Bringing dogs to work is increasingly popular as workplaces embrace the potential benefits of pooch colleagues. Having pets or therapy animals around can bring about positive effects, such as lowered blood pressure and heart rate, increased social interactions and positivity, and improved morale. Collaboration between colleagues can increase, and workplaces can potentially even attract more employees.
"It is encouraging to see more and more employers allowing workers to bring their pets in the office," said Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis, a researcher in dog ownership at the Charles Perkins Centre.
In today’s stressful work environments and long work hours, pets in the office can be an oasis of calm (and occasionally fun) for many workers.
"It is likely to be good for the pet too, as they have more opportunities to play, spend time with their owners, and socialise with other employees during the day."
Despite all this potential, Professor Stamatakis said, very little high quality research has been done to examine mental health and productivity benefits. Such research could produce evidence to strengthen the case for relevant programs and encourage more employers to allow employees to bring in their pets.
Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Melissa Starling from the Sydney School of Veterinary Science invented a new machine called the 'Optimeter' to measure whether your dog is an optimist or a pessimist, which was featured on Catalyst.
"As someone who works from home most days with my three dogs arrayed peacefully around me, I would suggest that every office is a more soothing place when there are restful animals in it," said Dr Starling.
Of course, she maintained, the potential issue with dogs that may be in a new environment and therefore not restful: "They often like to explore, make new friends, and they get excited easily, may bark at strange noises or sights, and may be anxious if they have to be left alone in the office without their owner."
"It can be very distracting when you have an animal in the office with you that needs help to settle in their bed or may disturb others at any moment."
To prevent your pooch feeling uncomfortable, she suggests giving them a chance to habituate to the office environment, preferably gently from an early age.
Below we meet the canine colleagues who've done exactly that, and are flourishing among their peers on campus.
Centre for English Language Teaching
"Chicken has the ability to connect colleagues from across the centre whenever she comes into work with me.
Being a large centre with multiple staffrooms, many staff members (and students) will come and visit her for a cuddle or some play when she is in. Despite her overexcited personality, people tell me she has a calming effect on them and is able to uplift the overall mood in the office.
Chicken loves attention almost as much as she loves food so will make sure that before the working day is over she has been picked up by everyone in the office at least once."
"Pepper is my adorable, sweet, almost 12 year old mini schnauzer who visits the Research Portfolio once a week, trotting around quietly for pats. She’s helped with Innovation Week and has given a paw whenever she’s able to. As a regular visitor, Pepper is well-loved and provides much-needed altruistic fluffy joy.
I'm always overwhelmed by the love and attention she gets and how much joy she brings to the office. By around 4pm though, she’s usually about done with her work, laying over her my keyboard indicating that she's ready to go home."
Department of Media and Communications, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
"When struggling with the complexity of academic work, there’s nothing like having a dog place a paw on your leg and remind you it’s time to take a break and go for a stroll around Sydney’s beautiful campus.
It's amazing how many intractable problems become easy to solve when reminded of the simple happiness of a short walk, some interesting smells, and attention from some new friends (human and dog-alike) we might meet.
As for interactions with colleagues, it hasn’t taken Echo long to work out which offices have the staff who’ll drop what they’re doing to give her a cuddle!"
Staff Communications, Marketing and Communcations
"Lois comes in to work to visit for half an hour every so often (a benefit of living close to work!). She’s a quiet and gentle dog who will sit in people’s laps at the computer, or be held in their arms while we talk shop. She spent the first few years of her life coming with me to work, so she’s very well trained and will sit quietly for the majority of the day, only getting up when invited or to signal that she needs to go to the bathroom.
As dogs do, Lois responds to body language and tone of voice. When she comes to work, everyone’s demeanour changes to try and be welcoming to her in the hopes she will come say hello. People go from sitting rigidly at their desks and talking in hushed voices, to sitting with open, welcoming posture, and talking excitedly. I think Lois’s presence helps people reset their moods and body language and move through the day on a more positive note."
Office of Global Engagement
"Pippa is a happy girl who has been a member of the Pro Vice-Chancellor Global Engagement office since she was a puppy 18 months ago. She has her own bed and is happy to look in everyone’s bins to extract tissues!
When she is visiting, the outer glass doors are closed and a little ‘Pippa sign’ is attached. She loves popping over to see staff in the Education Portfolio, loves to chase the ball, and lets mum know when she needs to water the shrubs.
Everyone from Secretariat either comes to see her or she visits them – it is lovely as it seems to lift everyone's mood."
The University of Sydney Medical School
"Pixel visits the University once or twice a month. We walk in from Stanmore (about 4km) and she comes with me on support jobs where we have permission to bring her.
I perform IT and AV support for areas of Sydney Medical School, The School of Public Health and the Faculty of Science. Pixel walks with me, stopping to check out interesting scents on the way. She generates interest and warm feelings with those we meet, and I feel better for having her follow me around.
Back in the office, Pixel lies in the corridor outside, inveigling people to throw a ball for her to retrieve, and sometimes attempting to train them to retrieve it for her. She is a quiet dog, only getting excited for balls, food, birds and moving lights.
Pixel enjoys the outing, as the two cats she lives with aren’t enough to occupy her when her humans are not home."
Sydney School of Public Health
"Mia is a 1.5-year-old French bulldog with a playful and inquisitive nature.
I’ve bought Mia into work a few times. She loves meeting new people and playing fetch. When she visits work she is very energetic to say hi to everyone to get her daily dose of pats. Once she’s made her rounds she’ll follow it up by sleeping most of the day next to my desk.
People in the office are always very happy to have her in, and she’ll be happy to be taken on walks by anyone. To keep her entertained I bring in a ball that people can share with her. She provides lots of laughter with her friendly personality and occasional snorts and snores.
She’s very calm and quiet the majority of the time, never barks, and at the end of the day she’s napping soundly in a quiet corner."
Department of Gender and Cultural Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
"Farley is a fantastic teaching aid. She snoozes through lectures and definitely favours seminars for hands-on learning and play.
She’s a low-tech innovator, whose classroom energies are well aligned to the participatory and interactive principles at the heart of the University’s strategic transformation of the curriculum. Once students realise there is a dog in the room, social reticence dissipates.
Dogs are pack animals who draw instinctively on diversity and collaboration, not dominance. That’s my teaching credo too."
The Therapaws program is a partnership between students and staff in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, which combines dog therapy with the principles of students as partners to create an effective mental health and wellbeing initiative.
In 2017, 102 student volunteers partnered with staff to co-design, co-implement and co-research the program, with approximately 2,500 students attending sessions in total.
Dog therapy provides a relatively stigma-free, low-cost, engaging mental health intervention which is supported by an emerging body of research that suggests efficacy in reducing stress.
Other than my love for dogs, it is a fun and welcoming environment to discuss a matter that significantly impacts my peers and myself.
In addition, at Therapaws sessions students are connected with information about mental health and student support services through peer-to-peer conversations with student volunteers and student designed handouts.
Therapaws has proven to be effective at reducing student stress, with 97 percent of students reporting feeling less stressed after attending and 92 percent reporting feeling more confident that the uni was invested in their welfare. Evidence suggests that Therapaws is also effective in increasing knowledge about mental health and student support services, with a 32 percent increase in student knowledge after attending two or more sessions.
The next Therapaws session is on Thursday 13 September for R U OK? Day – all welcome.
Dogs generally seem to be cheerful, happy-go-lucky characters, so you might expect that most would have an optimistic outlook on life. In fact some dogs are distinctly more pessimistic than others.
Initially set up in the United Kingdom by University of Sydney Professor Paul McGreevy, VetCompass has now launched in Australia - in a collaboration between all veterinary schools - to bring the benefits of big data and epidemiology expertise to pets, with potential impacts on human health and the environment.