Unleashed at Work: How Dogs Reduce Stress in the Office
“Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction.” ~ Edward O. Wilson
I have long been an advocate of leveraging the health benefits that result from our relationships with animals. I was converted in the early 90s when Jonathan Keep, one of our staff at a residential treatment center for girls in the care of the state of New Jersey operated by the Devereux Foundation, created an award winning pet therapy program. We collaborated with psychiatrist Aaron Katcher, whose research on the therapeutic benefits of pet therapy was subsequently published in Biophlia Hypothesis. The “biophilia hypothesis,” a somewhat controversial idea put forward by Edward Wilson, suggests that humans evolved as creatures deeply enmeshed with nature and that this affinity is still ingrained in our genotype.
Our pet therapy program, which included a miniature pony named Disney, miniature goats, sheep, llamas, swans, and geese, was a stunning success. Recently, one of the girls reminisced with me on Facebook about how she was the girl that would protect visitors from our gaggle of guard geese. She was just one of many whose relationship with our pets helped her find meaning during a difficult time of life.
Years later when I was writing an article for Social Work Today I caught up with Aaron Katcher again in the wake of a tainted pet food scandal. Writing that article, I learned how research continues to grow regarding the health benefits resulting from our connections to animals, including positive heart health and the reduction of stress. You can read the article Poisoned Pets: Losing Man’s Best Friend here.
This week there is more good news about the pet/human affinity that Wilson hypothesized about. The LA Times reported that corporations where employees are allowed to bring their dogs to work have less stress. “If your office seems like it’s going to the dogs, try bringing your dogs to the office!”
The researchers measured cortisol, the stress hormone, in employees at the beginning of the day and the end of the day and found this compelling evidence: By the end of the day, the average stress level scores fell about 11% among people who had brought their dogs to work, while they rose as much as 70% for members of the other groups.
Meredith Wells-Lepley, a research associate at the Institute for Workplace Innovation at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, said the new study helps quantify the stress-reducing value of bringing pets to the office. Her own work showed that cats also had a stress-relieving effect — and that, for the most part, people responded positively to all breeds of either animal.
“Short-haired black cats were the exception,” she said. Ahem… I beg to differ and my Maybelle, most definitely takes exception to that.
If you are a dog owner you won‘t want to miss “Take Your Dog to Work Friday” on June 12, 2012 so that you can try working with a dog instead of like a dog for one day! If you are business owner or executive, how about letting your employees bring their dogs to work for a day?
Coaching Questions to Ask Yourself: How does your pet bring joy to your life? How can you incorporate the biophilia hypothesis in your work environment? How can you add some appreciation for nature to your life every day?
If you would you like to be coached on how to reduce your stress and increase your engagement at work contact Dr. Lynn K. Jones for a free coaching session.
P.S. Thanks in advance to anyone who chooses to share their stories of their biophilia connections or wishes to forward the blog link to friends that are pet lovers.
Dr. Lynn K. Jones is a Board Certified Coach and an Advanced Certified Personal and Executive Coach based in Santa Barbara, California and a sought after coach and consultant for organizations and individuals across the US. Her doctoral work completed at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University concerned organizational culture; she coaches, consults and trains organizations on what they need to do to create organizational cultures that are aligned with their vision and values using a process of Appreciative Inquiry. She coaches individuals on achieving their reflected best selves. A MSW@USC faculty member, Dr. Lynn K. Jones, MSW, DSW, CSWM, teaches Human Behavior and Social Environment and Leadership to social work students at the University of Southern California.
BCC Board Certified Coach #1487
I think it’s a great idea to take your pet to work to alleviate stress. I have read about the benefits, not only at the workplace, but many places, especially elder care facilities, Alzheimer facilities, etc. It certainly could work to have either cats or dogs-as long as you have your own office. Believe it or not-CATS perform the same function. Seems a bit one sided on which pet performs the de-stressing duty!! Poor Maybelle.
Poor Maybelle indeed! She certainly is a great stress releaser in my household. You are so right, pets have been found to have a healing effect in so many contexts. Elder care facilities are a great example in that people who have contact with pets live longer and are protected from heart disease. Biophilia Hypothesis has lots of great examples along those lines. Thanks for sharing, Alison!
I can attest to Lynn’s article two weeks into having our new black lab puppy. There’s something calming and watching Daisy playfully wag her tail wag and trot with the kids. She’s not ready for prime time at the office, but by the end of the summer she might be!
Christina Weber, MS
What a delight Daisy must be for all! I am sure she will ready for prime time before you know it!
Animals can definitely have an amazing healing effect, as does nature in general. We’re not meant to be surrounded by cement and plaster and technology in solitude, and while our lives have been improved by modern advances, reconnecting with our more natural roots does wonders! Be it a dog, a cat, a mouse or a horse, spending some time with our furry and feathered friends is great.
Thanks for your comment Calla. I know you spend time out in the mountains hiking and live near the ocean. Do any pets also inhabit your life?
Hi, Lynn, and great article.
For 14 years, my husband took our black cock-a-poo, Rocky, to work at his company, Architectural Forest Products (AFP), Inc, in Two Rivers, WI, until he crossed the Rainbow Bridge. After he passed, the staff begged for another dog. Now our son’s dog, Fido, also a black cock-a-poo, gets spoiled at AFP. A win-win.
Touch is so important. Real touch, and touching our hearts. Many thanks for thumbs up to pet therapy!
Hi Judy, Glad you liked the article! Love to hear more about how your cock-a-poos have touched the employees at AFP!
Hi Lynn, I smiled when I saw your blog because one thing I have loved about owning my own business is that I’m able to work with my sweet dog, Claire at my feet. It’s not as beautiful here in DC as in Santa Barbara, but Claire is a good footwarmer on cold days!
You’ve brought up a really good point for an executive coach. I’ve seen the biophilia hypothesis at work at a tech company client where several pets greet visitors. Talk about a warm reception! My guess is that the greater emphasis the company puts on innovation = greater encouragement of pets.
Warm reception indeed! Just imagine how good those visitors feel when they walk into their meetings. I imagine that those meetings really broaden and build with positivity. Thanks for sharing such a heart warming story!
I agree with the healing effect of animals and nature, this is a great article Lynn, and I love the Edward O. Wilson quote. I can testify to the truth of this statement, I walk my dog Monty on the Burton Mesa Chaparral every day. There he can wander off-leash and just be a dog. Seeing and being with him in nature inspires me. It’s my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual multi-vitamin. It’s balance through movement, on all levels of my being. It’s when I connect with the priorities of the day and of my life in general.
Thanks for reminding us about the importance of animals in our lives!
Helen Tye Talkin
I love the metaphor of how are pets are like a mult-vitamin protecting us from all the stresses of our lives. You and Monty certainly have a wonderful routine in a beautiful spot. That is another good think about dogs–they like to be walked, which prompts us to get out more and be more active!
I agree 100% . We have have volunteered with our therapy dogs Oscar and Kody for the past decade and have watched the visible brightening of chronic and simply aged patients.
It is like an injection of light. Somehow the dogs picked up signals from the patients as to who was receptive and who was not. The dogs had their favourites and behaved differently with each patient according to what they sensed was needed. Patients awaken as the dogs arrive and then fade back into that unseen world when they leave. It is heart breaking.
We have documented this in a children’s book, where the dogs run thr narrative, albeit with human intervention. We hoep to bring a greater understanding of the real value of pets – especially in a therapy setting.
How fortunate you and others have been to share this journey with your therapy dogs! Thanks for sharing their story! I would love to read your book and others who read my blog might also. Can you share a link? My little black cat Maybelle is purring fiercely perched on my shoulder as I write this. She still doesn’t get why she is the exception but we’ve agreed not to fuss about it anymore. 🙂