Willpower doesn’t grow on trees.
Over the last six years, my dog Pip has accompanied me on many job-related outings: working at the office, guarding my record bag at (low-volume-level) DJ gigs, panting in the background while I record my radio show in the studio, and on planes, trains, and automobiles.
This year is the 20th anniversary of Take Your Dog To Work Day, which began in 1996 in the U.K. and 1998 in the U.S. Before I started working as a full-time freelancer, I was lucky to have worked in offices where dogs were allowed. I live in Berlin, Germany, a city that is extremely dog-friendly. Not only are dogs welcome virtually everywhere here, but they’re considered official co-workers in many offices. Dogs are allowed to accompany their owners on trains and buses (with a ticket and muzzle), and there are plentiful green spaces with dog runs. Many of the cafés and restaurants even supply water bowls for their furry patrons. Because of these freedoms, dogs here are very well-trained. There are plenty of dog-training schools (hundeschule) in the city to ensure that meals and meetings alike go uninterrupted by barks or bites.
Now that my work office is at home, my dog has become even more important—she keeps me company and doesn’t let me forget about taking breaks (an easy rut to fall into when there aren’t co-workers around suggesting coffee or lunch). Those walking breaks often help to clear my head and fuel inspiration. Plus, bringing your dog to work can actually have beneficial effects on your mind. A 2008 study showed that stress levels declined by the end of the day for employees who had brought their dogs to work. Conversely, rising stress levels were indicated for the same people when their dogs were not brought into work.
But the benefits go beyond just the dog-owners. The study notes that employees without a dog would ask to take a co-worker’s pet out during breaks, increasing communication between employees. And in this particular case, dogs accompanied the mail cart and senior management as they walked through the office, contributing to a more relaxed atmosphere.
Take it from Evan Wright, the national marketing director of the therapy-animal volunteer company, Pet Partners: “Dogs and other animals can positively influence the physical, emotional and psychological lives of people.” Through Pet Partners, volunteers and their pets help bring happiness to people in hospitals, nursing homes, courtrooms, and schools. A therapy-animal team visiting a nursing home, for example, “has the benefit of reducing isolation, providing mental simulation and the opportunity to socialize,” Wright says.
So dogs help you make a few friends around the office—does that matter? Turns out, it does. The University of Tel Aviv published such findings, according to their study which followed over 800 employees for two decades, analyzing the correlation between decreased mortality and peer support at work. The results indicated that not only was social support among peers a “protective factor,” but that in the long term “the risk of mortality was significantly lower for those reporting high levels of peer social support.”
Of course, the workplace isn’t the only time people might benefit from having a dog around. A 2015 report by Harvard Medical School looked at how dogs generally improve our lives. “Interacting with a dog is an opportunity to be mindful,” its website says, adding that every moment is an opportunity to hone our senses of touch, sight, smell, or sound. If we take cues from our dogs and engage our senses the way they do, to be “joyously present,” then each walk is an adventure. In the grand scheme of things, that “walk” might instead be your approaching deadline or important meeting—we can apply this mindset to our daily tasks and help ourselves not to get caught up in a whirlwind of stress.
If you’re considering introducing a new dog to an office environment, discuss it with your manager and co-workers first. But be careful—bringing your dog to work might lower stress levels, but it also means everyone gets to hear your “dog voice” too.