It’s a dog’s life at work!

It may sound a bit barking, but there’s no need to leave your dog behind when you set off for the office, writes Belinda Smith

Every morning, Dougie Irvine goes for an hour’s run before he prepares for work and sets off on a half-hour walk to his Edinburgh city centre office.

  Jane Irvine with pooch
Working like a dog: Jane Irvine with pooch Dougie

Once there, tired from his exertions, the trill as Windows is launched on the PC is his cue to take to his bed, lie on his back, stick his feet in the air and doze off for the rest of the day.

Fortunately, Dougie, a nine-year-old terrier cross, has no important matters to attend to. It is his owner, Jane Irvine, the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman and chairman of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, who has to deal with the business of the day.

Dougie is one of those fortunate dogs across Britain who are not left behind when their owners go to work, but go with them. It is something that The Blue Cross animal welfare charity is keen to promote when it holds its 13th annual Take Your Dog to Work Day next Wednesday.

Its aim is to encourage dog owners to spend more time with their pets by taking them to work every day and to experience the benefits of the practice – to themselves and those around them.

Jane and Dougie don’t need convincing of the advantages. Dougie has been going to work with Jane since she acquired him. “I’ve been taking him in since he was a pup of seven months,” she says. “For me, it’s much better than leaving him behind. If I’m late, I’m not thinking, ‘I have a dog at home, I must get back’ and I feel safer walking home at night.”

For Dougie it means company all day long. He has his own bed and a water bowl in Jane’s office. “I have a dog gate, too, so he can’t wander around all over the place,” she says. And as far as the reactions of her colleagues and those people who visit the office are concerned, it works well. She is always careful to check that no one is allergic to dogs, though – if someone does have an allergy or a dislike of dogs, she uses another meeting room.

“It’s never caused a problem,” says Jane. In fact, she has found that it has the advantage of making her clients feel more relaxed. “An ombudsman’s office is seen as terribly formal, so it makes me seem slightly more human.”

Also, as with the presence of dogs in other workplaces, it’s a great stress-buster. “I’m dealing with complaints all the time, which is stressful, so it just eases that,” says Jane.

Ziela Haider of the Blue Cross echoes the pluses of having an animal in the workplace. “It’s really beneficial. During difficult periods at work, it makes you feel less stressed if you just stroke the dog,” she says.

A survey carried out by The Blue Cross showed more than 90 per cent of employers who allowed dogs in the workplace noticed a positive change in the working environment. One in two found that there was a decrease in absenteeism, 67 per cent said it improved staff morale and 56 per cent discovered that work relations improved.

GPs were questioned and 82 per cent believed that pets helped workers to relax, since stroking a dog lowers blood pressure.

Yet, in spite of all the obvious benefits of having animals in the workplace, Britain lags behind the US in making it a common practice. Some large companies, such as Google, embrace the idea, but in the main it is only small firms and animal-related businesses that permit it.

In the US, one in five employers allows dogs at work and there is even a website for job-seekers (simplyhired.com) that lists employers who encourage it. In Taiwan nearly half of all employers are pet-friendly.

Having a pet at work can be a great ice-breaker, as I found when looking after my mother’s dog, Ben, a bearded collie/old English sheepdog cross, in my days as a trainee reporter on a local paper in Surrey.

I had been seconded to the sports department, a small side office away from most of my colleagues, and Ben made himself comfortable in there.

For me it felt like an exile – sport not being my thing, anyway – and I was missing out on the office banter and gossip. Soon, word got round that Ben, a particularly engaging animal, had taken up residence and people were popping into the office to make a fuss of him and have a chat.

There may be unseen benefits for the love-lorn, too. “When you have a dog with you, people feel they can come over and talk to you,” says Ziela.

So, if you’re longing to chat up that attractive woman in accounts or the handsome man in sales, a lovable mutt beneath your desk might be the start of something wonderful.

KEEPING OUT OF THE DOGHOUSE

Before you take your dog to work, it’s important to get the approval of everyone there. Bear in mind that some people suffer from allergies or may be afraid of dogs.

Make sure your animal is well-versed in “’petiquette”’. If your dog is well behaved, it is more likely to be welcomed back. Practise these five essentials before you bring your dog to work:

1 Teach your dog to come when called

2 Make sure your dog will sit and stay on command

3 Train your dog to walk sensibly on a loose lead

4 Ensure your dog will lie down when asked

5 Train your dog to leave something – be it a pen or someone’s sandwich.

And some tips for once you’re in the office:

1 Let your dog explore

2 Introduce them to your colleagues

3 Let your colleagues know if you leave the office, so that they are prepared if there is an emergency

4 If you plan to put your dog in a pen, set it up beforehand

5 Provide a comfortable place for your dog. Bring a bed, a water bowl and a few favourite toys.

  • For more information: www.takeyourdogtoworkday.org.uk
  • (source www.telegraph.co.uk)
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