The Ultimate Guide to Having a Dog When You Work Full-Time

Caroline Beaton

“I think it could be a good move,” said my sister, a busy lawyer, trying to convince me of why she wanted a dog. She’s prepared to become one of the growing number of Americans who live alone and have pets.

I was the right person to talk to: I got a dog 9 months, ago and have been reckoning with my decision ever since. Dogs are a constant source of joy and stress, in equal doses. Having a time-consuming job can make dog parenting difficult and, for some, cost-prohibitive. But if you’re gung-ho on getting a dog despite your demanding job, below are five tips for owning a dog while dealing with a full-time job:

1) Take your pup to the office.

According to a blog by the adoption website Petfinder (where I found my dog!), 19 percent of owners take their dog to work at least once a month during the year. And this number is growing as workplaces—like Ticketmaster, REI, Praytell Agency, Facebook, Salesforce, Google, Adobe and 3M—become more pet friendly.  

Research summarized in an infographic by Petco suggests that bringing a dog to the workplace can improve employee health. For example, the presence of friendly animals can reduce heart rate and blood pressure, while petting animals lowers cholesterol. Being around pets can also reduce your stress hormones and may even boost your immune function. In a study of pet-friendly retail businesses, employees reported lower stress levels when their dogs were around. Dogs can also catalyze healthy human interactions at work. A series of workplace experiments found that employees were more likely to trust each other when dogs were around.

A kununu review—out of more than 2000 kununu reviews that specifically reference  dogs—explained that Waterworks Holdings’ dog friendly workplace “brought a softness to everyone around the dog.”

An alternative, of course, is to work from home. One particularly pleased Whirlpool Corporation employee described his telecommuting work in a kununu review: “I love that I can run my diffuser and play Bach or Bon Jovi or whatever I want to listen to. My dogs are with me and I am Zen.”

2) Entertain your dog while you’re away.

If you do have to leave your dog at home during the workday, keep it happy. “The worst mental punishment a dog can be given is to be kept alone in a tightly confined space where nothing varies,” wrote biologist Desmond Morris in his book Dogwatching. Give your dog a job—even if it’s a fake one, like solving a toy puzzle. Here’s a game that just went on my own dog’s Christmas list: CleverPet, the self-proclaimed “first game console for dogs.” This chew-proof digital game pad comes with an app, so you can give your dog different games while you’re at work and watch their progress as they solve increasingly complex puzzles. CleverPet’s motto is “Stop worrying every time you say goodbye.”

Another option to consider, if you have the resources and the space, is to get your dog an animal companion. A consistent playdate is far preferable to an ever-changing pack. According to Petfinder, 44 percent of pet parents “acquired an animal simply to keep another animal company.” If that’s not possible, see if you can get with a neighbor to leave your pets together while you’re both at work. Judith Speyer did exactly this for her shih tzu. She told Petfinder, “When I tell Chloe [her dog] that we’re going down to see Chelsea [the neighbor’s dog], she gets all excited. She understands that this is part of her life in the same way that I look forward to seeing a friend. She has an enriched social life, and this has made her a much happier, more secure dog.”

3) Prevent separation anxiety.

According to a blog on the dog walking app Wag, certain breeds are more prone to separation anxiety than others. For example, labs, cocker spaniels, border collies, toy poodles and german shorthair pointers seem to suffer more than other breeds. Take this into consideration when you’re deciding what dog to get.

You’ll know your dog is suffering from separation anxiety if it’s peeing or pooping in your house even after it’s been potty trained, running away, mutilating itself (or obsessively licking), barking incessantly, or tearing up furniture and clothes. You can also get a puppy camera like Petcube to watch your dog for strange behavior and soothe it with your voice.  

But the best way to cope with your dog’s separation anxiety is to prevent it from ever starting. Make sure your dog gets enough exercise before you leave, Wag advises. Many owners report that their dogs just sleep while they’re gone, which is the best case scenario—but they’re not going to sleep if you don’t tire them out first. Rover suggests kicking around a soccer ball, going for a swim with them, taking a training walk, playing tug or fetch, going on a brisk walk or jog, or taking them to a dog park to run around with other dogs. When you do go to work, give them a special treat right before you head out the door, so they associate you leaving with yummy food.  

4) Get a dog walker.

Adult dogs can be left alone for up to eight hours without an accident in the house, according to Rover, but that doesn’t mean they should be.

“If you work full-time or are away from the puppy for hours, consider using a dog walker to help exercise your pup and satisfy their need for a midday potty break,” the pet health insurance provider Healthy Paws suggests in a blog. Rover and Wag are two popular and easy dog walking apps.

You could also become your own dog walker: PetHelpful suggests taking a long lunch to go home and play with your pooch.

5) Let go of your guilt.

According to a 2000 study, 75 percent of pet owners feel guilty about leaving their pets at home while they work. They’re also ashamed at leaving their furry friends by themselves: There’s a sentiment on dog forums that “leaving a dog alone for more than a couple of hours would amount to animal cruelty.”

But “Don’t feel bad about going to work,” advises a blog on Rover. “After all, your job is what allows you to buy dog food! Dogs are perfectly fine staying home alone for awhile.” Just be sure to arrange adequate entertainment, a comfortable environment, and a dog walker or daycare if you can’t be there.  

My sister has preemptively dedicated her life to the dog she’s getting, but she acknowledges that she’s not going to be a perfect owner 100 percent of the time. “I’m just going to try my best every day, and try to fail [my dog] as little as possible,” she told me. With lots of love, energy and the right strategy, you can strike a work-dog balance.


Caroline Beaton (@cs_beaton) is kununu’s millennial career expert. She’s an award-winning writer and entrepreneur who helps ambitious millennials change their habits and behaviors to lead more fulfilling lives. Her writing has been has been featured in Forbes, Psychology Today, Business Insider and many others.