Jo Ann Woodsum
The Law Offices of
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Words of Wisdom from the Leasing Diva

5 Key Elements of a Successful Tenant Dog Policy

Once a company reaches a certain size, it is important to formalize the company’s dog policy.  Moreover, this may have become a legal imperative if the company has or is contemplating entering into a commercial real estate lease.  Most commercial landlords will insist that office tenants who are permitted to have dogs implement a formal dog policy.  Some landlords will even insist on reviewing the policy and requiring that a copy of the policy be attached to the lease as an exhibit.

These are the 5 key Elements of a Successful Tenant Dog Policy

1. Number of Dogs

This may be set by the terms of the lease.  As far as I know there is no consistent metric for determining the appropriate number of dogs.  I have seen variants from a specific number (e.g., no more than 10 – regardless of the size of the leased premises) to a number of dogs per square foot concept (e.g., 1 dog per 1,000 square feet of the premises).  In all events, tenants should provide a carve-out for service animals, i.e., service animals like seeing-eye dogs should not be included in the number of permitted dogs in the leased premises.

2. Criteria for Allowing an Employee to Bring a Dog to the Office

It is important that only healthy, well-behaved dogs be allowed in the office for obvious reasons.  Clearly, each employee must provide a certificate of vaccinations from their dog’s veterinarian.  You also want to make sure that Bordatella (kennel cough) is updated every 6 months (rather than the typical 12 months), this is recommended when dogs are in doggie day care or in close proximity to lots of other dogs.  If you live in a climate where there are fleas/ticks, each employee must agree that their dog is treated for both on a regular basis.  As with children, if a dog is sick or hurt, better that the dog stay home until recovered/healed.  

Moreover, it is important that the dog owner be sure that he/she is able to supervise their dog while at work.  If you are going to have a lot of meetings where your dog will not be welcome, it is not your co-worker’s job to watch your job (unless they really enjoy it and volunteer).  I know of one office where a dog owner routinely leaves for meetings and his dog is left alone in his office.  The dog howls while he is gone from the office.  A robust dog policy would rescind this employee’s right to bring his dog to work on days that he is unable to supervise his dog.

3. Temperament

For obvious reasons, it is crucial that dogs at work be well-trained.  This means no puppies!  Dogs should respond to basic commands.  In addition, dogs should not be fearful or aggressive (or both!) with either other people or other dogs.  I have two rescue dogs, Sophie and Oscar.  Sophie loves people – hates other dogs (other than the ones living in our house).  Oscar is fine with other dogs but is anxious around other people especially if those folks are anxious around dogs.  Clearly, a basic criterian for bringing a dog to work is that the dog like people!

Neither Sophie nor Oscar would be good candidates for going to an office with multiple stranger dogs.  It is imperative that employees carefully evaluate their dogs and their dogs’ tolerance for being in a very stimulating situation like a high tech office environment.  Like Sophie and Oscar, going to the office may not be the best choice for some dogs.

In trying to ensure that only well-behaved dogs be allowed in the premises, I have seen one landlord try to use a metric of weight – so no dogs allowed over 30 pounds.  However, as anyone who is a fan of small dogs can tell you – this is a ridiculous metric.  There are some pretty viscous Chihuahuas and Boston Terriers out there.  On the other hand, fans of large breed dogs – St. Bernard, Burmese Mountain, Great Dane – can tell you that these breeds tend to be super sociable and tend to not be aggressive.  

Then the bully breeds, e.g., pit bulls, tend to get an incredibly bad rap.  Many pit bulls are total couch potatoes and love bugs and do fine in an office setting.  

So some sort of temperament testing is the ideal method for determining suitability for being in the office.  If your office facilities team does not know how to go about temperament testing, your local humane society should be able to give you a referral.  A useful overview of these issues can be found in chapter 5 (“Establishing Guidelines”) in the Humane Society’s wonderful handbook, Dogs at Work: A Practical Guide to Creating Dog-Friendly Workplaces.

4. Internal Protocols for Policing

Once an employee has provided evidence of vaccinations and passed the temperament testing, the tenant needs to create a system for keeping this data available.  Typically, the dog policy should require that a photo of the employee and the dog be included in the file.  Some tenants issue a special dog tag which the dog wears on its collar that verifies its right to be in the leased premises.  

Depending on the volume of dogs, the tenant will need to specifically task an employee with collecting all of the data on each dog, periodically reviewing the files to make sure the dog’s vaccines are up to date and ensuring that the temperament testing has been conducted.  Typically, there are more than double the number of “registered” dogs than are permitted in the leased premises at any one type according to the terms of the lease, thus the tenant will need to develop some system – whether lottery or other methods – to determine who gets to bring their dog to work on any given day.  The tenant will also have to have a method of turning away any excess dogs on days when too many dogs are in the leased premises which could result in a tenant default under its lease.  According to its website, Trakstar has created a calendar in Google Docs so that employees can log in the number of dogs on any given day.  The employee will also need to be able to interface with the landlord’s representative to reassure the landlord that tenant is appropriately enforcing its dog policy.

5. Good Care

The dog policy will also need to outline the responsibilities of each employee who brings his or her dog to work.  First, each dog owner must be responsible for providing frequent bathroom breaks and exercise for his or her dog.  Hopefully, during the lease negotiation process, tenant has examined the path of travel for dogs and their owners to enter and leave the premises.  And has identified ‘evacuation’ stations near the leased premises.  Second, each dog owner must be responsible for cleaning up any “accidents” that may occur in the work place.  Finally, each dog owner should be sensitive to the fact that not everyone is a dog lover.  So if a co-worker does not like dogs or is afraid, the dog owner should be sensitive and mind his or her dog appropriately.  Companies may also wish to consider implementing “dog-free” zones within the leased premises so those with allergies or fears can have a break.

Bonus – Some companies establish a dog committee, the Rufferree committee, which arbitrates any disputes among employees and dogs and helps to monitor the overall effectiveness of the dog policy.

Pets at WorkJo Ann Woodsum