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October 20, 2008

The Corporate Canine: Sharing an Office with Fido

By: Deb Neulreich

Is the American workplace going to the dogs? According to a recently published survey by The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, almost one in five companies in the U.S. allow pets on site.

According to this national poll, not only are pets appearing in the workplace, a majority of those polled believe there are benefits to having pets at work such as relieving stress, improving relationships with coworkers, and creating a happier work environment.

So what is the benefit to the boss in having Fido at the office? Some companies have reported that animal-friendly policies actually benefit the corporate bottom line. “Our customers love to come in and see the dogs,” says Ellen Paulus of Paulus Printing in Port Washington. “It’s been a wonderful addition to our business and we have some customers who stop in just to see the dogs. We've even had a couple of customers that came to us because they heard we had dogs (wanting to support a fellow dog-lover).” Ellen and her husband Bob have been bringing their Greyhounds to the office with them for over ten years.

Can just anyone successfully integrate Fido into the workspace? Chat rooms and interactive boards specific to “pets in the workplace” are prevalent on the Internet, revealing both the pros and the cons.

For those whose share an office, for example, a dog creates instant issues when that co-worker may have allergies, find dog hair annoying (especially on dark colored clothing), or get migraines at the first hint of barking.

Then there are the folks who sniffle and fret over the “indignity” of having to work in a professional environment with four-legged creatures.

Dog-lovers, however, imagine a completely different office scenario. They see lunch breaks spent throwing a Frisbee for Fido. (Bathroom-breaks might take twice as long but would be twice as productive!)

Arriving early and staying late doesn’t create a problem when Fido is right there with you, i.e., no at-home-and-couldn’t-wait-for-you accidents.

“We often work long hours (8 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m.) so we often had to run home during lunch to let our dog, Dewey, out,” explains Ellen, “that quickly became a drain on time and expenses, so we decided to start bringing him to work. Though my father-in-law was skeptical about having a dog at our place of business, it worked out extremely well. Though some may have thought it would be a detriment to the business to have our dog(s) present, I think it has not only helped us by being more convenient for their care, it has also helped in regard to public relations.”

In order to make the arrangement work, experienced dog trainer Jim Perry of Waukesha recommends that basic obedience is a must. The two-legged office counterpart must be in command, especially for the more active, high-strung breeds. “When you take your dog to work you have control to set the rules. The stay command of course is the most important for most office workers,” says Jim.

As well, consider only socialized, quiet, friendly and well house-trained dogs appropriate for the office. Use a leash or baby gates to keep Fido inside your workplace. Prepare the office for a mischievous or bored chewer by eliminating wires, poisonous plants, pens, rubber bands, and other hazards.

Finally, consider whether Fido might actually favor lounging on the couch, watching the scenery from the sliding glass door, and not being commanded to “lay” and “stay” on command. Depending on Fido’s breed, he may prefer to chew rawhides and snooze all day, waiting for a glorious after-work homecoming, than to be confined to a dog bed under a desk in the workplace environment.

Asked about the drawbacks of sharing the workday with not just Dewey but now several Greyhounds, Ellen said, “I think there are more pros to having your dog at work than cons, especially for us. The dogs love it here. The customers love seeing the dogs. The dogs get to socialize with other people and dogs (several of our customers bring their dogs along with to place their orders since they know we are dog-friendly). I think that may be one of the downfalls of having the dogs at work – they can be a distraction. But the joy they bring far outweighs the burden. On a bad day, nothing brings my spirits up more than to go outside and watch them run around and play. After about fifteen minutes spending time with them, I'm ready to go back and in and tackle more work.”

To pounce on this growing trend of dogs in the workplace, take Jim Perry’s advice and start with Take Your Dog To Work Day, next scheduled for June 26, 2009. First celebrated in 1999, Take Your Dog To Work Day celebrates canine companionship and encourages rescue adoption. More info is available at www.takeyourdog.com.

Deb Neulreich misses Duke, her beloved terrier sidekick, who recently went to doggy heaven. Deb imagines that Duke is chasing squirrels all day long, and finally, catching them all.


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