting into the staff kitchen!
  • Breaks: Don’t forget regular breaks for toileting and exercising your dog.
  • Mess: Clean up any mess promptly.
  • Socialisation: Introduce your dog to new dogs outside the office and have a short walk together before trying to have them in the office together.
  • Treats: Reward your dog for calm behaviour as they get used to the new environment.

If taking your dog to work is a new experience for them, it’s best to start with a short visit. And while you can’t control the behaviour of others, you can give your co-workers some tips about how to approach your dog gently, as a lot of excited noises and excessive or forced contact can be very stressful. And finally, keep an eye out for any signs your dog may be feeling fearful such as flattened ears, a hidden tail, yawning or excessive panting. Above all, never force co-workers to interact with your dog or your dog to interact with other people if they do not want to, don’t allow anyone to give him or her dangerous treats such as chocolate and have an exit plan ready if taking your dog to work is not a success.

Workplaces can reap the benefits

There are many benefits to a pet-friendly workplace for our dogs, ourselves and other workers, and having the option of taking your dog to work is a great strategy for reducing any stress caused by the easing back of post COVID-19 restrictions. The increase in pet-friendly workplaces may become a permanent shift in our lives, so responsible pet ownership is the key to its ongoing success.

And remember that you can be prepared and help your back pocket against potentially huge vet bills with a pet insurance policy.

Image of Dr Rosemary Elliot

Dr Rosemary Elliot 

Dr Rosemary studied veterinary science at the University of Sydney after having established her career as a clinical psychologist, and has qualifications of BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), MPsych (Clin), BA (Hons) as well as previously establishing her career as a clinical psychologist. Her experiences during veterinary training fostered an ambition to focus directly on animal welfare and ethics, with a particular interest in animal sentience and the human-animal bond. Currently working in small animal practice, Dr Rosemary combines her psychology background and veterinary skills to contribute to and promote animal welfare, and regularly contributes quality content to RSPCA Pet Insurance's Pet Care blog.