Startup Analysis, The Pet Industry

Doggos of startupland: Should your startup have an office pup?

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

office dogs

H2coco office dog Harley. Source: Supplied.

Australia is an animal-loving nation, and while we know consumers are willing to part with hard-earned cash to pamper their pets, there’s also an argument that having furry friends in an office environment can boost productivity, leading to happy teams and better bottom lines.

We asked startup founders and others in the space how they feel about office dogs, and other animal employees, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.

In the interests of balance, we actively sought people who were not pro-pupper, and we literally couldn’t find any. Seriously. Startupland loves dogs.

They’re hailed as a calming presence for stressed employees, they’re credited with boosting creativity, and they help busy people take some time out to go outside. Apparently, the benefits of office dogs abound.

But, on the other hand, do they pose an inclusivity problem? Could a dog undermine a startup’s goal to provide an environment welcoming to all?

Speaking to StartupSmart, Hema Kangeson, career coach and founder of inSpur, and a passionate proponent of workplace diversity and inclusivity, notes there are two clear camps here.

Kangeson herself loves dogs, but she has a sister “who is terrified”.

And so, in some ways, there is cause for caution when it comes to inviting furry friends into the workplace.

If employers plan to allow pets at work, they need to consider not only the preferences of their staff, but also “what background and culture they come from”, she says.

Having dogs inside is a big part of western culture, Kangeson adds. It’s the norm in Australia, Europe and the US.

In many other cultures, however, dogs are outdoor pets, and often guard dogs. Kangeson tells the story of a Malaysian woman who was shocked, and a little scared, when a dog got into the lift with her.

Everyone else was “having a laugh” at the employee as she came to terms with the presence of the animal.

“But everybody else was white,” Kangeson notes.

This doesn’t mean, however, that pups should be ousted.

“I have worked in coworking spaces with dogs around and it brings a lot of joy”, she says.

Even if people in the office aren’t naturally comfortable around dogs, “if the dog is a normal, nice dog”, then often people will warm up to them.

And — worst case scenario — if someone has an allergy, that shouldn’t be treated differently to any other allergies. If we’re going to start catering office environments to allergies, we also need to cater to those with disabilities.

“There are so many places they’re not inclusive,” Kangeson says.

When we’re talking about inclusivity, “we have so many areas that we’re not already working on … the dog thing is fairly low on the priority level”, she adds.

“We haven’t sorted out the human element yet.”

So, we put the question to all manner of people in the startup space: office doggos, yes or no?

Here’s what they had to say.

Claudia Barriga-Larriviere, head of people at BlueChilli

At BlueChilli, founders and the team bring their dogs in regularly. We even have an adorable cavalier-poodle mix called Jaffles who is a permanent resident on level one. Making a case against office dogs is nearly impossible. They have been shown to increase employee engagement, reduce stress, and aid in building connections and longer-lasting bonds in the team.

So I won’t take up any time making the case for dogs. Instead, I’d like to offer some helpful tips that have helped us out.

Set clear boundaries. Having an inclusive workplace means making sure everyone feels they are heard and cared for equally. Not everyone will love the idea of having pets in the office, or they might have allergies. Ensuring that pets have designated areas will go a long way to keeping things clear and cordial.

Set ground rules. Don’t be afraid to set limits with pet owners as to what the prerequisites are to bring dogs in. Ensure the dog is potty trained and doesn’t have behavioural issues. Loud, nervous or overactive pets can be very distracting.

Clean up or get out. Needless to say, even the best-behaved dogs can create occasional messes. Making sure owners know it is their responsibility to clean up after their dogs — and not the office manager’s or the janitorial staff — will keep everything in check.

A doggy ramp. Dogs largely just want to chill out and bring joy to the people around them, but they also don’t want to be disturbed, picked up or petted all day long. Easing your team into this is also very important. Try it for a couple of days or a week and see what happens.

And after all that, just lean in and enjoy the (furry) joy!

John Webster, founder of CoRoster (formerly Shiftiez)

Office dogs are a resounding yes! Our office dog Sam reminds us we can’t work all day and need to get out and smell the flowers once in a while.

It’s great to be on a call and have a dog walk past you and ask for a pat — it’s the dog equivalent of your teammates walking past for a high five.

Sam the CoRoster office dog. Source: Supplied.

Alan Jones, partner at M8 Ventures

That’s a whole-body yes from me.

Our golden retriever Jemby was a regular companion for the product development team at Yahoo, HomeScreen and BluePulse, right from when she was a puppy until her passing at 17 years old.

There was no one better to remind us to take a quick break during a last marathon drive to ship the next version. She could tell when someone was stressed or upset, and would flop on their feet and wag her tail. And she loved everybody equally.

Former Yahoo office dog Jemby, on one of her many long sea voyages. Source: Supplied.

I’d take her for walks at lunchtime and she loved the water so much we used to say she was part-seal.

One time, when the Yahoo office was in North Sydney, I walked her down to Luna Park and she dragged me onto the timber steps, trying to leap in the harbour. I didn’t want her to go in because I wasn’t keen on having the office smell like wet dog and I didn’t have a towel. While we struggled, the rotten timber steps collapsed beneath us and we both tumbled into the harbour! We got a lot of surprised looks back at the office, as I still didn’t have a towel.

She was a good soul and I miss her every day.

Megan Harrison, founder of Flashmop

Office dogs, absolutely! Although I don’t have a dog, I am certain having creatures in the workplace makes people love coming to work.

Working on a remote mine site for 10 years certainly made me appreciate the comforts of home. Of course, you miss your family and friends, and dogs (for lots of people) are just as loved and part of the family as anyone else!

I have no doubt a beloved dog in the office would make you feel relaxed and ‘at home’ leading to a productive work environment and ultimately providing great results for any startup business!

What employee wouldn’t want to come to work every day to have those loving doggy eyes staring at you?

Brooke Warman, head of people and culture at SafetyCulture

At SafetyCulture, we are very pet-friendly. We have a heap of dogs in the office (and a rabbit) and a dedicated Slack channel called ‘safetyculture-pets’ littered with employee pet pics.

Bamboo the SafetyCulture rabbit. Source: Supplied.

We find our employees love having pets in the office as it puts a smile on everyone’s face and really boosts office morale. Having pets in the office just creates a positive influence on employee culture as seeing a pet wander around or come up to you gives you an instant calming effect which helps to reduce any anxiety or stress levels.

We find our employees are also happier, which means they are more productive. That little bit of distraction is often enough to spark a new idea or a different way to solve a problem.

Simon te Hennepe, founder of TRAVLR and The Bali Bible

Nothing compares to the energy that office pets bring. I regularly bring in our dog Opie and encourage our staff to do the same throughout the week.

Pets are such a big part of people’s lives and it’s nice to be able to create a workplace that places importance on this. Plus, it’s also a great excuse for team members to step away from their desk, get some fresh air and take the dog for a walk around the block.

At a startup, there’s always work to be done and it’s nice to have a welcomed distraction to remember the little things in life that make people so happy — dogs being one of those.

Tommi Nordstron, co-founder of Pupsy

As a co-founder of Pupsy, an online platform for dog owners to find and review dog-friendly places and services, my opinion is yes to dogs in the office.

Australia has one of the highest numbers of dogs per capita in the world, with roughly 40% of households living with one or more.

Our dog (and Pupsy head of quality), Lumi the groodle joins business meetings and other social events whenever possible. The way he puts a smile on everyone’s faces, breaks the ice and acts as a conversation-starter is unbeatable. Office dogs become everyone’s pets and have a super positive effect on improving the social environment and culture of the workplace.

However, it is good to remember this applies only to well-socialised and well-behaved furry companions. Nobody wants to have a puppy tearing the place upside down and causing all sorts of havoc disturbance.

Sophie Moss, head of marketing at Equitise

Equitise is part of the coworking space Deskspace based in Darlinghurst.

Steve, the owner, brings in Alfie, a spoodle, almost every day. We’ve also got Frida the greyhound — she’s new but has the best nature — as well as Stevie the dachshund and Jaffa the toy poodle.

As a team, we love having the dogs around. They join in on the parties, they wander around looking for pats and occasionally sit tentatively by you if you’re eating lunch at your desk. They have a calming effect on the office and are a great ice breaker between different teams. If I’ve had a bad day it helps to give Alfie a tummy scratch or Frida a hug. And apart from a few small accidents, the dogs are so well behaved.

Most people in the office are young renters. Given the overly strict stance of most landlords, they can’t own a pet of their own. This means they really appreciate the office dogs, as they have access to that little bit of joy that only a pet can bring.

Erin Spain, executive assistant to David Freeman, founder and chief of H2coco

H2coco has adopted a dog-friendly workplace policy, with my dog Harley, a koolie-border collie cross, joining as the office dog at eight weeks old.

H2coco office dog Harley. Source: Supplied.

I’m a massive advocate for dogs in offices. The H2coco team agrees and has found having Harley in the Surry Hills office a positive experience.

The biggest benefit of embracing pets in the office has been the positive effect it has on staff. Harley brings warmth and happiness to the office which has been a valuable addition for staff in forming good working relationships.

Her excitement and unconditional love releases stress and she keeps the office vibe generally cheery and in high spirits, which is great for productivity.

Harley was welcomed into the H2coco office from the first day she came into my life and she is now part of the H2coco family. I feel lucky and grateful for working in an office that is welcoming to Harley as well, especially being the bundle of energy that she is.

Harley loves a lunchtime walk and play in the park, and having people throw the ball to her — she has ninja-like reflexes and can catch a ball mid-air. She also even has her own Instagram page.

Belle To, product and marketing manager, Carbar

Although we think having an office dog is awesome and could be a good way to de-stress, we also think it could be a distraction, because dogs require a lot of attention and training.

As we can be quite busy, it could mean pet feel neglected, as they won’t get the affection they need. Also, there could be unforeseen issues as we have customers walk in our car yard every day.

Daniel Chiha, general manager of Shootsta

Here at Shootsta, our doors have always been open to dogs and our staff often bring their fur babies to spend the day with the team.

Currently, we have a staff member who trains an assistance dog puppy about two days a week.

Lysia, head of support at Shootsta. Source: Supplied.

Not only does this help the puppy learn to be settled in a busy environment, and desensitise her to different people and experiences, but it also raises morale within the office.

There is an obvious elevation in our team when there is a dog around the office. I mean, who can keep a straight face with a puppy greeting you with love and excitement on a Monday morning?

Thomas Derricott, community manager at Mad Paws

At Mad Paws, we always encourage the inclusion of furry friends! This is especially important in what could be a stale and stressful environment, the office. Dogs are a great way of nurturing rapport between team members, providing relief in stressful situations, and raising overall morale.

However, as with all things related to work, it’s important to ensure the entire team is on board with this decision. Conduct a quick check around the office to make sure there are no allergies or phobias. If there are, do not bring your pet in.

Additionally, it’s important your pup is prepared to spend time in this new environment. Well-behaved, house-trained dogs that aren’t too vocal are ideal as office dogs. To be certain, we would suggest bringing your pup to visit the workplace for a few hours first. By doing so, you can ensure your dog and your staff feel comfortable with the new dynamic.

Justin Dry, co-founder and chief executive of Vinomofo

It’s 100% yes for us, but it’s not for everyone, and you do need to invest the time to get it right.

Vinomofo co-founder and chief Justin Dry with one of the startup’s many office pets. Source: Supplied.

At Vinomofo we have a Mofo HQ dog boss, Lei-Lani Terrell, who makes sure everything runs smoothly. She’s also our creative producer, so while the role of looking after our four-legged friends is important, it’s not her only one.

I think dogs are awesome for office morale and a great ice breaker for visitors. Plus who doesn’t need more unconditional love in their life?

Detch Singh, co-founder and chief executive of Hypetap

Yes, 100%! We absolutely love having dogs in the office. We’re actually pretty lucky — being in influencer marketing means we get to look at dog-influencers on social all the time, but it’s just not the same as having them in real life. That’s why we have up to three dogs in the office at a time: Sophie, a spoodle, Frisky, a pomeranian-cross; and Ollie, a cavoodle.

We find dogs are great for office morale — they really lift the mood, which is super valuable especially during stressful periods.

Pet owners are able to hang out with their pets all day, and office visitors always love being greeted by our furry friends.

It also makes picking employee of the month easy. Sorry human team, but cutest always wins!

Trevor Townsend, chief executive of Startupbootcamp Australia

Big yes for me! Dogs really humanise the workplace. How? They don’t care about office politics, the state of the business, how bad the coffee is. They are just happy to be around people, spreading doggy love and generally trying to make friends.

I have never experienced an office with lots of dogs turning up — that could be really interesting. Imagine them tearing around the desks, chasing each other or a ball and barking loudly. It could be a complete riot and really get the office on a high of creativity, fun and joy!

Jessica Christiansen-Franks, co-founder of Neighbourlytics

Yes yes yes! We have huge problems trying to find an office space which is dog-friendly. Our office dog Tyson (chief stick counter) is an important part of the team for so many reasons, and I’d love to share the ‘pro-dog’ case with anyone who needs convincing.

Tyson even makes it onto our website.

How can you be stressed about cap tables or cashflow with this little face cheering you on?

Neighbourlytics chief stick counter Tyson. Source: Supplied.

Elliot Smith, chief executive of Maxwell Plus

Yes, absolutely! Kelsey, who goes by the title ‘chief dognostics officer’ here at Maxwell Plus, is a soothing force to have in the office. She reminds us of life outside when we’re under the pump at work.

She first joined us when she hurt her leg and needed some TLC. After a little while, the team realised they liked having her around and decided to bring her in full time.

Chief dognostics officer Kelsey with the Maxwell Plus team. Source: Supplied.

She’s fun to have around the office, but you need to keep your lunch protected or it might go missing! She also has a fun habit of mimicking fire trucks that pass by, it’s pretty cute, but with the office near a fire station, it happens more than you’d think.

Frank Guzman, general manager of Academy Xi, and owner of two pups

Lola (a well-mannered gorgeous French bulldog) and Kevin (the most mischievous chocolate dapple dachshund) aren’t just any office dogs.

At Academy Xi, they’re a part of the tribe. Besides being utterly adorable (and very distracting), Lola and Kevin bring a sprout of brightness to the team. These cute pups are the conduit that brings people together.

From our students to our instructors and our event community, Lola and Kevin help people connect and engage. At Xi, we don’t just help transform people careers, we bring smiles to people’s faces with Lola and Kevin.

Kevin and Lola, Academy Xi office dogs. Source: Supplied.

Caroline Shawyer, founder and chief of The PR Group

We are huge animal lovers at The PR Group and encourage staff to bring their pets to work. Having pets in the workplace is an instant mood lift and definitely helps to reduce stress levels by encouraging staff to be more mindful as well as providing a natural extension of their home life.

I think it’s important for employers and workplaces to be more open to new ways to support staff and alleviate stress at work. Making workplaces pet-inclusive is a proven way they can do that.

PR Group account coordinator Zoe Potter with office dog Tilly. Source: Supplied.

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is the editor at StartupSmart. You can contact her at [email protected].

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