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Running with the pack: Pooch & Mutt boss Guy Blaskey on the value of dogs in the office

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Some employers have found that an open door policy towards pets has a raft of business-enhancing benefits, including improved morale and reduced stress. Such benefits have become too attractive for employers to ignore, which is why companies like Amazon and Ben & Jerry’s have been so lenient on allowing dogs to enter the office domain.

For example, Amazon’s head of PR, Drew Herdener, works with golden retriever Dulce by his side. He said: “She has half a dozen or so very good friends who see her once a day. It’s really a community of dog lovers. There are probably three dozen people I know only because of my dog. Dulce is more social than I am, so she’s a nice ice-breaker.”

Ben & Jerry’s used to have Rita, who was owned by former employee and graphic designer Sarah Terrat. The office’s large windows allowed anyone to look in and see that she was alone while working late nights, so she started bringing Rita for safety. Public relations spokesman Sean Greenwood said that since then the company has had approximately 15 to 20 dogs at its headquarters

“If visitors or applicants sit in the lobby for a few minutes, they’re more than likely to see a dog going outside,” Greenwood said. “I’d say, ‘Oh yeah, we’re a dog-friendly place.’ It’s part of the tour. ‘This is the design department – Momo is there; Jack is in R&D, Allison’s in retail, Scout is brand new…’ They’re just like co-workers.”

Jumping on the bandwagon is Guy Blaskey, owner of Pooch & Mutt, who has based his entire business concept on man’s best friend.

“I founded Pooch & Mutt in 2008 after my family’s dog, Cookie, was diagnosed with hip dysplasia,” he said. His mother, Clare Blaskey, runs equine firm Blue Chip. He explained that he had tried Blue Chip’s Dynamic Joint Supplement on Cookie, but despite the results being great, the product wasn’t right for dogs – not to mention that Cookie didn’t like the taste of the horse supplement.

So, he contacted Blue Chip’s nutritionist and said: “Make a product where you leave in all the ingredients that are right for dogs and take out those that aren’t. Add new ones – and make dogs like it.” Since then, Pooch & Mutt has established itself as a leading supplier of dog products, and Blaskey was adamant that his dog Pepper join him in the workplace.

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“Life is so much better with Pepper in the office!” he said. “I walk her to work every morning across the lovely Clapham Common, which is a great start to the day. It lets me clear my head before beginning the day. Once we get to the office, Pepper has a very strict routine that includes saying good morning to everyone and gulping down a ton of water after her walk.” 

She inspects the office to make sure all is safe and will then move from employee to employee for a cuddle, Blaskey claimed. Most of all, he stressed, she is always around for a well-deserved break!

It’s not just that Blaskey loves having Pepper around – he’s a great believer of enjoying life and putting emphasis on the well-being of employees. Pepper just so happens to be the medicine that helps Blaskey keep his staff happy.

The benefits of having a dog such as Pepper on board was echoed by a 2012 study by the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), which unveiled that employees who brought their dogs to work experienced lower stress levels throughout the work day. It also claimed that staff reported higher levels of job satisfaction, and had a more positive perception of their employer. 

Comments from participants in the study indicated an array of other possible benefits, including increased productivity, higher employee morale, and increased co-worker cooperation, said Randolph Barker, business professor at VCU.

Dogs were a communication energiser, Barker said. Dogs in the office tended to spark conversations between those with and without pets, and people who didn’t typically talk to one another, were now more engaged with dogs in the office.

Having a dog in the office inspires people to not over-work themselves in the form of much-needed breaks, and also injected added humour into the workplace. For example, Etsy employee experience manager Sarah Starpoli previously suggested that dogs seemed to have excellent comedic timing. Once, she explained, a very small dog walked through a staff meeting dragging a stolen piece of pizza past the person who was speaking. The slice was same size as the dog, she added.

Pepper is no different. Blaskey said: “We are constantly laughing with Pepper in the office, as she is a truly one of the team. Our office is at the end of the road and there is a cat that likes to wander around. With floor to ceiling windows, Pep has a great view. She goes mental when she sees the cat and makes the oddest noises ever. We always know when the cat is around and Pepper takes the dog vs cat debate to another level!”

Apart from keeping the team from being swept away by the mechanisms of work, Pepper has a more prominent role in the company – she is the head product tester. According to Blaskey, she has helped develop the company’s best-selling range of treats, as well as its line of grain-free foods. 

“Pepper is a big fan of salmon,” he said. “She also loves ‘Calm & Relaxed’ treats before bed and first thing in the morning. Pepper is a well known employee among our customers, as she is regularly on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram sites. We recently celebrated her birthday by having a party in the office and offered our customers a great discount on her special day!”

They say that if you find a job that you love then you will never work another day in your life, he said. This sentiment was backed up in Mark Rowlands’ latest book “Running with the Pack”. Mark Rowlands is a philosopher, runner and importantly a dog lover.

Blaskey explained that the book beautifully combines these three elements of his life. Rowlands talks about the difference between work and play. Essentially, play is when we do something for our own enjoyment, whereas work is when we do something for a ‘reward’ later on. So if we run because we enjoy it then it is play, but if we run to improve a marathon time it becomes work. 

If we walk our dogs for the enjoyment of walking and spending time with our dogs then it is play, but if our only motivation to walk our dogs is to stop them either getting overweight or to stop them having too much energy in the home then this becomes work.

“I believe that many companies get caught up in the corporate lifestyle and forget about how important happiness is,” he said. “The Pooch & Mutt team go to bi-weekly yoga together, lunch time runs and compete in different marathons/fitness events. Beyond this, we always enjoy sharing healthy recipes we’ve recently learned!”

Of course, despite the glowing advantages, there are caveats. Barker warned that whilst our furry friends should be welcomed into the office, conditions apply: “It is important to have policies in place to ensure only friendly, clean and well-behaved pets are present in the workplace.”

Take, for example, when the entire team of the Tatler magazine went into mourning after their in-house dachshund met with an untimely death due to the office revolving doors. The Independent reported: “When the dog approached the revolving door at Vogue House, he saw a man walking through and bolted towards him. He got his neck caught in the revolving doors.”

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