Want more humanity at work?
Let dogs into the workplace.
As humans’ best friends, dogs bring out the best in humans, which makes the work environment more humane.
For example, thanks to their temperament, dogs easily put people at ease, boost empathy, and inspire storytelling — three qualities that are sometimes in short supply at the office. And we should tap into these characteristics more because they fully distinguish us humans from robots.
What about the individuals who are scared of dogs, allergic to them, or don’t like animals? Even those who don’t want to get up close and personal with dogs often admire them at a distance and enjoy watching the interactions between other people and dogs.
In the interest of full disclosure, dogs and I have shared workplaces ever since my first job out of college. When my Hewitt Associates work group moved from Stamford, CT to a residential area in Rowayton, CT, one of the neighborhood dogs, Zoe, adopted us.
Being a social creature, as are all dogs, Zoe quickly figured out the value of her new neighbors. Rather than stay home alone all day, Zoe started hanging out with the humans at the office across the street Monday through Friday. What could be better than getting treats and attention?
The benefits were mutual. Whenever my boss and I needed inspiration or a break from a challenging client situation, we’d seek Zoe out. Petting her quieted our brains and calmed us. We were able to manage our emotions better as well as think more clearly and creatively—which neuroscience supports.
A few years later, when I consulted with the American Kennel Club in New York City, I enjoyed going to the midtown office. It featured a major collection of dog art plus a number of dogs who came to work with their humans who were AKC employees. The office always had a playful, energetic vibe.
My appreciation of dogs at home and in work settings increased significantly after moving across the country. That’s when my husband and I started welcoming dogs into our home, one dog at a time.
For the past 15 years, we’ve experienced first-hand the benefits of dog companionship, including lower blood pressure, regular exercise, and a larger social circle of dogs and people thanks to our outgoing pets.
Over this period, all three of our dogs—Tomas, Gustav, and Marcel—have worked as therapy pets in nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and libraries, due to one of my former consulting colleagues who suggested we get involved. She and others founded a therapy pet program in the East Bay, just over the bridge from San Francisco.
Here in Charleston, SC, 3-year-old Marcel now works three therapy pet jobs: visiting patients and staff at MUSC (Medical University of South Carolina) primarily at the main hospital; de-stressing students at the College of Charleston during mid-terms and finals; and going to Charleston County Schools with Paws for Literacy where children read to him.
Marcel loves going to work, especially the hospital. As soon as he sees me putting on my volunteer shirt with black pants, he starts wagging his tail and jumping around me.
At MUSC we’re one of 60+ teams of therapy dogs and their humans who visit for two-hour shifts once or twice a week.
Even with all of these dogs making their rounds at all the different hospital buildings, people perk up when they see Marcel walking the hallways and riding the elevators.
From patients, their family members, and especially the staff, we regularly hear:
- “Marcel, you made my day.”
- “Best day ever!”
- “I needed this.”
- “I feel so much better.”
- “My dog is going to be jealous when he/she smells Marcel, but this is so worth it.”
Patients who’ve been away from their pets for several days, weeks or even months often tell us stories about their animals at home. As the therapy dogs and we human companions listen, the patients feel seen, heard, and connected, which helps accelerate their healing.
These dogs with their distinctive personalities also encourage strangers in the waiting rooms to talk with one another. Many times, Marcel and I’ve been the spark to get people of diverse ages, backgrounds, and experiences conversing and enjoying each other’s company.
Several hospital staff members have even told me that they’d give up a salary increase to have a daily visit from a dog. Their sentiment initially surprised me; however, considering the degree to which dogs alleviate stress and elicit happiness, the tradeoff may be worthwhile.
In return, Marcel and the other therapy dogs wag their tails, smile and lean into the humans petting them.
While the attention and treats are great compensation for the dogs, the head of MUSC’s therapy dog program provided a bonus this Valentine’s Day, arranging for a surprise tribute. She took the dogs’ MUSC trading cards (think baseball card for a dog) to a local grammar school. The students then created a custom Valentine’s Day card for the dog of their choice, using the trading card as their inspiration.
Marcel, wearing his “King of Love” crown for MUSC’s Valentine’s Day parade, sniffed his special card, pictured above. The humans who have seen the card have smiled in joy, especially for the superpowers the student granted Marcel. “Thank you for taking care of sick people…. You are the best dog ever.”
Dogs are a great way to bring out the best of us humans. How about inviting them to your office?