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Working from home and dog ownership: begging for more

Working from home with a dog

Your colleague is clearly fast asleep! Snores are most certainly audible above the tapping of your keyboard.

Rather than being irritated by the snoring however, you are soothed. A feeling of wellbeing washes over you as you tackle the June sales analysis.

Your colleague is a dog.

In this blog I’ll look at the effects of working from home with a dog which are both positive and negative for the worker and the dog. It’s important that we’re not fixated on our desire for an adorable labradoodle by our side to the detriment of his long-term welfare. Are you hybrid working now? How does this affect you and your pet dog?

The veterinary charity PDSA report that 26% of adults in the UK own a dog and when lockdowns were first enforced in 2020 and working from home increased exponentially, it set certain tails wagging in delight.

“That guy who smells so good and passes me Pooch & Mutt meaty treats is HOME ALL DAY now?” Humans shared in the joy in many cases too. It was one of the only perks of the early Covid days that the dog owners with office jobs amongst us could gaze at our faithful friends throughout the Nine to Five from our desks at home. The only disgruntled people were the organisers of ‘Bring your Pet to Work Day.’

Many more people decided they wanted a piece of the add-a-dog-to-the-family action and demand for dogs and other pets went through the roof in 2020 AND 2021. 62% of UK households in 2021-2022 own a pet, compared to 40% in 2018-2019; a huge jump.

Dog sitting next to desk

Does a pet dog improve wellbeing for people working from home?

Working from home with a dog could lead you to:

  • Get up and move from your workstation more frequently to take healthy microbreaks. Moving your posture to let the dog out and breathe in a blast of fresh air is as good for you as it is for Delilah the Dobermann. Moving regularly is one very simple way to help you avoid back ache and other musculoskeletal issues.

  • Be more physically active before work, after work and on a lunch break because you walk your dog. Exercise triggers the release of endorphins in the brain which are ‘feel-good’ hormones. You’ll benefit mentally as well as physically from the dog walks in all weathers – enjoy that enhanced productivity!

    Dog walk during working day

  • Avoid working hours that are too long for your health. “An animal brings you a routine” says Katharine Metters, lead consultant in ergonomics at Posturite. “He or she is a good reminder to start and finish your day because that routine can be beneficial to you too.”

  • Feel less lonely. The working from home environment isn’t immune to mental health challenges. Far from it, we can sometimes feel lonely from the lack of contact with others and 20% of people working from home in Great Britain reported experiencing reduced wellbeing in an ONS survey in August 2021. The company of a four-legged friend can be fun, comforting and therapeutic. And a happy outcome of being a dog owner is that you often actually speak to your human neighbours too!

  • Feel less stressed. Harvard University report that: “Dogs' calming effect on humans appears to help people handle stress. For example, some research suggests that people with dogs experience less cardiovascular reactivity during times of stress. That means that their heart rate and blood pressure go up less and return to normal more quickly, dampening the effects of stress on the body.”

The Harvard report indicates that having a dog is likely associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease for the owner, though there is not yet a clear cause and effect relationship between the two.

The dozing and occasional entertaining antics occurring next to my desk on a daily basis now from my beloved Border Terrier definitely does bring the pressure of deadlines down a notch. I regard her as a friend and confidante – and hot water bottle of course.

On the theme of work stress, you can also watch Posturite’s webinar ‘Reduce stress and thrive while working from home’ for great tips from their business psychologist guest speaker. No hound required.

Companionship is the number one reason for getting a dog, and new research by leading charity Dogs Trust with 8,050 current and 2,884 potential dog owners confirms that eight in ten owners said companionship for themselves was the main reason they acquired a dog. 91% of dog owners said their pets “constituted an important source of emotional support” concluded the University of York’s research which asked 5,926 people in the U.K. about their mental health, wellbeing, and loneliness, plus their bonds with their pets.

If you don’t have a dog, you can still of course avoid the working from home inactivity traps. Take a look at these ideas from Posturite on how to ramp up your work from home activity levels.

What can you do to help your dog feel secure while you work from home?

Dog pulled apart dog bed

  • Give your dog an independent space as it helps to create a clear divide between your workspace and your dog’s play space. This might simply be a dog bed, or it might be a crate or gated area. This sets helpful boundaries during your work from home hours to help with routine.
  • Provide toys and treat puzzles – a good idea to keep dogs engaged on their own while you’re working.
  • Get up to replenish their water and have some playtime while you have a microbreak.
  • Some WFH dog owners even provide a ‘frozen kong’ to entertain them while they’re on an important call!
  • Ignore any whining, barking or pawing at you – otherwise you’ll be rewarding your dog for behaviour you don’t want.

Is it a good idea to rehome a dog now that I’m working from home?

Many wonderful people rehome a dog in the UK and turn around the lives of animals who may have suffered. It’s estimated that 2.7 million animals enter UK animal shelters each year now including 664,000 dogs and 1.2 million cats – this is tragic.

Therefore to consider a rescue animal as one of your options for a new pet is to be applauded. But the decision shouldn’t be taken lightly and Nicole Paley, Deputy Chief Executive of the Pet Food Manufacturers' Association points out that:

“New owners need to seriously think about future possible obstacles that could make life with a pet slightly more challenging. Owners need to consider their pet when thinking about return to work plans, any possible future hit on finances, less time available and the possibility of separation anxiety for their pet.”

Dog waiting for owner to come home

Get more advice on rehoming a dog here from a specialist animal charity:

Here’s also advice from Blue Cross on buying a dog from a reputable breeder, to ensure a puppy farm isn’t used. The UK Government has introduced landmark new legislation called ‘Lucy’s Law’ to tackle the low-welfare, high volume supply of puppies and kittens, by banning their commercial third-party sale.

Give serious thought to your lifestyle before you bring a dog into your family. Will your working from home be every day and will it be permanent? Could you find a dog walker if not and afford to pay them at an average cost of £10-20 per walk? Would you be happy to give the keys to your home to someone in order to walk your dog? The PDSA has an excellent guide to exercising your dog.

Seeking out long-term working from home

Are you ‘begging’ for more homeworking? Make a formal request in writing and try to address any logistical issues in your proposal. You can get some tips on how to ask your boss to work from home permanently in the article from Forbes. The answer won’t always be positive of course. It’s tricky for people who have been told they cannot work from home but there are usually sound business reasons.

The results from a 2022 survey by pet food brand Butternut Box were surprising! 18% said they would take on a less senior position if it meant they could spend more time with their dog.

Hybrid working giving you a mix of home and office working is widespread now and has been given the green light in many roles. Many people love going out to work and some workplaces do have an adorable office dog! For example Blue Cross Education Manager Kerry Taylor brings her dog into work with her. She says: “It’s so hard to tear yourself away from the computer sometimes but I have to take Diddy for a walk at lunch time, which means I get to have a break and relax, and I feel much more productive in the afternoon. My colleagues also love it because when they’re feeling stressed or upset they can come over and give him a cuddle and it makes them feel better.”

Dog owners returning to the office

There is much concern from the veterinary sector that the post-lockdown transition to a lifestyle where dog owners go out will not be a smooth one for the animals. Separation anxiety could be common. Senior vice-president of the British Veterinary Association Daniella Dos Santos said in The Guardian that:

“Our biggest concern as people start returning to work outside the home is that pets will need to adapt to a very different routine and may experience some anxiety around being separated from the owners they’ve spent every day with during lockdown. Owners should spend time gradually getting pets used to being left alone or in different settings and make sure these experiences are positive.”

Dog stretching out at home

Vets are seeing many puppies bought in lockdown that have not been socialised properly - understandably as it wasn’t possible. They’re not good with other dogs and can even be aggressive. 7,000 people are admitted to UK hospitals annually as a result of dog bites or strikes and it’s important to take your dog for training now that these opportunities are open.

Sadly, some dogs develop wounds from excessive scratching when they suffer from separation anxiety and they can hurt themselves as well as cause damage at home if distressed.

What else have vets observed about the unusual period of 2020 – 2022? Well happily they tell of homeworking dog owners who had spotted medical symptoms or behaviours in their dogs which then led to early diagnosis and treatment. People had spent more time than usual with their dogs and noticed things. On the flip side, pet owners tended to display some hypochondriac behaviours too!

What about cats and other pets?

Working from home with a cat

Cats can also give us feelings of wellbeing of course while we work from home, and 89% of cat owners said that their pets provided ‘an important source of emotional support’ in the study by Elena Ratschen at the University of York.

“I love the peace and tranquillity of working from home - I'm more focused, productive and happier in my own surroundings” says Posturite’s Ecommerce Manager Lucy Robinson. “The odd ‘meow’ for food or attention from my cat Coco is great for taking a few minutes out to refocus the mind. Sure, she can be annoying when she jumps up and tilts my perfectly positioned monitor, but the quiet snores coming from her basket next to my desk give me the comfort I need to crack on with my day (even if I do feel ever so jealous that she gets to sleep without a care in the world!).”

If my dog had a job…

By the way, you’ll find no productivity inspiration from the children’s literary gem ‘If My Dog Had a Job’ by Bernice Lum. Stanley’s quest for the perfect job includes carpenter, conductor and detective but he reverts to the easy option - to do nothing at all…