Office stress dogging you? Try punching in with Fido

Grant Hindsley/AP

Ginger, an English bulldog, comes to work each day with Will Pisnieski. She's one of several dogs who are regular fixtures at dog-friendly Authentic Entertainment in Burbank.

Most dog lovers will insist a canine friend makes for a happier home. A number of studies back that up, too, touting the health benefits of four-legged companions.

But there's new evidence that dogs can make for a better workplace as well, making employees happier and more productive.

On a recent afternoon at Los Angeles-based RSA Films, Harrison, one of the company's newer additions, greets a visitor at the door. Sizing up the newcomer, he turns, as if inviting her to follow him down the hall to executive producer Tracie Norfleet's office.

Happy Dogs, Happy Workers

Harrison — all long legs and butterfly ears — has joined Ziggy, a bichon frise mix, and Ippo, a large shaggy blonde with a yellow bow, around Norfleet's desk.

"This is sort of the headquarters here, because ... this is where all the treats are stashed," Norfleet says.

About a dozen dogs accompany their owners to RSA each day. Like many of his canine colleagues, Chuck, Leah Carnahan's corgi mix, lazes at his owner's feet as she goes about her work.

Chuck may be relaxed, but he's helping Carnahan be relaxed, too.

"In the middle of a crazy day, I just look at his face, and it calms me right down," Carnahan says.

Lowering stress is just one of the positive benefits of dogs in the workplace, according to a recently published study from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Study co-author Sandra Barker says dogs also make for a more satisfying work experience.

"The vast majority of employees listed positive things about the dogs: that they reduced stress, that they made them feel more comfortable [and] they contributed to their communication," Barker says.

An estimated 17 percent of businesses are dog-friendly, including corporate giants like Google and Amazon, according to a survey by the American Pet Products Association.

At Authentic Entertainment in Burbank, Calif., co-owner Tom Rogan says his staff of more than 100 employees considers having dogs at work a fringe benefit.

"I think that translates into how people approach their jobs," Rogan says. "If they're happier in the workplace and that's contributing to it, then they are becoming more productive."

Several desks at Authentic have dog beds and a scattering of dog toys underneath them. A pooch occasionally peeks out from around a corner, while others quietly stroll the vast office, occasionally stopping to nudge a knee.

Joey Atkinson sits hunched toward his computer, while Karma, a floppy-eared rescue dog, sits by his side.

"When you get stressed out and you have those kind of moments where you need something to lean on, it's great to have your dog right there," Atkinson says.

Keep Those Snacks Under Wraps

Of course, not all dogs are suited for the office, experts say. Nor is everyone always agreeable to having four-legged co-workers around.

The Humane Society of the United States recommends that companies' pet policies stipulate that dogs be in good health, are spayed or neutered and — perhaps most importantly — have good manners.

Norfleet admits employees need to be vigilant about leaving stray sandwiches on a desk.

As for conference calls? Norfleet says the dogs can sometimes throw folks on the other end of the line. "It's a little disconcerting to other people who work in offices around the world. [They'll ask] 'Who's dog is that? Are you at home?' "

But most RSA staffers maintain the benefits outweigh the occasional disruption — even employees like Elicia Laport, who doesn't own a dog herself.

"You just can't take things too seriously when you're surrounded by all these dogs," Laport says.

Danielle Krause says her dog Ziggy loves his office routine, and — perhaps unlike his human colleagues — hates weekends.

"He knows Saturdays we're not going to work, so he sleeps in. Sundays he sleeps in. But Mondays, he's by the door, waiting to go," Krause says.

Suddenly, a commotion pops up over a squeaky toy, and then, a calm and smiling golden lab named Tank pleasantly sees a departing visitor to the door.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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