Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Pets in the Office: Unexpected Resources

Who let the dogs in? Many people from members of Congress to advertising executives have welcomed dogs into the workplace and for good reason.

Historically we know of the value of dogs in firehouses, on police canine teams, on farms, ranches, and certainly as companion dogs to those with physical disabilities.

Recently the diversity of workplaces that benefit from pets have expanded and while cats, and some birds have an important place next to the many professionals and business owners working from home, dogs seem to have found their way into the office.

A Wall Street Journal Article entitled the “Doctor’s Dog Will See You Now” reports that an increasing number of psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers have their dogs in the office where they see patients.  Yale Law School announced a pilot program in which students can check out a “therapy dog” named Monty for 30 minutes as a stress reliever along with a million law books.  Tech firms in Silicon Valley include as part of their hiring perks “Meals, iPads and a Cubicle for Spot.”

Why Are We Inviting Dogs Into The Office Place?

For many different reasons which seem to suggest that the more demanding and fast-paced our work world has become, the more we may need our furry friends physically, emotionally, and even neurophysiologically.

Care of the Patients and the Caregiver

As we find more dogs in medical and mental health offices, practitioners report that the presence of a pet greatly reduces the barriers of care and expands possibilities for reducing anxiety and interacting with adult and child patients.

One dermatologist started receiving calls asking when her dog, Truffle would be there. A marriage and family therapist calls them “seeing heart dogs” and many psychologists and psychiatrists agree that their dogs seem to have an exquisite sense of what patients need.

What can easily be missed but seems equally important is the way in which these office helpers care for the caregivers. Physical fatigue, compassion fatigue, burnout and isolation are not uncommon to caregivers working in private offices or larger facilities. Dogs seem to help.

  • Dr. Ramsey a psychiatrist, admits that his dog Gus is good for his patients but also for his own mental health – “Much of psychiatry is about loss and depression, so when I get a break, it’s great to have him there to take for a walk.”
  • A licensed psychologist sees his dog Ozzie as a soothing object in his office, a wonderful icebreaker and his own companion to pet and walk in what he describes as the lonely world of private practice.
  • Most mental health professionals rarely disclose personal facets of their lives to patients and would not ordinarily show physical affection. The presence of a pet who clearly reveals something about the therapist ( It is his/her beloved dog) and the freedom of pets to interact with patients in an affectionate way certainly expands the therapist’s way of being known and interacting with patients –  this seems desirable to both.

Unexpected Roles in Unexpected Places

Minding the Herd

What better job for a high energy, intelligent Rescue Border Collie than to manage the stress at an advertising company. As CEO Sue Reninger describes it, Boone,  can spend time under her desk or spend an entire day making the rounds – intuitively going over to someone and resting her head on a lap or circling the “ creative pit” of this ad world to invite a smile or give a paw. In this very stressful environment, Boone’s presence is described as transformative.

What better test of the impact of a dog as a stress reducer than in The House and Senate. A former press secretary for a member of Congress office reports that there is history of allowing dogs in the office building and she brought her beagle Humphrey to work every day as major stress-reducer.

Offering Shared Attachment

In a work world that can be isolating despite the number of people working in the same room, office pets can offer people a sense of shared attachment. With all the benefits of “grandparenting” people feel ownership and get to share the physical affection, mutuality and common point of reference without ALL THE WORK.  The office dog becomes a 3 minute shared comment a moment of being taken with others “off task.”

  • One PR professional in a sports firm, reported that the presence of her little French bulldog, Bryndlee who not only sat with her but played with all the other employees made for a calming, more friendly environment.
  • One of the most successful examples of shared attachment is reported by a company that refers to their three office dogs (seen in picture) as “Our Pack.” Although owned and trained by three of the employees, the dogs have a company identity. The dogs are very well trained and all employees know that the dogs are rewarded for using back doors and following routines. The impact of this shared experience is the increased morale and daily laughter they invite.

Brain Shift

If we recognize that verbal, abstract,and cognitive focus reflects left brain functioning and emotions, non-verbal expressions, and sensations of sight, sound, touch, smell reflect more right brain functioning–then we might consider that the chance to turn from a computer screen to the dog who has just decided to put his head on your lap- has the capacity to shift you physically, emotionally and neurophysiologically.

  • Karen Port owner of a business with a showroom and office, whose two dogs are known as part of the business, says that the antidote to being glued to the computer is the short little breaks with the dogs which help her and the staff refocus and give their brains a few minutes of peace.
  • It’s likely that the Yale Law School Project that invites law students to step away from their the law and the computers to spend 30 minutes with a “dog” will offer a visceral shift.

Going Outside

One of the biggest complaints of office staff is “being inside” all day. It used to be that the only people in an office taking a break were those going out to smoke. Now, a welcome benefit reported by many who have an office pet is a few minutes to go outside with a pet.

One accountant described his chance to take a dog out as a chance to breathe – in more ways than one.

A financial analyst staring at many screens all day experiences his dog’s overt need to go out as the nudge of a ZEN master who takes him outside to another world- even for a few moments.

Increasing Productivity

It seems that office pets enhance productivity for a number of reasons.

Peace of Mind: A number of employees allowed to bring pets reported that their concentration was better as they did not have to go home to check on or be with a pet, they were overall more content in the workplace and rarely minded staying late.

Bridge to Clients:  The owner of an upscale design firm in Seattle was hesitant to bring in Claude, her Scottish terrier for fear of it looking unprofessional. Much to her surprise more people came in just to visit Claude.

Employee Support: Helen King, the Coordinator of a Geriatric Facility reports that in addition to delighting the  clients, the presence of dogs walking down the hall and the unexpected pleasure they give employees who stop to pet them  plays a major role in calming and sustaining the staff.

Management: Those offices that successfully integrate dogs into their workplace with their employees are those that have taken great care to account for the needs of all employees as well as the pets. Pets are well trained and well managed. In a number of cases pets are kept away from employees who would prefer not to be involved with them. The productivity they report may well reflect a sensitivity to needs that  allows pets to provide added value  to a company’s goals. When pets are simply added to a setting without planning – everyone including the pets can suffer.

The Pause (Paws) that Can Refresh

This is a culture that relies on virtual connection and high-tech multi-tasking. While people may be sitting in the same office-their attention is often riveted on multiple screens as they relate with a virtual work world thousands of miles away. Often they have no visual connection much less in-vivo contact with the people they depend upon, or with whom they collaborate.

Increasingly, those studying and reporting on “Our Brain on Computers” question with concern how our constant use of devices impacts not only our behavior, but our thought processes and even our neurology.

  • Perhaps the increased interest and positive reports of pets in the office reflect an intuitive urge to balance this. Perhaps there is a need to touch, pet, and make contact with a dog because it is both real and restorative.
  • Perhaps the fact that most offices and workplaces with pets made some reference to the positive experience of petting the dogs is no coincidence.
  • Perhaps the research that informs us that petting a dog for just 15 minutes releases the feel-good hormones serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin, and lowers the stress hormone cortisol—–helps us understand why more and more offices have opened their doors to our furry friends!

Picture provided by Marx Foods.com


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