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Stay out of the Doghouse

A dog sitting on top of a pile of papers.

​Employers looking to create a dog-friendly work environment—whether for Take Your Dog to Work Day or for a longer period—should consider this checklist of do's and don'ts:

1. Check with building maintenance or building owners before allowing pets in the office. "Companies may not own the space they occupy," pointed out attorney Rahool Patel at Ansell Grimm & Aaron in the New York City area. "They may be a tenant on half a floor or in a building with tenants upstairs or downstairs, who may be less than enthusiastic." Check your lease or contract. "A lot of landlords don't want animals in offices and may include that in your lease." 

2. Be respectful of colleagues. Emily Wolfington, director of talent at Sigstr, a tech marketing firm in Indianapolis, does not bring her 85-pound, 13-year-old American bulldog to the office. "She's rather intimidating," she said. "If you're not a dog person and you hear her booming bark, it can be a little scary." Also, check with management and co-workers to see if anyone is allergic to or afraid of dogs or opposes bringing dogs to work. Make the poll anonymous so people feel free to state their objections.

3. Dog-proof the workspace by putting away toxic items such as permanent markers, removing poisonous plants, and hiding electrical cords and wires.

4. Create a simple application process. At Sigstr, employees must use a sign-up sheet to indicate when they plan to bring their dog to work.

5. Check out the free downloadable toolkit from Pet Sitters International with a sample "dogs at work" policy and information about common concerns, such as allergies and building regulations.

6. Don't force co-workers to interact with dogs, but don't let them get overly friendly, either. Owners should monitor the amount and kinds of treats their pets may get from co-workers. Some people may not be aware, for example, that chocolate is toxic to dogs.

7. Consider creating designated areas where dogs can roam off-leash, or use dog gates to section off space around desks. Integritive, a website design and development firm in Asheville, N.C., has a section of the office specified for dogs so interactions with people who are sensitive to dog allergens are limited, the company's office and service support manager, Joy Kirk, said.

8. Keep dogs on a leash whenever they leave their gated area. Trupanion, a medical insurance company for pets, has an in-house dog walker who makes sure every dog in its Seattle office gets at least one daily walk.

9. Provide access to clean water and pet-waste bags. If you make treats available, be sure to share information about ingredients; some dogs have food sensitivities.

10. Accidents will happen. Keep rug cleaner and sprays handy.

11. Consider having on hand colored tags that attach to a dog's leash, signaling whether it is friendly or if people should ask the owner for permission to pet, play with or give a treat to the dog.

12. If you do use tags, their jingling can be annoying or distracting. Provide or ask the pet owners to invest in tag silencers.

13. Some dogs may have trouble adjusting to the office; have a plan for pet owners to swiftly address problems. "In this unfamiliar situation, the dog could act unusually. It could scratch another person, or even bite the person," Patel said. "What happens when someone tries to touch a visiting dog, gets bitten and needs 20 stitches? Who pays for that? The employee who brought the dog? The employer? Is there insurance coverage?" Consider, too, how to handle any destruction of property, such as a dog's chewing someone's briefcase. Make sure your insurance covers the situation if something goes awry.

"With a few simple, proactive measures," said Jennifer Rodriguez, dog owner and partner at Culhane Meadows' Dallas law office, "[Take] Your Dog to Work Day has the potential to be a big win for employers and employees alike."



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