Science-- there's something for everyone

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Taking Fido to work

My dog doesn’t usually take an interest in my blogging activities, other than to suggest that my time would be better spent throwing a ball. This time, she was all for my getting to work on this post. Randolph Baker and his colleagues from Virginia Commonwealth University published a study on the benefits of bringing one’s dog to work.

The researchers recruited three groups of employees at a company (Replacements, Ltd) that permits dogs in the workplace. Eighteen people routinely brought their dogs to work (DOG), thirty-eight had dogs but didn’t choose to bring them, and nineteen had no pets. During the four-day study, subjects were instructed to take saliva samples first thing every morning so that cortisol levels (an indicator of stress) could be measured. They were also issued pagers reminding them to complete stress surveys four times each day.

Members of the DOG group brought their dogs to work on Tuesday and Thursday, but left their dogs at home on Wednesday and Friday. The other two groups did not bring any pets to work on any of the study days.

Of the three groups, the lowest stress levels were seen among the people in the DOG group on the days their dogs were with them. People who left their dogs at home had the highest stress levels, and that stress increased as the day wore on. There were no significant differences in morning cortisol levels among the different groups.

Overall, bringing dogs to work seemed to have a net positive affect. It helped the dog owners and didn’t detract from the work environment for non-pet owners. However, it’s important to note that only self-reported stress levels increased. The cortisol levels did not indicate any stress differences even on days when dog owners anticipated having to leave their pets at home. 

Also, on a typical day, Replacements, Ltd has 550 people and 20 to 30 dogs on the premises. All the study volunteers had worked there for an average of ten years, suggesting that they were well accustomed to having dogs around. It would be interesting to see how non-pet owners would react to the sudden introduction of dogs to their workplace.