Benefits of Pets in the Workplace: Interview with a Dog Behavior Expert
There are a number of studies showing that having pets in the workplace has a positive influence in the level of stress of the office.
No surprise, since interacting with a pet such as a dog, cat, or even a bunny forces us to slow down and appreciate the moment, says Amy Robinson, a dog trainer with 25 years of experience who’s also certified for disaster animal rescue, has worked with former fighting dogs, and is the dog behavior expert for the online brand Sniff & Barkens. “Imagine running up to a cat and trying to pet him; that probably won’t work out very well,” Robinson says, pointing out to the fact that pets usually causes us to slow down.
In addition, scientists are quick to point out that having a pet around is definitely healthy. For example, a study published in the Science magazine journal in 2015 pointed out that soft eye contact between pets and humans can boost oxytocin—the ‘feel good’ hormone—levels in both species.
We talked to Robinson about the benefits of bringing your pet to work and why more and more companies are becoming a pet-friendly space.
THE HONEST KITCHEN: How common are pet-friendly workplaces in the US? Has that number grown recently?
Amy Robinson: More progressive companies employing younger workers are more likely to invite pets at work. Think: Zappo’s, Google, and Amazon. And those firms don’t stop at just allowing pets; most offer perks like discounted or free health insurance for the pet, play areas, and low cost vaccinations. The numbers of companies allowing pets at work has grown, but some like Google, Etsy and video game developer Zynga (the company is named after the founder’s dog) have been at it for at least five years or more.
So many people are now working from home, employers need to add reasons for them to enjoy coming to work and not calling in sick on a nice day. Employees that can bring pets may even work longer hours and employee retention is better. They don’t have to rush home to walk Fido, so they might stay longer and finish a project. These employees also save money not paying for dog sitters and dog walkers. They may feel that the company cares about their needs and reciprocate with more effort at work.
THK: Do pets in the workplace help increase camaraderie and better relationships among employees?
Amy Robinson: Pets in the workplace give employees a great excuse to interact. People ask about the pet, conversations crop up about their own pets or previous pets they have owned, and employees get to know each other a little better. They may walk their dogs together at lunchtime and discuss a work project. Think of it as a team-building exercise.
THK: Do pets in the workplace encourage employees to take breaks? And does that help or hinder productivity?
Amy Robinson: We have all heard that it is unhealthy to sit all day at a desk. The presence of a dog means the owner has to take the pooch out for breaks, which increases blood flow and shakes out the cobwebs. Brain function is stimulated (coffee helps, too) and the owner is renewed when coming back to their desk. If the workplace has a mini-dog park or walking area designated, that is where more social interaction will occur. Just watching the dog play with another worker’s dog puts a smile on both workers’ faces.
THK: Are offices with a pro-pet policy more relaxed in general? How is that a benefit for everybody in the office?
Amy Robinson: Most places will have some rules about pets at work, so it isn’t completely casual, but it does show a culture of tolerance and interest in the employee’s personal needs and their lives outside of work. Workplaces that show more flexibility are more likely to retain workers for longer term. Training someone and then losing them to a competitor six months later is expensive and reduces morale, but if the employer adds perks like pets at work that competing firms don’t have, that employer is more likely to retain valuable workers.
THK: Any personal stories or experience you can share about pets in the workplace?
Amy Robinson: It used to be that certified Therapy Dogs were the only ones invited into places of work, but at a local medical office here in Vero Beach, Florida, Dr. Marc Lieberman brings his personal dogs, a Newfoundland and a beagle mix, to work daily. New patients are initially surprised to see them, but you can see the stress leaving their faces and big smiles appearing as they pet the dogs. It makes the doctor seem more approachable as well.
In general, I will go out of my way to patronize businesses with dogs or cats inside, like my seamstress, who has a delightful and tiny mixed breed dog with a fierce under-bite and a perpetually wagging tail. I recently heard about another good seamstress but didn’t even consider changing. It’s too much fun to go see the little tyke!