Dogs in our midst

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This is the next contribution to this blog by Associate Bob Bailly, a Calgary-based neuro-marketing practitioner.

By Bob Bailly

Rather than working earlier this week, I was looking over pictures of my last month down south in Argentina. As I was smiling over a photo of a Buenos Aires dog walker – who are well represented in that great city, can be seen everywhere and are not always so good about cleaning up after their care – I was reminded of some research I recently uncovered. It’s about dogs too. But more specifically, it’s about the potential business implications of our relationship with “man’s best friend.”

Have you ever had a dog as a pet? Did or do you consider it part of the family? If you answered yes, or even if you’ve never personally been involved with a dog, it’s not hard to see that humans and dogs have formed a symbiotic relationship that is beneficial to both species. In Argentina, proof is on the streets in the form of hoards of professional dog walkers and the need to watch your step.

The fact that both humans and dogs are pack animals probably goes a long way to explain why both species understand and accept hierarchy, roles and leadership attributes common to animals that thrive in groups. Dogs have been part of human tribal experience for a long time (likely arising from the domestication of wolves and coyotes in our early pre-history), but could dogs help us in our modern workplace? While it has been well documented that dogs act as social catalysts (prisons and senior facilities often incorporate contact with dogs as part of their programming), surprisingly little research exists to document the effect of introducing dogs into the workplace. That fact drove Christopher Honts and his colleagues at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant to wonder if the presence of a dog in the workplace might make people collaborate more effectively. They devised  two different sets of experiments to see if it would, and sure enough they found that dogs in the workplace do have a positive effect on team collaboration attributes.

In the first of two experiments, they brought together 12 groups of four individuals. Each group was given a task to develop a 15-second advertisement for a fictitious product. While everyone was encouraged to contribute ideas, ultimately the group had to decide on only one.

Some of the groups had a dog “underfoot throughout,” while the others had none. When participants later answered a questionnaire on how they felt about working with other members of the team, the researchers found that those who had a dog about “ranked their team mates more highly on measures of trust, team cohesion and intimacy than those who did not.”

In their other experiment they used 13 groups to test whether the presence of an animal could alter a player’s behaviour in a game known as prisoner’s dilemma. In the version of the game played by these volunteers, all four members of each group had been “charged” with a crime. Without talking to other members, individuals could choose either to snitch on their team mates or to stand up for them, knowing in advance that each individual’s decision would affect the outcomes for all participants, including themselves. “The lightest putative sentence would be given to someone who chose to snitch while the other three did not: the heaviest penalty would be borne by a lone non-snitch. The second-best outcome came when all four decided not to snitch. And so on.”

Having a dog around made volunteers 30 percent less likely to snitch than those who played without one. Their moral – “more dogs in the workplace and fewer in police stations.”

Whether dogs are a necessary condition for a more collaborative workplace is certainly still open for consideration, but without doubt bringing your four-legged friend to the office won’t hurt. If it turns out that we can work better together with a dog underfoot, why not consider adopting an office pooch?

Experiments are continuing with other animals. In the meantime, just watch your step if your venturing out. There are dogs in our midst.

Photo: Bob Bailly

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