Research points to benefits of bringing dogs to work

Several Edmonton businesses are using dogs to combat stress in the workplace – and more and more studies are showing that they might have the right idea.

According to a study by Virginia Commonwealth University, dogs in the workplace can reduce a person’s stress levels by as much as eleven per cent by the end of a typical work day. For employees without dogs, stress can increase by as much as 70 per cent, says the study.

“Just having your companion animal around decreases your stress levels,” said Connie Varnhagen, a professor of psychology at the University of Alberta. “When you are less stressed you are able to be more productive. Productivity in a complex problem solving task increases when you’ve got a dog around.

“The research points to ‘hey, it would be great to have all of our companion animals at work with us,’” She added.

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The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology Students’ Association office allows just that.

For the past eight years, several of NAITSA’s full-time employees have brought their dogs to work to keep them company throughout the day.

“We find really great value in having our furry friends with us,” said Jon Bilodeau, president of NAITSA. “[They provide] a lot of stress relief, we find that it takes the edge off during the day.”

There isn’t a week that goes by where someone’s dog can’t be seen roaming the offices of NAITSA.

“We were very fortunate,” said Rose Martin Baumgartner, who is the Clubs Manager at NAITSA, and the first employee to bring a dog into the office.

Baumgartner first brought in her dog, Hemi, eight years ago – he was just a puppy then. She wanted to familiarize Hemi with people, and thought interaction with students and staff would benefit the dog.

“Our boss, the executive director, was very understanding because I didn’t want to leave a puppy at home,” she said.

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Hemi was allowed into the NAIT offices as a trial run under the condition that the he would be well- behaved. He passed with flying colours and Baumgartner says he “broke the barrier for us to bring other dogs.”

Baumgartner is also a dog trainer, and said that exposure to humans is crucial to a dog’s early development, which is why she brought Hemi to work in the first place.

But she quickly learned that Hemi’s presence in the office was benefiting her as well.

“You’re not stressed,” she said. “You get pet time – instead of a coffee break, you get a dog break.”

Eight years later and everyone in NAITSA’s office is reaping the benefits of those “dog breaks.” NAIT students also frequent the office to say hello and give the dogs some attention.

However, it is hardly an open-door policy. Dogs that visit NAITSA are expected to be well-behaved, socialize well with people, and be comfortable in an office environment. The dogs also have a safe place to go if someone with allergies visits the office.

“Really it boils down to people being responsible and not acting on a whim,” said Shawna Randolph, media contact for the Edmonton Humane Society. “It is so important that the owners are ultimately responsible for the animal, just like you would if you were bringing you child to work.”

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“With a dog specifically, you have to make sure that it is vaccinated, that it is behaviourally sound, that it is socialized, that it is used to being out of the home,” she continued. “And if people don’t do that legwork and they just decide one day ‘I’m going to bring my dog to work,’ it could be disastrous.”

According to Baumgartner and Bilodeau, NAITSA has put in that legwork, and they are seeing the results on a weekly basis.

“It relieves stress, it increases productivity, and it makes students just feel better,” said Bilodeau. “I think it is something that I would love to see everywhere. There are concerns obviously, and different issues that you have to work out, but for the most part it is really positive and we have seen some really positive results.”