The Benefits (And Obstacles) For Offices That Allow Dogs

The Benefits (And Obstacles) For Offices That Allow Dogs

Who let the dogs in?

Employers try all kinds of edgy techniques to curb stress and fatigue in the workplace, but is the answer as simple as bringing in a bunch of puppies—or are dogs in the workplace just a nuisance?

Allowing dogs in the office is becoming an increasingly popular trend across the country, with companies as large as Google, Ben & Jerry’s, and Amazon taking part.

One Minnesota company that has been bounding with dogs since its inception is transportation company KTI Inc. Nearly a quarter of KTI’s 41 total employees at its Minnetonka headquarters bring their dogs into work almost every day of the year.

CEO Alan Weiner has had a dog in his office since he founded the company 16 years ago. “My dream was always that I’d start a company, get it up and going, and get a dog.”

Weiner says there are benefits and complications to allowing dogs in the office but that the rewards far outweigh any problems. The key, he says, is to put in place guidelines and a proper vetting process that allow the workplace to organically favor the benefits and quell any potential difficulties.

To ensure a symbiotic workplace, KTI’s dog culture is discussed as early as its job application, which includes questions about dog allergies and general interest in dogs. Weiner says incoming employees need to adapt to the dog culture, not the other way around. “The dogs were here first, after all,” he says. “[Potential employees] have to accept that this is who we are.” By weeding out anyone who might have a fundamental problem with dogs, the troubles become rare and manageable.

The vetting process for incoming dogs Weiner puts in the hands of the existing dog pack. “More problems arise with dogs getting along with other dogs than with humans, so we usually give each dog a test run with the other dogs to see if they cooperate before making the newcomer a permanent addition; we usually leave it up to the dogs to decide.”

Weiner says the most consistent dog problems are the “B&B”—barking and begging. “Sometimes the dogs bark at inopportune times, like when a big client is on the phone or when the UPS guy comes. For some reason they always bark at the UPS guy, never the FedEx or toner guys.”

The barking is really just a matter of making sure all the dogs are properly socialized before they come into the office, says Weiner. “Before bringing a dog into a workplace the owner needs to make sure the dog has spent a lot of time around other dogs and people so they are less aggressive and won’t be constantly barking.”

The KTI dogs also used to frequently beg for food in the kitchen, which is why Weiner instituted a no-dog policy for the kitchen between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

Other than barking and begging, Weiner says he has received almost zero complaints in all the years of his pro-dog policy, while he has witnessed the advantages arrive in spades.

There is no better stress-reliever than the company of a dog, argues Weiner. “Our job can be fairly anxiety-ridden at times, but when I put my hand on my dog I can literally feel my heart rate slow down, the blood come back into face, and my breathing ease.”

A study published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management supports Weiner’s experience. The lead researcher on the study, Randolph Barker (yes, Barker), looked at the different stress levels of employees at a manufacturing-retail office in South Carolina.

He compared employees who brought dogs to work with those who didn’t, and while everyone started the workday with the same relative stress level, those who had dogs with them actually saw their stress levels fall 11 percent, whereas those who didn’t saw their stress levels increase by 70 percent on average.

“Dogs have a unique way of sensing stress in a person,” Weiner says, “and when they do, they stroll up to the person and calm them down just with their presence.”

At KTI, all of the employees who bring dogs into work do so year-round, but not all pro-dog companies always have a pack of dogs in the office. Another Minnesota company, IT consultancy On Demand Group, has a less constant dog presence but always offers it as an option.

CEO Heather Manley says about half of her office employees have dogs that they bring to work a few times a month (she also brings her dog to work) but that the visits are sporadic and usually don’t overlap with other dog visits.

According to Manley, allowing dogs in the office is a great way to attract new talent. “It makes the office a very relaxing and easy-going place, where new people can feel comfortable,” she says. “It also really keeps people active. They can take breaks to walk their dogs, or even other peoples’ dogs, and it can help clear their heads.”

Both Manley and Weiner agree that the most important factor in allowing dogs in the workplace is compatibility, both in the relationships the dogs have with each other and the relationships they have with the employees. Manley keeps the dogs on a specific office schedule to avoid conflicts. At KTI, Weiner says, “if one dog doesn’t get along with the rest, he’ll have to submit to the pack or he won’t be allowed back.”