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Dogs at work? The debate lingers despite evidential preference for our furry friends | Managers at Work

Dogs at work? The debate lingers despite evidential preference for our furry friends | Managers at Work

Two of my team members bring their dogs to work with them on a regular basis. I understand why they want to do it – and why a lot of managers are encouraging it – but I find it very distracting to have dogs at work, especially when I’m trying to concentrate. I don’t feel as productive when the dogs are around. At the same time, I feel like I can’t complain about it since everyone believes that dogs always bring positive vibes to work.

It’s sure not a popular opinion these days, LOL!  I love my dog, but it’s true, not everyone loves dogs and not everyone is a fan of having one in the office. But the social and cultural pressure to be OK with dogs in the office is real. That makes it tough to complain.

Still, there are online conversations full of people like you who whisper complaints and worries. “I’m not scared of dogs, but I’m not comfortable with them either,” wrote one worker on a Reddit post. “A dog in the office would be a constant source of low-level anxiety.”

“Thing is, most folks love dogs. That puts a whole load of social pressure on folks not to make any objections. And if you’re one of those folks, like me, who aren’t really comfortable with dogs, that puts a second level of stress on me.

“That said, I’ve worked in offices with well-behaved dogs and it’s been … okay. So, I guess it depends on the situation.”

Others draw the line on having dogs in the office when clients are visiting. “Even well-behaved dogs can get excited, and badly behaved dogs, when you’re trying to work, are a nightmare,” wrote another worker. “Not to mention if someone’s got dog allergies or are scared of dogs – they might be afraid to bring it up, because you don’t want to be The Guy Who Got Rid of the Office Dogs.”

No, you don’t, not in 2023. And you can’t always depend on a dog owner’s assessment of their pet’s behavior: “Dog owners are the absolute worst arbiters of whether their pet is well-behaved or irritating. One person’s idea of boisterous is another person’s ‘It got fur on my shirt and slobbered into my lunch because it jumped up at me.’”

While there have been pet-friendly offices for a long time, the interest in having a pet at the office picked up significantly during the pandemic when many, many people adopted dogs and cats. Some 23 million American households, or nearly 1 in 5, adopted a pet during the pandemic according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

And people overwhelmingly approve of having them at work.  A study by LiveCareer, for example, found that 94 percent supported the idea of having pets at work.  Most of the experiences people reported, of course, were with dogs, but some 84 percent worked alongside cats, followed by fish, birds or even rodents, amphibians, or reptiles.

Having your dog at work can result in tons of well-documented health benefits. Numerous studies have reported that pets enable reductions in stress and improvements in physical activity, thinking, bonding and emotional connection not to mention reduced worker stress and improvements in physical activity, and social connections.

A 2021 research study called “Dogs at the Workplace: A Multiple Case Study,” published by researchers from the Nova School of Business and Economics in Portugal, confirmed the social-emotional health benefits of having dogs at work but put in a big caveat, saying that that the benefits only occur when “a flexible organizational culture” is in place. And that includes such non-pet-related practices as openly addressing problems at work; employees having job autonomy with flexibility to take breaks and openly finding solutions when mistakes and errors occur.

In the absence of those habits and practices at work, pet-friendly policies probably won’t be successful. “The inflexible permission of pets at work, can, on the contrary, create pressure and stress in employees,” researchers noted. “For the business world, the implication is that this kind of incentive only leads to success if the right framework and culture is in place, and it cannot only be seen as an instrument to increase employee well-being.”

Along with the flexible organizational culture, a few guidelines might make sense, especially in your situation. “There should be reasonable guidelines for bringing pets to work, if it is allowed,” says Roxane Gay, in a recent New York Times article. “These guidelines should respect everyone’s needs and also set the dogs up for success in a professional workplace.”

It might not be realistic to expect management to ban dogs entirely. But given your concerns, is there a way to broach developing guidelines with your manager that would respect everyone’s needs, including your own?

In bringing up the topic, however, the key is to stay polite about it and put an emphasis on working with your manager and co-workers on possible compromises without blaming them. Also, short of banning dogs entirely, is it possible to consider strategies that would make the situation more workable for you? Can  dogs spend time in another space at work? Are the dog owners at work doing what they can to make sure that Fido and friends are occupied during the day? Are they taking them out regularly for bathroom breaks and cleaning up after them?

That, of course, brings up the topic of pet policies. Does your employer already have a policy in place? If not, it might be time to adopt one. These policies carry some advantages for employers. Surveys show that pet-friendly benefits and policies can become an important recruiting tool for retention and recruitment.  Some 49 percent of respondents in the LiveCareer Study said that a “pet-friendly” environment could convince them to accept a job offer and some 46 percent of those surveyed said they’d be more likely to recommend their employer to a friend if pets were allowed at work.

Office pet policies should include some things that help protect the interests of employees like you, including an anonymous complaint process and designated pet-free zones at work. Other things that should be included, experts say, are requirements for training and vaccinations, trial periods for the introduction of new pets and the requirement to carry pet insurance.

One of the biggest requirements to consider is training. “This should not be a three-strikes situation; even one incident of a pet behaving badly can have huge implications in a workplace,” a startup company founder told “If a dog bites anyone for any reason, they should be out. You do have a primary responsibility to provide a safe workplace and you can’t allow pets to compromise that.”

For many, the issues around establishing pet-friendly policies are well worth the time and trouble, given all the well-established health benefits of having them at work.

“My dog is going to be here one way or the other,” said one Rochester area small business owner. “He is damn cute and if you don’t like it, don’t work here.”

Managers at Work is a monthly column exploring the issues and challenges facing managers. Contact Kathleen Driscoll with questions or comments by email at [email protected]