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Oscar, Richard Parker’s late St. Bernard, was “a legend” for 10 years at Boulder’s SparkFun Electronics, which now “employs” 30 dogs. (photo courtesy Sparkfun Electronics)

Pets in the workplace are calming

By Ruthanne Johnson

The workday usually starts like this for Don Martinson: Up early. Shower. Dress. Quick breakfast and to-go coffee for the commute. Then his three dogs line up at the back door to see whose turn it is to go to work with him.

Louie and Lola are rescues, and Kona is a 10-year-old heeler mix. On the way to Martinson’s office, Luna and Kona always poke their heads out the car window, while Lola lies on the back seat. Once the car hangs that second-to-last turn to Martinson’s workplace, each dog starts whining. “Then their tails start wagging 100 miles per hour,” he says.

Treat time for office dogs at Natural Habitat Adventures in Louisville. (photo courtesy Natural Habitat Adventures; Susan Schmitz)
Treat time for office dogs at Natural Habitat Adventures in Louisville. (photo courtesy Natural Habitat Adventures; Susan Schmitz)

After the requisite sniffs and potty stops, the day’s chosen office dog bounds through the front door of Natural Habitat Adventures in Louisville and makes a beeline for the chief treat dispenser’s office. “It’s number one on the dogs’ treat route,” Martinson says, adding that it can be entertaining if several office dogs arrive at the same time. “Sometimes four dogs will bolt through the front door and almost trip over each other in the scramble to get to her office. It’s a happy way to start the day. Even people who don’t have dogs come out of their cubicles to watch the fun.”

Work can be a stressful place, and it’s well known that having pets around is calming. So it makes sense that having dogs in the workplace is a good thing, and more companies are starting to realize that. And not just smaller businesses like Natural Habitat Adventures, which employs 55 people. Even giants like Google, Clif Bar and GoDaddy have happily gone to the dogs.

t Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Gunbarrel, Tyler Gonerka gets “the death stare” from his dog, Abe. (photo courtesy cp+b)
t Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Gunbarrel, Tyler Gonerka gets “the death stare” from his dog, Abe. (photo courtesy cp+b)

Studies show that owning dogs lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones and boosts levels of endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine—those feel-good brain chemicals. Just petting a dog can lower your heart rate, so imagine how it can improve your office environment. A recent study by Virginia Commonwealth University business professor Randolph Barker found that dogs in the workplace reduce employee stress while improving productivity and work relationships.

Employee satisfaction at businesses with office dogs is typically high. Google, Clif bar and GoDaddy were named in Fortune’s 2016 “100 Best Companies to Work For.” And Natural Habitat Adventures, which arranges worldwide safari adventures, was listed as one of the top small companies to work for by Outside magazine. No doubt having dogs at work resulted in more than one happy checkmark on employee surveys.

Playing by the Rules

At Natural Habitat Adventures, a one-page form lists the rules—good manners, up-to-date vaccinations, friendliness with people and other dogs—to ensure dogs don’t negatively affect other dogs or coworkers, says Martinson, the company’s director of travel industry relations. Allergy issues are solved by simple seat rearrangements.

Walks near the Natural Habitat Adventures office are highlights of the workday for all concerned. (photo courtesy Natural Habitat Adventures)
Walks near the Natural Habitat Adventures office are highlights of the workday for all concerned. (photo courtesy Natural Habitat Adventures)

Having dogs in the office creates an upbeat work atmosphere, says marketing manager Nick Grossman. “It also saves the expense and potential stress of leaving their dogs at home or in a doggy day care or kennel,” he says. And dogs in the workplace most likely boost pet adoptions because owners know they don’t have to leave a dog alone at home for eight hours a day.

Martinson says employees keep dogs in their offices or cubicles with baby gates and leash them whenever they leave the workspace. Dog owners and non-dog owners alike are welcome on midmorning and midafternoon “dog romps” outdoors.

His favorite thing about having his dogs at work is taking off his shoes and slipping his feet under his pet’s belly when it’s lying under his desk. “On a normal day of stress, it’s calming to know I’ve got this little thing beneath me,” Martinson says. “I can feel them breathing and the warmth of their body.”

Did I Hear the T-word?

Peaksware’s dog program started five years ago, when an employee couldn’t leave a puppy home alone. Nowadays about 15 of 165 employees at the Boulder-based software company bring their pets to work. They must sign a waiver and provide proof of vaccinations, and the dog must be housebroken and well behaved. Another rule: No squeaky toys.

Bug helps Kathi Fischer welcome visitors to Boulder’s Peaksware, where dogs join meetings and company events. (photo courtesy Peaksware)
Bug helps Kathi Fischer welcome visitors to
Boulder’s Peaksware, where dogs join meetings and company events. (photo courtesy Peaksware)

Dogs are welcome at company meetings and other events like annual picnics. Office manager Kathi Fischer has been bringing her 2-year-old Schnorgi mix for about a year now. The dog policy enabled her to rescue Bug from a high-kill shelter in Houston, and bringing her to work has been a huge benefit, Fischer says. “I just wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving her at home every day, all day long.” Bug warmly welcomes clients and delivery folks, who often bring treats.

Crispin Porter & Bogusky, a full-service advertising agency that employs 350 people at its Gunbarrel office, shares that sentiment. “We love that we can remove the stress of people having to leave their dogs at home alone all day,” says staff member Elise Hufstader. The company provides unlimited doggy treats at the front desk, and it recently gave dog owners swag leashes with CP+B’s pink-elephant logo.

Tyler Gonerka’s 2-year-old Bernese mountain dog, Abe, is a fixture at CP+B and a source of inspiration for Gonerka, the company’s senior art director. “Taking him outside for a run is a great way to break up a creative slump.”

SparkFun staffers take a play break. (photo courtesy Sparkfun)
SparkFun staffers take a play break. (photo courtesy Sparkfun)

Boulder’s SparkFun Electronics has officially allowed dogs in the workplace for the past four of 13 years, but as its employee base has grown to 145, so has its dog population—to about 30. Each dog gets a SparkFun ID tag, and the company has a “dog tribunal” of five randomly chosen dog owners and a director who meet monthly to discuss issues and rules. Excessive barking gets a dog suspended, and ongoing barking gets a dog banned, says company CFO Richard Parker, whose St. Bernard, Oscar, came to work with him for 10 years.
Though Parker admits dogs can sometimes be a distraction, the net effect is positive. “It’s a benefit that allows people to be here eight hours a day and still take care of their family,” he says, “and it makes all of us feel good.”


Ruthanne Johnson is a staff writer for The Humane Society of the United States. She LOVES dogs and pretty much every other animal on the planet, and advocates that they be treated humanely.