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Refining the Office Dog Policy
SparkFun Electronics' journey to a canine culture.

I think it's every dog lovers dream to bring their pup to work. But as much as it'd be fun to have Nemo or Scuttle at the office, I realize that welcoming dogs at work comes with a lot of challenges.

So it was interesting to read the evolution of SparkFun Electronic's dog policy, which they recently shared on their blog. Employees started bringing dogs to the Boulder, Colorado office about six years ago when the company was much smaller, with no official policy. As SparkFun grew, bringing dogs became a documented perk and they had up to 30 dogs coming in each day. Managing the four legged members of the office became difficult.

At first SparkFun wanted to keep the policy casual, letting each department set and enforce their own guidelines, but fights broke out between pups, dogs bit delivery people, and poop was left unscooped. People became resentful because problems escalated and no one was held accountable in a consistent manner.

The dog policy became a hot topic of debate at the monthly directors meetings, but SparkFun  stayed remarkably committed to keeping their perk. They eventually came up with the “Dog Tribunal,” otherwise known as the idea that saved our dog privileges or the SparkFun equivalent of jury duty.

Employees are chosen at random to serve on the Dog Tribunal, which meets monthly to review dog complaints, issue warnings and punishments, and amend the Dog Policy on the company wiki as needed.

The Dog Tribunal isn't just about punishing offenders, but finding ways to make the canine culture work. For instance, they determined that the root of the poop problem was that people would forget bags needed to clean up. So poop bag dispensers were installed around the grounds, along with playful propaganda style signs. SparkFun also has a mass cleanup day every six months or so. These small changes  solved an issue once thought impossible to crack.

Now the dog problems have largely dissipated and dogs are firmly ingrained in the SparkFun culture. Dogs even factored into how their new office building was designed. The pups were mentioned as a joke in engineering meetings, but it turned out to be critical that they be added to the calculations because dogs can generate more heat than humans. Perhaps not important when you have one or two dogs, but at SparkFun, the 45 pups make up about a third of the workforce.

SparkFun has found a way to make their dog culture work by making their policy open and fair. Now their Dog Policy is posted online so that other companies can learn from what they figured out about office pups. It's open source so anyone can adapt it for their own use. They've even made their quirky poop bag dispenser sign available for download.

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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