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How Bringing a Dog into the Office can Reduce Stress Levels

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Serial entrepreneur and founder of The Webinar Vet, Anthony Chadwick explains the benefits to having a canine friend in the office.

As a veterinary surgeon, I’ve long understood the benefits of a well-adjusted dog or other pet like a cat has for the family. I would often see very close bonds developing between humans and pets and a certain amount of anthropomorphising the pet as it became a very important member of the family. The death of a beloved pet can lead to mourning akin to losing a close family member.

When I owned my practice in Liverpool, I would often walk my dog up to the practice and take him for a walk at lunchtime this ensured that I got out of the building and had some exercise, something which has become increasingly important for office workers stuck at home during the pandemic doing a rather sedentary job. Sitting at a desk for 8 hours and hardly moving is not good for office workers in the long run.

It seems sensible that having dogs in the office as we return back to our company’s physical base may indeed be good in stressful situations but what is the evidence and are there any challenges?

First of all, we need to look for evidence to see if offices can be stressful places. A study by Quantum Workplace discovered that 30% of people felt frustrated, stressed, anxious or annoyed at work on a daily basis. These are high figures and show the magnitude of the problem. Stress leads to the secretion of fight and flight hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. In the natural world this is a good thing to ready us to run away from danger or to accept the challenge and face it head on.

However, stress in the workplace serves very little purpose and continual daily stress will lead to chronic stress with high levels of circulating cortisol and adrenaline causing vasoconstriction and a resultant raising of the blood pressure. Over the long term, stressed individuals will be more prone to heart attacks and strokes; it will accelerate the ageing process and lead to increased likelihood of depression. Work life can be more stressful with the feeling that one is never off as emails are checked and answered during weekends, evenings and holidays.

However, there is a large body of evidence that supports pets at home and in an office can reduce these problems. It has been recognised that engaging with a dog through stroking and petting can reduce cortisol levels and increase oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is a hormone that is secreted by women during childbirth and encourages milk let-down during breast feeding. It also helps to create the close bond between mother and child during this process. Oxytocin is also secreted during petting to give a calming effect. Not only does the presence of a well-adjusted pet calm us but the biophilia hypothesis states that both cognitive and emotional development is directly impacted by the relationship we have with animals and the natural environment. Perhaps, this is a very good reason to have dogs in schools, as well as the workplace, to accelerate children’s development.

A word of caution is, of course, necessary however. A well-adjusted dog can have massive benefits in an office but a badly behaved one can have the opposite effect. A bite will definitely increase adrenaline and cortisol levels and will also be painful and potentially dis-figuring.  My current office where we are based does not allow pets despite our pleas, and our finance director is scared of dogs. Compromises need to be considered. Some people are also allergic to pets which can lead to asthma attacks which is not good for stress levels either.

The health benefits are very clear for the majority of the population. However, some guidelines before bringing in a policy of allowing pets in work seems sensible. A survey can be taken to judge the overall mood of the workplace and the introduction of pets. Individual conversations with people suffering from allergies or dog-phobias can also be carried out too.

Also consider if it possible during these hybrid working times to have dogs in on days where employees who struggle with the presence of pets are working from home? Are there certain areas of the office which can be designated dog free for example?

Rigorous cleaning should also be practiced preventing a build-up of fur and dander in the office. The choice of dogs that are allowed into the business should be carefully considered. Dogs that are fearful are much more likely to bite and large dogs like rottweilers might be intimidating to fearful employees.

If these factors are taken into account and not ignored, then both dog lovers and people who don’t like dogs can work together with benefits to both sets of employees in the long run and who knows they might kick their phobias and fall in love with our beautiful furry friend!

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