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ENSURING THE SUCCESS OF SERVICE DOG PARTNERSHIPS IN THE WORKPLACE


When considering establishing a partnership with a service dog, an important subject for many individuals is: how would a service dog function in my place of work? This is a serious question that employers are also asking themselves. Some of the most common concerns for a company can be: Would a service dog be a detrimental distraction to the work environment? Do I have any staff who are allergic to dogs? Do I have staff who have a fear of dogs? What are my legal responsibilities to my employee with a service dog?

However, in most situations, these concerns are resolvable and can be addressed through appropriate communication, preparation, and education. You are not alone in wondering what arrangements would provide the most benefit in these workplace contexts. Research has been conducted into a wide range of topics to better define important components for ensuring a successful workplace relationship with service dogs. These components have been broken up into six basic categories: dog preparation, monitoring, employee competence, legal knowledge, information and knowledge, and co-worker preparation. Familiarity with these components can help guide you in building a successful relationship with current or future employers and your service dog. (Several of these topics overlap between categories.)

DOG PREPARATION: 

  • The service dog is well trained and well behaved in terms of following vocal and hand commands.

  • The training provided to the dog is customized to the individual’s work environment.

  • Consistent maintenance is conducted regarding the dog’s behavior and compliance.

MONITORING:

  • Responsibility is taken for the dog’s behavior and boundaries with colleagues.

  • The service dog can maintain a relatively invisible presence (quiet/non-distracting).

  • Proper physical care is provided (vet check-ups, diet, and grooming and bathing to minimize shedding and odor). 

  • Responsibility is taken for balancing and maintaining workplace productivity.

  • Context can be provided as to why a service dog is beneficial.

EMPLOYEE COMPETENCE: 

  • Understand that having a service dog in the workplace must be mutually agreed on with an employer 

  • Be able to articulate why a service dog in the workplace is a reasonable accommodation

  • Can concretely outline the supportive tasks a dog will be participating in as well as the animal’s needs

  • Have full awareness of the consequences if proper control or maintenance of the dog is not met

  • Have a plan/skills to address behavior of colleagues/employers that is not good service dog etiquette (e.g., petting the dog)

LEGAL KNOWLEDGE:

  • Mutual understanding of legal parameters regarding the use of service dogs in the workplace

  • Understanding of practices that are established as discriminatory

  • Designated areas where a service dog cannot go

  • Workspace is provided near a door (for walks) yet out of high traffic areas.

  • Protocol to address dog misbehavior in a private space

  • Flexibility to address health problems that occur for the service dog (determining if sick leave can be applied)

INFORMATION AND EDUCATION:

  • Assessment of the workplace by a service dog trainer to identify problem areas and solutions

  • Willingness of the employer to consider a service dog and not deny access without proper education

  • Job analysis to determine which tasks need accommodation and where the dog will assist

  • Availability of educational workshops and materials

CO-WORKER PREPARATION:

  • An employer’s willingness to participate in educating coworkers and fielding questions/concerns before the service dog enters the workplace

  • Orientation for personnel to address:

  • The name of the dog, its breed, and tasks the dog will perform

  • The roles and responsibilities the handler has in care of the service dog

  • Service dog etiquette (e.g., that the service dog is not there as a pet, one should speak to the person, not the dog, and the dog should not be petted or fed without the individual’s permission.

  • Establishing transparent boundaries for the service dog (handler, coworkers, customers)

  • If a coworker has a fear of dogs, a procedure to help them avoid the dog is established.

  • If allergies exist, air purifiers are provided, and the work area is cleaned regularly to minimize problems.

  • The colleagues collaborate in supporting the service dog in a manner that respects the team members’ autonomy and privacy.

  • The understanding that a tone set by the supervisor that clearly values what a service dog has to offer will guide the rest of the workforce’s approach as well.

These six categories were originally created from a list of sixty-eight elements collected by researchers gathering information from individuals with direct experience with service dogs in the workforce. Readers should be aware though that these categories were not designed to be an absolute guide list, but a foundation to be further expanded on when developing workplace interventions. Ultimately, the combination of both common sense and research-based evidence can provide service dog handlers with a strong foundation for self-advocacy when navigating workplace discussions and establishing successful partnerships.

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References:

  1. Glenn, M., & Thorne, K. (2015). Does the purpose for using a service dog make a difference in the perceptions of what it takes to create successful outcomes in the workplace? Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, 46(2), 13-19. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/does-purpose-using-service-dog-make-difference/docview/1689359217/se-2?accountid=143111  

  2. Margaret K. Glenn, "An Exploratory Study of the Elements of Successful Service Dog Partnerships in the Workplace", International Scholarly Research Notices, vol. 2013, Article ID 278025, 10 pages, 2013. https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/278025  

  3. Glenn, M. K., Foreman, A. M., Wirth, O., Shahan, K. M., Meade, B. J., & Thorne, K. L. (2017). Legislation and other legal issues relevant in choosing to partner with a service dog in the workplace. Journal of Rehabilitation, 83(2), 17-26. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/legislation-other-legal-issues-relevant-choosing/docview/1919409085/se-2?accountid=143111

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