Whenever I need to send a fax or print multiple copies of a document, I stop by the small copy shop in my neighborhood. A sweet golden retriever monitors every transaction, napping intermittently as copy machines churn out fresh sheets of paper. Watching her lope around the work space, my rush job no longer feels quite so essential and I start window shopping for other things to purchase, just to soak up that easygoing atmosphere. I secretly envy people who can bring their pets to work — and get anything done. Work from my home office typically begins with good intentions and ends with me and Lulu curled up on the couch watching “Judge Judy.” The very thought of bringing my pooch to work, and chasing her down long office corridors, is enough to cause a headache.
But a recent study on dogs in the workplace, published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, found that four-legged companions helped reduce stress. Researchers evaluated employees at a North Carolina manufacturing company that allows up to 30 dogs in the workplace each day. The study noted a significant difference in stress patterns based on whether an employee’s dog visited that day. On dog-absent days, owners' stress increased throughout the day, mirroring the pattern of the no-dog group, according to the study.
Perhaps easy access to cuddle time is all some people need to lower stress and improve performance. Creating a pet-friendly environment, even for one day, requires teamwork and a good action plan. Pet Sitters International (PSI) offers tools to help companies celebrate Take Your Dog to Work Day, which usually falls on the Friday after Father's Day. Tips include making sure no one has pet allergies. Also, take time to remove potential hazards such as toxic plants, schedule a bath before the office debut, then load that doggie bag with fun toys, treats and poop bags.
“I could be having the world’s worst day and rather be eating the phone than talking on it, and the dog soothes me,” says American Pet Products Association President Robert Vetere, who introduced the pet-friendly culture to his office about 10 years ago. “It’s just a nice influence in the workplace.”
Since 1958, the American Pet Products Association has watched pets and their people bolster a $50 billion industry — with no signs of slowing. Vetere also has noticed how dogs can impact people, in and out of the workplace. He compiled those observations in a new book, "From Wags to Riches: How Dogs Teach Us to Succeed in Business and Life." While an Akita snoozed outside his office, Vetere shared a few kibbles of doggie wisdom that human leaders should consider:
Allow the pack to shine. Within any pack that has worked together for a while, Vetere says that dogs shift leadership roles based on the task. “If they are looking for food, they follow the dog that knows how to find food; if they are looking for shelter, they follow the one who can find shelter,” he says. “Each one has a skill set and, as a leader, you have to learn that about your staff.”
Embrace your leadership style. While researching CEOs for his book, Vetere and co-author Valerie Andrews observed seven distinct canine traits. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates falls into the “elegant but aloof” poodle category, while Apple founder Steve Jobs was a classic husky known for independent thinking and dogged perseverance. With a different leader at the helm, Apple will now tackle new challenges. (For a side-by-side look at this concept, check out 7 CEOs who work like dogs.)
"When there is a change in leadership, it doesn’t always mean the next leader will be the same breed," Vetere says. "You need a leader who can take what the previous breed developed and take over."
Strive for harmony in the pack. Vetere recommends that people model a dog’s diplomacy skills. “Most dogs value harmony in the pack much more than a show of dominance,” he says. “When one dog is trying to make friends with another, he will often take a submissive posture.” Mastering those skills can be beneficial, particularly for companies in the service industry.
Reward in real time. The treat should follow the trick. In an era of shrinking company benefits, Vetere says handwritten thank-you letters, a gift card — and time off to cuddle with pets — can keep colleagues motivated to do good work.
Score points simply by paying attention. Vetere notes that Dakota, his golden retriever, listens without judgment. “He will listen and look me in the eye the whole time I’m talking to him, even though I’m sure all he hears is ‘blah blah blah,’” Vetere says. “I try to do that with employees or coworkers. I look them in the eye and intently listen to everything.”
Embrace your inner puppy, and have a great day at the office.