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Bringing your dog to work could make you feel less stressed

Carolyn Morris
Shine On
April 2, 2012

Stressed at work? Been working like a dog? Maybe you should bring your furry friend to work with you instead. It could calm your nerves.

According to researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University, having your dog with you at work will reduce your levels of stress throughout the day. Their small study is published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management.

"Dogs in the workplace can make a positive difference," says management professor and lead investigator on the study, Randolph T. Barker. "The differences in perceived stress between days the dog was present and absent were significant. The employees as a whole had higher job satisfaction than industry norms."

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The study measured stress levels of employees at Replacements, Ltd., a retail manufacturing company in Greensboro, North Carolina with around 550 employees and usually 20 to 30 dogs. Participants answered surveys and gave saliva samples, to track their levels of stress hormones.

Although the saliva samples didn't show a lot of difference among the employees, their surveys suggested that those who brought in their dogs felt less stress throughout the day. The most stressed were dog owners who'd left their pets at home.

The findings don't surprise Eric Gardiner, manager of communications at the IT company Softchoice Corporation. The high-tech workplace is a breed apart — with dogs often snuggled beside their owners' desks in their company offices across North America.

"It means they can be a lot more focused on what they're doing in the day," says Gardiner, "rather than worrying about their friend at home being lonely, or chewing the couch or something."

The company implemented its dog-friendly policy soon after a co-founder started bringing his dog Jesse to the office.

"The test in those days was — if your dog got along with Jesse, then you could bring your dog to work," says Gardiner.

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On an average day, there will be around 15 to 20 dogs in the Toronto office, among over 400 employees. Many more dogs accompany their owners for the occasional working day. The company's Dog Owner's Group (with its fitting acronym, DOG), made up of both dog owners and representatives of the non-dog owning workforce, make sure office dogs have up-to-date vaccinations, obedience training and good social skills.

As for employees with allergies — the company has a separate space, with its own entrance, which serves as a dog-free area. And dogs aren't welcome in meetings.

"If you were to ask pretty much any employee in the office, apart from maybe someone with severe allergies," Gardiner admits, "they would tell you that it's a definite plus."

"It stitches the office together," he explains. "So it's a great way to just build some connections and relationships in the office between people."

His experience supports the new research, as well as earlier findings out of Central Michigan University reported in The Economist. Researchers found that teams working with dogs reported higher levels of trust, cohesion and intimacy.

So maybe it's time that every dog has its day -- at work, that is.

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