I first posted this article in 2011, but it seems wise to put it out in the universe again. Taking a dog to work can be wonderful, or, not so much…
Friday June 26th has been designated “Take Your Dog to Work Day” by Pet Sitters International. Begun in 1999 with a goal of encouraging adoptions, Pet Sitters Int’l suggests that we all take our dogs to work to emphasize the human/animal bond, and indirectly encourage people to adopt homeless dogs.
This could be a great thing to do; many of us take our dogs to work regularly. If you work in the dog world, it’s almost a gimmee, and one of the perks that I love about my job is that I can take Willie to work whenever I want. However, there’s nothing like being an Applied Animal Behaviorist to stimulate the waving of red flags when we read about something that, in some cases, could also be described as “take your dog into a completely novel and highly distracting environment and where you have no time to work with her if it flips her out.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m in favor of taking some dogs to work, but it’s truly not appropriate for some dogs.
Curious about how Pet Sitter’s Intl handled the potential of trouble, I went to their website and read their articles on “Preparing Your Dog for the Office” and “Introducing Your Dog to New People and Pets.” There was some very good information in them, including being sure your dog has basic manners and being sure your dog has had “practice calming down in a public place.” Yeah for them for making it clear that dogs need experience to be comfortable in new, stimulating places, and that their training needs to be “proofed” in highly distracting environments. They also advise teaching your dog to sit before greeting people or other dogs, and wisely advocate for loose leashes when dogs are greeting one another. All good, especially the statement “practice taking your dog out into the world.”
This is a key comment, but I do worry a bit that they buried the lead. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve worked with who owned “bold, slap-happy” dogs who cowered and shivered and refused food when taken to a new environment.
The fact is, it’s hard to predict how your dog will behave if he or she has never been in a public place. That’s why I love that the website suggests “practice taking your dog out…”. But, their emphasis is on manners, and not on the dog’s comfort level. I’d love it if they added some lines like: “Not all dogs would enjoy leaving the comfort of home into a new and potentially frightening situation, so don’t bring your dog to work unless you have already determined that he or she likes going out and about with you.” The point being it’s not just about manners, but also about your dog’s comfort level.
On a related note, I’m reminded of the time I took Cool Hand Luke to the radio station and was doing a live show with Larry Meiller on Wisconsin Public Radio. Luke was lying quietly under the table while I answered questions from callers about training and behavior. Luke had been the perfect dog up to that point (you know what’s coming here now, don’t you?) but mid-way through the show a workman stopped to look through the large glass window that separated the studio from the reception area. I hadn’t noticed him because I was facing the other way. What I did notice was an eruption of high-pitched barking from Luke as he lept to his feet, slammed into me and the table and sent the show’s producer in a panicked attempt to modulate the amplitude.
For the life of me I couldn’t figure out why Luke had responded as he did (remember, we’re live on radio now), until I observed that the workman had on knee pads–large, black circles that looked exactly like the fixed, hard eyes of a dog about to attack. And right at eye level too. Luke calmed down right away, and we all had a great laugh about it. Not long afterward I was told that the station had created a “no pet in the studio” policy. Go figure.
What about you? Do you take your dog to work? Is it harder for you to get work done when and if you do? (It is for me, but I also love it. Willie hasn’t come to work since his injury in February and probably won’t be able to until August or September. Ouch. Miss it.) Do other people bring their dogs and you’re glad? Wish they didn’t? I’d love to hear any stories you have. . .
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: For me, today and tomorrow are “Take Your Work to Your Dog Day.” Or something like that. Willie, Maggie and I are at a sheepdog clinic, taught by trainer and handler Derek Fisher. I had hoped to enter the dogs in the trial right before the clinic, but I didn’t think either dog was ready. Willie needs practice working at long distances away from my tiny pasture at home. Maggie needs to learn to be happier pushing and dealing with “heavy” sheep (or sheep who didn’t read the books and are happy to push back on a dog), and hasn’t been taught her flank whistles yet. She also needs experience working at more of a distance, so I thought I’d be wise to skip the trials and get the dogs into the good clinics offered within a day’s drive.
Derek was great. I loved how well he reads dogs. He had Maggie and Willie pegged instantly (both very soft, try almost too hard to be good, need to learn it’s okay to push the sheep.) Very kind, lots of reinforcement for the dogs (and the humans too), and good, clear explanations. We’ll be back tomorrow, can’t wait.
I was too engaged to get a photo of Willie or Maggie while working, but here’s Jess, a young dog of a friend working in a small pen with Derek. Lovely little dog.
The ewe in the front turned and challenged Jess, and she turned and gave it right back. The ewe took one look at her and turned away. Very brave for a young dog. Good girl!