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Why every day should be take your dog to work day

CMU professor’s research makes case for canines’ impact on group dynamics

Contact: Heather Smith

​When it comes to the workplace, there's blue collar, white collar and now, maybe, flea collar.

Research shows having a companion dog present during group meetings could improve employee emotions, enhancing communication and cooperation, according to Central Michigan University psychology professor Stephen Colarelli.

Such news is perfect timing for National Take Your Dog to Work Day, which this year is Friday, June 23.

While previous studies show how dogs improve brief social encounters between two people, Colarelli and his research team studied the canine influence on group interactions. The end results, in the 2017 issue of Anthrozoös research journal, suggest workplaces could benefit from having a dog handy.

"Dogs are a social lubricant," Colarelli said. "When work teams are first formed, it often takes a while for people to get comfortable with each other, but having a dog in the room seems to put people more at ease."

"Most workplaces of today are increasingly high-stress environments, and the results of this research indicated how companion dogs can influence prosocial behaviors."​

  — Stephen Colarelli, professor, CMU psychology department

Colarelli and his team of undergraduate and graduate research assistants spent two years collecting the data on how a standard poodle, Jack Russell terrier and mixed-breed dog could influence the way groups of four people interacted with each other. Two separate studies focused on problem-solving and decision-making tasks, and a third study examined a companion dog's effect on emotions expressed within individual groups.

All three studies found group members were noticeably more friendly and positive through making eye contact, leaning toward each other, and increasing senses of trust and cooperation.

"Most workplaces of today are increasingly high-stress environments, and the results of this research indicated how companion dogs can influence prosocial behaviors," Colarelli said.

The research was conducted with recruited subjects in an on-campus test laboratory. Colarelli said it will be interesting to pursue similar research in an actual workplace —one that uses dogs as well as other animals.

"Some people may say the groups were more at ease because of the novelty of having an animal of any kind present," he said. "I'd like to test this using other animals, but we chose the dog because dogs are intuitively more connected to humans.

"Dogs were the first animal to be domesticated, and a dog is the only animal that follows a human gaze," he said.

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