No one at the Ohio chapter of The Nature Conservancy enjoys going to meetings more than Annie. Once, she was even disciplined for attending a meeting to which she was not invited.
Annie, a mixed-breed dog who belongs to a staff member, is a welcome addition to the office, said Josh Knights, the chapter's executive director, in Dublin, Ohio. "It gives the office a kind of warmer feeling," he said. "Just because we're nonprofit doesn't mean we're non-stress. There's something about having a dog there to pet."
Dogs in the workplace are "a growing phenomenon," said Rebecca Johnson, director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri's College of Veterinary Medicine, in Columbia.
"People are realizing we need to do things to reduce stress in the workplace," she said.
Dogs can build connections among co-workers and create a healthy diversion from work, Johnson said. People interacting with dogs experience a hormonal reaction that causes them to "feel more relaxed and more positive," she said.
The programs work best, however, when there are rules, human resources officials stressed.
For instance, the experts said, dogs should be prohibited from certain rooms, such as eating areas and restrooms. And companies should allow only dogs who get along with people and other animals.
"Manners matter," said Keeli Hyde, human resource manager at G5, a marketing firm in Bend, Ore.
Not every dog can handle an office setting, she said. A few workers at her company have found that their dogs are too noisy or rambunctious for work.
Pet owners usually make good decisions about whether to bring their animals, added Jeanine Falcon, vice president of human resources at Replacements, Ltd., a china retailer that has allowed pets in the workplace for about 15 years.
"Trust your employees," Falcon said from her office in Greensboro, N.C. "People know their animals."
The 25 or 30 dogs that routinely visit the company create a positive atmosphere, she said. They provide an opportunity for employees to get to know each other better.
"When someone comes walking down the middle of the warehouse carrying a new puppy, how can you not connect or smile?" she said.
Dorothy Wetzel has noticed that when she or other staff members bring their dogs to work at Extrovertic, a New York-based marketing firm, the office is more jovial.
"There's a smile on everyone's face," said Wetzel, the firm's founding partner. "It causes us to interact more."
The pet-friendly policy also underscores the company's desire to "offer a different work experience" than more run-of-the-mill offices, she said.
"We want people bringing their whole self to work," she said.
Allowing employees to bring their dogs in lets them know that the company cares about their life outside of work, Falcon added. "It says a lot about who we are as a company," she said.
Replacements, Ltd., employee Steve Hyatt appreciates the benefit because it means he does not have to leave his dogs home alone during the day. He brings, Charlie, a beagle, and Mitzi, a mixed-breed, to work three to five times a week.
"I don't have to worry about them," said the Greensboro resident. "There's peace of mind when they're with me."
Dogs also promote some healthy habits for workers, Hyde said.
Walking a dog "forces them to go out and get some fresh air and stretch their legs," she said.
Johnson agreed, even if it's just a short walk during a 15-minute break: "The dogs need it, and the humans need it even more," she said.
In Dublin, Erin Neeb has found a park near The Nature Conservancy where she can take Annie on her lunch hour. And sometimes Neeb, who lives in a condominium and doesn't have a yard, stays late and lets the dog run up and down the hall for exercise.
"I love to bring her in the winter because she doesn't get out to walk and interact with people as much," Neeb said. "It's a good way for her to stay socialized."
Here are some tips from Pet Sitters International for bringing dogs to work:
1. Keep dogs on a leash, unless they are in the employee's office or cubicle. Not everyone loves puppy kisses, even from the best-behaved dogs, so respect your co-workers' space. Co-workers who want to pet your dog will likely come to you.
2. Use a baby gate to prevent a dog from leaving your office unsupervised. You don't want Fido dashing out of your office in the middle of an important sales call or during a visit from a business partner. Try to give the dog space to roam in your office.
3. Certain areas such as bathrooms or dining halls should be designated as dog-free. Work with management and co-workers to determine which areas those will be.
4. Have a backup plan for taking the dog home if it isn't comfortable in the work environment. While many dogs love spending a day at the office, some might not be ready for it. See if a spouse, friend or professional pet sitter can take care of a pet who needs to leave the office.