As employers gradually shift to recalling workers to the office, many dog owners now face the question of whether to bring their dog with them or to ensure their pet has company at home.
Nearly 70 million US households last year said they have a pet dog, and if done right, dogs in the office can provide many benefits. They can reduce stress, boost morale, and spur spontaneous and collaborative interactions between colleagues. But the huge surge in demand for “pandemic puppies” the last two years has led to a sizable chunk of the pet population being some of the worst socialized, creating stressful situations in the office.
Companies including Google, Amazon, Wework, and Uber have adopted pet-friendly policies. According to a survey from Banfield Pet Hospital, half of the 500 top executives surveyed said they are planning to allow pets at the office. A separate Rover survey showed that that 77% of American pet parents place even more importance on working for a dog-friendly company after spending so much time with their dogs during the pandemic.
Pet owners first and foremost need to measure the impact on their colleagues. The office after all is a place where work needs to be done. Although people with allergies to dogs are a small minority (allergies to cats are typically twice as common as dogs), serious conditions need to be accommodated under government disability guidelines.
“Dog allergies don’t tend to be severe. It’s very rare that we see something that’s very extreme” said Dr. Cherice Roth, the chief veterinary officer for the pet telehealth company, Fuzzy. That said, Roth suggests that proper designated spacing between desks, crating the animal, providing air purifiers or even a private office can all be appropriate steps to take.
Sometimes the problem is not the animal being disruptive so much as humans not understanding proper dog etiquette. Approaching the animal from behind or suddenly getting too close could result in it lashing out. Ultimately, it falls on the owner to be defensive and if need be, ward off a pet-unsavvy colleague.
Leash coding can help solve for some of this. A dog wearing a red leash means it should be left alone, while yellow indicates people should proceed with caution. Green means the dog is friendly and up for social encounters. However, awareness of this color coding system has not yet reached the mainstream and many people buy colorful leashes simply as an aesthetic choice. Owners may want to go further and add clearly printed instructions like “nervous” or “please don’t pet” on their dog’s harness.
Then there’s the impact on your pet to consider. Each dog has a personality that’s unique. Some become stressed out in an office environment and are better off as homebodies.
“Good candidates for accompanying you to the office are healthy and well-socialized pets who really enjoy meeting new people and other dogs and exploring new environments,” said Pam Reid, vice president of the ASPCA’s behavioral sciences team. “Pets with underlying behavior issues such as anxiety or fear will do much better staying home with visits from a trusted dog walker or pet sitter.”
How can owners tell? Typical signs of discomfort or fear include stiff body language, hiding such as underneath spaces like desks, raised hair, crouching low to the ground, and yawning.
If there’s more than one dog in the office, employees will need to negotiate with other pets too. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if two dogs are play fighting or just plain fighting. Reid said playing looks like bouncy movements, play bows, and taking turns while wrestling.
“If one dog appears to be overwhelming another, try briefly holding the collar of the pushy dog. What does the other dog choose to do?,” said Reid. “Bounce back up to the dog for more play or run away to take a break? If the latter, give the dogs a break from play.” Generally, it’s better to not bring your furbaby’s favorite toy in because some dogs don’t like sharing, unless you can ensure a private space for your dog to play with it.
If a dog is having trouble with a transition—whether that’s being left at home or getting brought to the office—consult an animal behaviorist to help them adjust.
“Don’t wait to seek out a behaviorist only as a ‘last resort’” said Reid. “They can also help to identify any early problems that can be treated now rather than waiting to see if they get worse.”