At Silverbean, a digital marketing agency in Newcastle, Ted the cockapoo is in charge. An old-timer among the office’s 10-strong dog crew, he always takes new recruits under his paw. It’s an increasingly demanding job for Ted as, since returning to the office after lockdown, the number of new pups has doubled.
As Britons go back to work, many are meeting a new generation of office mutts: 3.2 million households in the UK have acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic, with dogs the most popular choice, reports the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association.
With 59 per cent of us wanting more places to be dog friendly, according to the Kennel Club, companies are under more pressure than ever to review their office pet policies.
In the US, where dog ownership has also spiked, a survey found that half of senior executives are planning to start allowing dogs in the office and 59 per cent are introducing a more pet-friendly policy because of employee requests.
From soothing strokes to scapegoats for embarrassing smells, their fans – and owners – insist that office dogs provide all kinds of benefits.
“While it’s not great when they’re running around while you’re on a call, and once a dog stole a bagel from someone’s desk, there’s a lot more interaction between the teams,” says Christie Rae, a content manager at Silverbean.
“Previously, I wouldn’t have gone over to other teams. But when a dog comes to you, the owner follows and you have more opportunity to chat to people. You can’t have a bad day with that many dogs around, it’s like accidental pet therapy.”
At Efinity Labs Ltd, a manufacturing company based in Lancashire, a dog-friendly office policy was never discussed before the pandemic. “When we were returning to the office after lockdown, some of the staff, including me, found ourselves with new dogs,” says founder Ryan Lord.
“Others found their regular dog sitters were unable to commit to previous arrangements due to increased demand. I thought, we are all dog lovers, so why don’t we allow dogs to come to the office as a policy?”
His own pup, a goldendoodle called Marlene, and three others have become office regulars, with doggie guests occasionally joining them for meetings. Marlene’s enthusiasm for dirty puddles has even inspired the company’s latest venture – a dog shampoo called Poochiful.
Some new dog owners are even prepared to change job to accommodate their furry friend. In the US, one survey found that nearly half of people aged 18 to 24, and a third of those aged 25 to 40, would rather quit their jobs than be forced to leave their pets at home alone full time.
For Genevieve Brown, based in London, one of the main reasons she took her job at a production company was because it was dog friendly. But while lockdown was the perfect time for Genevieve and her partner Adam to get their cavapoo, named Ziggy, her employers took the opportunity for an office refurbishment.
In August, Genevieve received a company-wide email saying everyone was expected to come into the office twice a week and that because of the swish interiors, there was now a no tolerance policy on dogs.
“You can’t just do that to people as it really disrupts their lives,” says Genevieve. “If we had to go back more than twice a week, I’d have to look for a job elsewhere.”
Sadly, a number of new owners are not this loyal to their pets. The Dogs Trust reports that the number of people considering giving up their dog has more than doubled, compared with the same time in 2020.
In the weeks following so-called “freedom day”, there was a 35 per cent increase in calls to the charity about giving up dogs.
“As more people return to the office, owners’ circumstances and routines are changing, with some being forced to reconsider their dog’s place in their lives,” says a Dogs Trust spokesperson.
And, of course, for some offices, having hounds at HQ is simply not an option. Stacey Sheppard runs The Tribe, a female co-working space in Totnes, Devon. Recently, her no-dog policy has been a dealbreaker for many prospective tenants.
“The most frequently asked question is, ‘can I bring my dog to work’?” says Stacey.
My WFH workmate
As I type, there is a warm and furry head on my knee. It belongs to Alfie, pictured, who isn’t strictly speaking one of my co-workers (he can’t type, commission articles or make the tea) but who is on duty with me on Thursdays.
Having returned to work at i’s offices for most of the week, there’s still one day that I work from home. Happily, that’s when Alfie’s human parents are out all day, so he comes to me to hang out.
I would love a dog, and longed to get one during the pandemic, but decided to wait and see what happened when – if – normal life resumed. I’m practising on Alfie, a Bedlington terrier who is a very good boy. He’s good to talk to when I’m typing, and makes me leave my desk for a lunchtime stroll.
I also dog-sit for a friend who lives at the coast. My charges there are more spirited, (“TIMMY! Stop humping her leg. ELVIS – what are you crunching?”) so they tend to be my holiday hounds, and I take leave to look after them rather than attempting to work. I’m very happy being a part-time pet minder.
Rebecca Armstrong, i Features Editor
“People didn’t ask me this before the pandemic. It really surprised me when they said they wouldn’t come if they couldn’t bring their dog.”
Stacey has been allergic to dogs since childhood. When she comes into contact with them, she almost immediately feels her airway constrict. Certain breeds can cause her to stop breathing. She previously worked in one dog-friendly office because her desk was in a private room, but the situation was far from ideal.
“I had to shut my office door to stop them wandering in, which isolated me from the rest of my team and looked anti-social. For any team meetings, I had to make sure I brought medication with me,” she says.
“If there is one around you can guarantee it will try to sit next to me. I don’t know why, but I seem to be a magnet for dogs. It’s like they want to convince me that they are lovely.”
Other people suffer from cynophobia, a fear of dogs.
Donna Obstfeld, Founder of HR company DOHR, was pinned down by a dog at the age of two and has suffered from the phobia ever since.
When she encounters any dog, big or small, she can have a severe panic attack, despite knowing on a rational level that she is safe.
“If a dog-friendly policy is introduced, employers need to consult and communicate with all the staff,” she says.
“It has to be acceptable to everyone, or there needs to be a working solution.”
Organisations such as The Kennel Club have advice and resources online to make sure having dogs in the workplace is a beneficial experience all round.
“It’s important that dog owners, including those who bought puppies during the pandemic, don’t leave their lockdown companions behind as the world opens up,” says a spokesperson from the charity.
We hope to see the UK being as faithful to dogs as they are, and have been, to us.”