One of the hardest parts of being a pet owner is leaving your four-legged friend at home during the day while you go to work. To help defray doggie daycare costs and bring a lighthearted atmosphere into offices, many business owners are opting to make every day bring-your-pooch-to-work-day. And while this idea can sound like a great idea to some, it can also come with its own headaches.
John Holloway is familiar with doggie disaster scenarios. As co-founder of NoExam, a 15-person, Atlanta-based company that helps consumers sign up for life insurance without undergoing medical exams, he started bringing his German Shepard into the office and then decided to let other employees do the same. Before he knew it, there were several dogs in the office, barking during important conference calls and…doing their business in inappropriate places.
“Last year, one of the dogs in the office pooped under a person's desk when they weren't there," remembers Holloway. “When the employee went back to her desk, the dog was nowhere to be found and none of the dog owners would take responsibility. That employee then accused the owner of the dog she thought did it, and the conversation turned into such a big fight that both employees were asked to go home for the day. The poop sat there for a full 30 minutes before getting cleaned up."
After this incident, Holloway knew his office needed a formalized dog policy. Within a few days, he and his team created 10 rules for dog owners. Among the rules: well-mannered dogs only, no excessive barking, dogs must be potty trained, no puppies (too cute, distracting and potentially untrained) and owners must take dogs out regularly.
—Elisha Stynchula, owner, “I Said Sit!" School for Dogs
These days, NoExam has a limit of two dogs in the office per day, and a Google Calendar to keep track of who is bringing their pet on what day.
Those who walk through the door of Spry Ideas, an eight-person marketing services agency in Ann Arbor, Michigan, are likely to be welcomed by the company's official greeter, a gray Great Dane named Remi.
“We taught him to go up and sit and shake when a client comes in," says Robin Porter, content manager at Spry. “He's huge, but he is so mellow that he puts people at ease pretty quickly."
The company's founder introduced Remi to the office when he was a puppy. Employees loved him so much, that he kept coming back and now Porter even ghostwrites his blog—focused on business topics, of course.
“We find that Remi's Rebarks is our most read content," says Porter. “His last blog was all about the importance of mentorship, a lesson he learned after mentoring a Husky puppy that came to the office.
“About four of us bring in our dogs and it is really casual and has never been an issue. We just all tell each other if we plan to bring our dogs and it usually works out. We will ask if clients are OK with dogs and so far, we've only had one client say no. In that case, we put Remi, the only dog in the office at the time, in a room and he was fine."
While experiences with dogs will vary office-by-office, Elisha Stynchula, owner of Los Angeles-based “I Said Sit!" School for Dogs, insists business owners should think critically about how to design dog-friendly offices.
“It isn't just about making sure a dog will sit down and come when called," she says. “It's about making sure a dog will be OK with a client comes in the office or when the UPS man arrives."
Companies considering dog-friendly policies are smart to consider instituting dog committees, she says. Why do something so formal? While many people love dogs, some do not for a variety of reasons (including previous trauma). These topics can be difficult to broach in an environment with mostly animal lovers, so Stynchula says it is important to create a safe space for dog-hating/fearing employees to voice their concerns.
“The dog committee can then handle the complaints," she says. “It is a much softer way to handle things than telling someone who isn't happy with a dog to talk to their supervisor."
In addition to a dog committee, it is important for dog owners to fill out applications before granted in-office privileges. In the application, employees should submit vaccination records and health/behavior histories. Dogs that come into offices should have the approval of managers and the people who work around the dog.
Allergies can also be an issue, and it is advisable to ask all incoming clients (and current/prospective employees) if they are allergic. In the case of an allergy, meetings can go off-site or dogs can be ordered to stay at home. All of these issues can go through the dog committee.
“These are nice ways to find out if someone on your team has a problem with dogs," she says. “If there is an issue, this could present the opportunity where that person relocates his or her desk to another part of the office."
Written company rules pertaining to dogs are also a must, according to Stynchula. She loves Holloway's policy of keeping a dog calendar for employees, and also believes there should be dog-free zones such as kitchens, conference rooms and areas where employees can go who don't appreciate the presence of dogs.
What about doggie tryouts?
“I think every day is a tryout," she says. “It's not a right to bring a dog to an office; it's a privilege."
Nimlok Chicago, a company that specializes in creating trade show exhibits, allows dogs in the office, but only under a strict, written policy—a policy that is handed to all new employees during orientation. Among the policy's wording: “Pet owners are 100 percent responsible, 100 percent of the time, for their pet's well being, behavior and biological needs (scooping, bagging, cleaning and sanitizing)."
“We have about four dogs in the office on a regular basis," says Sandra Matel, marketing coordinator at Nimlok. “Since dogs have to be with you at all times, a lot of people will keep them on a six-foot leash. Since we have a policy in place, we really haven't had many issues."
Matel says when a big sporting event happened in town, the team took a picture of a dog wearing the winning team's hat and posted it on social media.
"The post performed really well," she says. "A lot of our clients love that we have dogs in the office, and, as an employee, I think it is the coolest thing ever."