Dog’s Eye View: A good idea gone bad
August 13, 2015
I have heard this scenario more than once.
It started out great. We had one dog in the office, and he was friends with everyone he met. He greeted people politely and returned to his bed to snooze. He was a great fit for our office, didn't shed much, asked to go outside to do his business and took treats gently, and the best part? He never barked. Once in awhile, another employee brought their dog to work, too. It worked out pretty well, except dog number one would growl on occasion. Nobody thought much about it, because dog number two would just walk away. Then dog number three entered the picture. Everyone was so used to the routine, they didn't notice with dog number three there was a problem. One day, all of a sudden and without warning, the fight started. There was barking and growling and plenty of hair being tossed around, but nobody got hurt, so after separating the dogs, life returned to normal.
Or did it? The warning signs were there, but dog body language is silent, and no one recognized the signals.
In my first article about dogs in the work place, I addressed whether or not some dogs are comfortable in a busy, ever-changing work environment. Depending on the genetics and social skills, along with a dose of breed disposition, we need to screen dogs in the workplace as carefully as we would any employee. Some dogs just fit in. Others need specific skills taught to help them understand what their job description looks like.
On occasion, the workplace is absolutely the wrong choice for certain dogs. Or the workplace isn't conducive for any dog. It's really important to think about what this canine employee or ambassador for dogs in the workplace should be like. What exactly does this job description necessitate? He or she should be low-key when necessary, show discretion in how to greet people, or, if they should be greeted at all. Another important quality is quick response to the handler in any given situation. Moving out of the way for vehicles or delivery people pushing carts is one example. And how about some good old-fashioned manners; keeping four feet on the floor while greeting people is a must. Learning to settle by their owner's workspace and stay when asked is a basic skill that should be taught to any dog.
Dogs should not be given free rein to roam unsupervised around an open workspace. For their own safety, they should be kept near their handler. Knowing the personality of the dog should give you clues as to how he might react in the presence of other dogs.
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I can't tell you how many times I have heard this line, "Oh, my dog is just fine once he establishes whose boss."
So, you are allowing the schoolyard bully to rip off somebody's lunch, huh? This type of behavior is a recipe for disaster, especially if the visiting dog has the same attitude:
He walked through the door with a John Wayne swagger and checked out the territory ahead, when along came the slinking slow-motion steps of the boss' big brown dog. And then, the fight started.
Nobody saw it coming because they did not recognize the body language of either dog, or they were so preoccupied with their own jobs they didn't notice. Often, people think it's all right to let them "just work it out," but that takes away all human control over the situation. Letting them "work it out" might lead to a battle and then a standoff in which no one wins, but the workplace stress has been permanently tainted.
Dogs in the workplace are great until somebody gets hurt. Then, the boss has to take a hard look at his or her liability policy, and what started out as a great idea, in theory, turned out to be bad for business. In my next article, I'll cover some ideas on how to set up the work environment to successfully screen and train your workplace dog.
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 25 years of experience. She has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and owns Total Teamwork Training LLC here in Northwest Colorado.