my company says we’re dog-friendly — but we’re not

A reader writes:

My office just published an updated handbook, and one of the major changes was the addition of a pet policy.

Background: A coworker had been bringing her extremely well-behaved and well-trained dog into the office several days a week for about a year, and the dog (who I’ll call Mr. Goodboy) had become something of a company mascot and was even featured on our Christmas card. A couple of coworkers also brought in their dogs for one-off situations. This summer, I brought in my dog four or five times (always on Fridays when the office is nearly deserted), and others talked about bringing in dogs in the future. Dogs were always brought in with the approval of the owner’s manager, and no one on staff seemed to mind, but it makes sense that a company-wide policy would need to be put into place around this.

At an all-staff meeting announcing the new handbook, the HR team pointed out the pet policy and said they’d based it on other dog-friendly workplace policies. The text of the policy begins with a sentence about how being a dog-friendly workplace is in the spirit of our company mission and values (we’re a small nonprofit with a mission that touches on nature and environmentalism). Then it lists the conditions under which a dog may be brought to the office, one of which is, “Dogs should be a trained therapy or service animal.”

This policy has the practical effect of excluding all dogs except for Mr. Goodboy, who is a certified therapy dog. I considered the possibility that it was intentional, to restrict the other dogs that have started to trickle in, but we have a pretty transparent management team, so I think if they wanted to exclude other dogs, they would not use the language about being a dog-friendly workplace.

I’ve talked to several people who are unhappy with the pet policy. My manager had been talking about getting a dog, but he told me he won’t if he can’t bring it into the office. Others who have never brought their pets in are disappointed that they’ll never get the chance.

I definitely don’t want to be one of those people who prioritizes having their dog in the office over the comfort of the humans who also work there. I’m mindful of the fact that someone could have complained about my dog, or possibly even Mr. Goodboy, and that this policy might be the result of that. I’m just struck by the contrast between “we are a dog-friendly workplace” and this restriction, to the point where it feels like it must be some kind of mistake. I’ve looked up examples of pet-friendly workplace policies, and none of them specifies that only service or therapy animals are allowed.

Would it be reasonable for me to push back on this using language along the lines of, “I was confused by the new pet policy, because while we’re describing ourselves as a dog-friendly workplace, we’re using restrictions that actually exclude almost all dogs. I was wondering how we arrived at that decision and whether we could revisit it”?

The policy is definitely oddly worded! It’s fine for them to allow only service dogs or therapy dogs, but  “we allow dogs for medical purposes only” is not what people mean when they say “dog-friendly.”

Your employer is essentially saying they’ll do what’s required by law (service dogs) and then a little bit more (since most states don’t require them to allow therapy dogs). That’s their prerogative, but it’s strange that they said they based it on other dog-friendly policies.

It’s worth checking to make sure this is really their intent. You could say, “The new policy says we’re dog-friendly but also says dogs are only allowed for medical reasons. Was that the intent?” If they say yes, then you could say, “Just to make sure, that will exclude all dogs except Jane’s. So this is intended to be a big change from what we’ve been doing, right?” Who knows, it’s possible someone just messed this up — copied language that wasn’t meant to be included or misunderstood a higher-up’s directive.

You could also say, “Of course I understand the office can set this policy, but since it was framed as being based on other dog-friendly policies, I wanted to point out that this isn’t in line with other workplaces that call themselves dog-friendly! It just says we’ll allow what’s required by law, plus therapy dogs. Most dog-friendly offices allow dogs within certain restrictions around behavior, noise, and cleanliness. If the intent is to stay dog-friendly, is it possible to revisit this?”

In having this conversation, though, you might find out that banning most dogs is in fact their intent. If so, I don’t know why they dressed it up as “dog-friendly”! But there are a lot of good reasons for wanting to pull back on dogs in the office — like noise, distraction, allergies, and people who are afraid of dogs. If your office is getting bigger, those last two might be looming larger. And they might want to avoid a situation like this. (Quick summary: new hire in dog-friendly office is allergic to dogs, dogs are banned, coworkers freak out, chaos ensures, allergic person is pushed out, lawyers are involved.)

They also might be concerned about things like your manager saying he’s thinking about getting a dog, but only if he can bring her to work. That’s setting up a real problem down the road if dogs are allowed, he gets a dog, and then someone is hired with allergies and dogs can’t come to work anymore. Now they’ve got someone who adopted a dog specifically and only because the office allowed them — and he’s not going to be happy about the situation, and now they’ve got a morale problem or a manager who’s job-searching or both.

So I’m sympathetic to them if their intent really is to drastically narrow the dog policy. But they should be up-front about it if that’s what they want.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 223 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Note: There are questions in the comments about whether the company means “therapy dog” or “emotional support dog,” which are two different things. The letter-writer has clarified below that Mr. Goodboy’s human describes him as a therapy dog, but it’s not clear which the office intends. I think we’ll have to accept it’s an open question and proceed from there; I’m asking that we not pile up dozens of comments asking, since we don’t know.

    1. OP*

      Thank you, Alison! Since so much of what I’ve seen in comments so far has been about trying to figure out what his certification or training level is, I’d just like to emphasize that I get that Mr. Goodboy has some type of special status, and my question isn’t “why is he allowed and my dog isn’t” (there could be many reasonable answers to that), but rather “why is my office describing a policy that excludes almost all dogs as ‘dog-friendly’?”

      1. LMNOP*

        I read you question as having nothing to do with dogs really, and all to do with “why is my company trying to spin a loss of privilege in a positive light?”

        This year, my company announced that it was “reinforcing its commitment to lifelong learning” by “modernizing the college reimbursement program” but what it actually did was put huge, crippling caveats and a payback clause on it – effective immediately, with people already enrolled in classes not grandfathered in.

        There was, obviously, enormous pushback on the policy change itself. But surprisingly, there was also an equal amount of pushback on the way it was sold by the company. People who didn’t care at all about the policy (didn’t want the benefit) were standing up in Town Hall meetings demanding to understand why anyone thought it was a good idea to market this as an improvement, instead of just being honest with us about why the changes were necessary. One notable question with the most upvotes on the online Q&A was “how stupid do you think your employees are??”

        So, I think you’re right to feel like this was a squicky thing for your company to do, if that’s really what happened. And I can tell you from experience that other people don’t take kindly to this kind of spin.
        I would just play dumb and inquire, “I’m sorry if I’m not understanding but it sounds to me like you are actually eliminating an unofficial perk? Am I getting that right?” and then let their answer inform your next steps.

        1. tangerineRose*

          “People who didn’t care at all about the policy (didn’t want the benefit) were standing up in Town Hall meetings demanding to understand why anyone thought it was a good idea to market this as an improvement, instead of just being honest with us about why the changes were necessary.” Yeah!

        2. CM*


          I read a book last year about political rhetoric that said something about how it’s insulting when someone tells you an obvious lie, because it communicates that they don’t think you’re powerful enough to hold them accountable for what they say. It’s not so much that they think you’re stupid and you’ll believe them — it’s more like a power move to demonstrate that they can say whatever they want with impunity.

          The HR people could by lying on purpose, or it could be that whoever decided to ban the dogs hates having dogs there SO MUCH that they believe even allowing one is extremely dog-friendly.

          Either way, I think it’s fine to point out to them that the words “dog-friendly” mean something different than what’s described in the policy and see what they say.

        3. Cathie Fonz*

          This kind of corporate behaviour invariably indicates, first, that the policy is awful and, second, that management is well-aware of its awfulness.
          It shows a profound disrespect for the employees, because management is demonstrating that they don’t deserve to be told the truth.
          So basically, a disaster all around.

    2. BelleMorte*

      I wanted to mention that while service dogs who are trained to task for specific individuals are guaranteed access under the ADA, therapy dogs who are trained and meant to assist others not their handler are entirely dependent on permission by the building owner. Examples of this could be a therapy dog that visits patients in hospitals, or nursing homes, or attends to individuals in traumatic situations. The building is not required to permit therapy dogs just because they are certified as therapy dogs.

      Emotional support animals (who are untrained and do not task) have zero access rights outside of housing or airports (different law).

      1. SD Handler*

        Employment is covered by Title I of the ADA. It is very different and not covered under the USDoJ regulations implementing Titles II and III which is what everyone thinks of. The 2 questions, dogs and mini horses only, must be trained to perform a task, etc all of that is Titles II and III and does not apply to employment.

        Under the US Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission regulations implementing Title I of the ADA there is no definition or reference to service animals or ESAs. The EEOC covers reasonable accommodations arrived at through an interactive process. That could include allowing either a service animal or an ESA. The EEOC sued a company recently for not allowing an employee to have an ESA.

      2. Snuck*

        And for people in Australia wondering what the law is… it’s slightly different to American. (We have a medical alert Assistance Dog for my son.)

        Disability Discrimination Act (Federal Law, Australia) covers the use of a dog that is trained to alleviate a disability AND in reasonable and acceptable standards of behaviour in public (so assume this means the dog has a shaped and traiend behaviour that alleviates your disability, and the dog is clean, hygienic, non reactive)… and you must be legally recognised as disabled. An Assistance Dog is legally entitled to go almost anywhere, including A Class reserves etc, but not sterile or quarantine environments, and zoos can block them from certain exhibits etc (but not the entire zoo). Jack (my son’s dog) regularly goes to Rottnest Island, into conservation bush land etc (on a lead, he is absolutely fine with small animals and fully trained, but… I am NOT going to tempt instinct!) and regularly heads into hospital with my son. To take your AD on public transport you generally need proof – some states have a qualification and registration system (QLD, WA, SA) and some have a more ‘if a trainer says so’ sort of arrangement. VIC is more dog friendly than other states re dogs on public transport. Generally you need proof (whether that be a registration card, or your training logs+vet paperwork+council registration info) to ride public transport without grief. (Easier to get the state based registration system, than fight with bus drivers about your training logs!). Uber and Taxi drivers are very difficult and often just cancel jobs rather than take you (and get thumped by your complaints… but it doesn’t help in the moment…)

        Therapy dogs have the same rights as pets… and can only go into non-pet areas if they are invited in. Therapy dogs are generally nicely trained pets used to support many people, and the only real distinction is someone has set up an organisation that offers insurance to the dog in that space, and thus they have confirmed the dog is well enough behaved. Legally it has no distinction from a pet. There is no such thing as an ‘emotional support animal’ with any legal definition in Australia, they are just a pet.

        1. Snuck*

          Oh… and flights. VERY different in Australia to America.

          There is no getting on a flight with a dog (galah, pig, peacock, chicken, whatever!)…. Unless you have cleared it beforehand, and if you ware wanting to fly Qantas, you need the GHAD QLD qualification for your AD. Virgin will accept most state qualifications, and very slowly and begrudgingly some non-formal qualified dogs if they are prepared to paperwork that’s knee deep. CASA Legislation covers airspace and after a range of Human Rights complaints the airlines are forced to take ADs but the onus on proving the dog is legit and safe is absolutely on the handler (rightly so!) and if it’s not abundantly clear, the airlines won’t admit the dog into the cabin…

          If you don’t have ALL the paperwork, you can fly your dog as a pet, in the cargo hold in a crate, and just book it in like a pet dog. Costly, delays at both ends, and could ruin your dogs training… ugh.

        2. Snuck*

          And I forgot food prep areas… no ADs in food prep areas… so they can’t be in the kitchens… but they can be in the seating areas, or more than 1m away from a buffet.

  2. BadWolf*

    I wonder if someone intended to something like, “Dogs should be trained to behave similar to a service animal” ? As in, office dogs should be very well trained (like Mr. Goodboy)? So if dogs are poorly trained, they can point to this in the manual to deny the dog? But it got distilled into “must be a” instead of “trained similar to” ?

    Or there were people for and against a dog policy and somehow compromised on this (even though it is contradictory instead of a compromise).

    1. Dust Bunny*

      This was what I was wondering: If they’re trying to make sure the dogs who are brought are well-behaved and manageable, and just wording it very badly.

      1. valentine*

        The policy makes sense if Mr. Goodboy’s human got HR’s permission, but no one else did, and/or they never intended to allow non-working dogs.

    2. remizidae*

      That sounds impossible to enforce. Every dog owner thinks their dog is well trained–I’ve had dogs jump all over me and growl at me, even as the owner tells me not to worry.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It actually can be enforced! I’m not a fan of dog-friendly policies unless it’s a workplace large enough to have enough dog-free spaces for people, but early in my career I worked for a dog-friendly place and they were stringent about the rules — if your dog peed on the carpet, jumped up on people, was aggressive, etc., you got one warning and if it happened again, the dog couldn’t come back. It worked well. The office just needs to be committed to enforcing it.

        1. remizidae*

          I see how it could work, but you’d have to have a culture such that people who witness bad dog behavior are willing to speak up and management is willing to prevent any retaliation against those people.

          1. Barefoot Libraian*

            Agreed. There are definitely ways to enforce allowing only well-behaved dogs. Honestly a lot of people will self-enforce (though there are exceptions, of course). My employer has a non-stated, department-specific dog friendly culture and we all self-regulate. I was bringing my corgi puppy every day for a while, for example, but around seven months she got barky (as corgis sometimes do) and I willingly stopped bringing her in except on rare, quiet days when I don’t have meetings (my office is pretty remote). I’m not the only person who’s done that. I would not be offended by a policy that stated a two strike rule on noise or aggression or general bad behavior. It’s just common sense.

            1. remizidae*

              Good for you! I’m sure there are people like you who would be reasonable about it, but I’m not sure you can trust all dog others to be. See the previous post about the allergic LW who was ostracized by her coworkers after she complained about the dogs.

          2. NerdyKris*

            That applies to any workplace rule, really. There’s no reason to use that as an excuse not to put policies in place. Like any policy, you need management on board with enforcing it.

            1. TardyTardis*

              But if you have a manager with a dog, and he/she is in charge of enforcing the rules, I can see problems if the manager’s dog *isn’t* a good boy.

      2. ArchivesGremlin*

        They could also make it so dogs have to pass the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen Test. Granted there are dogs that have “passed” it that shouldn’t have but the dogs that do pass are generally better behaved than others because of the natures of the tasks they must do.

        1. Alanna*

          This! It’s a great test. And if they REALLY want to be dog-friendly, sponsor the cost of the test! Make a deal with a local CGC trainer/training center! Do the work to help your employees and put your money where your mouth is. It’s the same as saying you’re family-friendly. You have to do the things that actually MAKE you “friendly.” You can’t just say it.

        2. STX*

          I wonder if this is their intent in the first place, they just worded it poorly. Getting a therapy dog certification only requires a few extra tested skills beyond CGC, mostly involving comfort around medical equipment (which wouldn’t apply to an office anyway).

      3. Quill*

        I wouldn’t push back against the growling specifically – that’s a dog telling you where their boundaries are. If their boundaries are “no one is allowed to enter my person’s cube” then they’re not suitable for a workplace environment, but if their boundary is “do not touch me” that’s on the humans around them.

        That said the jumping is a legit issue.

        1. Stepinwhite*

          Not in the workplace. Yes, a dog growling is a good communication tool for the dog and preferable to the dogs that bite without sufficient warning, but if your dog has issues with humans invading his or her space, don’t bring him to your workplace. Work Comp won’t care that your dog gave Jane PLENTY of warning and Jane should’ve known to back off.

        2. HarvestKaleSlaw*

          I do not find this reasonable. A dog who is growling at someone is showing aggression. That is not okay.

          If you have a dog that cannot deal with being touched, the responsibility falls on you to protect people from your dog. That means not bringing that dog to work and never the dog be unsupervised near other people.

          Many people have not grown up with dogs and do not speak dog. That is not a moral failing on their part, and they do not deserve to be bitten or menaced as punishment.

          1. atalanta0jess*

            Right, the owner needs to be responsible for enforcing those boundaries FOR the dog. If it gets to the point where the dog has to enforce, it’s gone too far!

          2. Eukomos*

            Growling is due to fear more often than aggression. It’s not a threat, it’s a warning. Now, a dog that’s OK in the office is a dog that is OK with people being near it and even touching it, and won’t growl unless someone does something super inappropriate like pull its tail or something, but every dog has its limit and you do want the dog to growl before the limit is reached. And the owner should be there telling the tail-puller to knock it the hell off at the same time as the dog’s objecting.

      4. lauren*

        I do NOT understand how someone can think a growling dog (or a jumping one) is a well-trained dog. One of my pups is NOT well-behaved, and as a consequence we do not go on walks during peak neighborhood walking time. And that’s around my house; I would never bring him to work with me.

      5. Massmatt*

        I have been BITTEN by dogs and their owners described them as well behaved afterwards. People often have a blind spot for their pets as they de their kids.

        1. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

          Slightly off-topic: I used to have a job that involved visiting dogs who had been involved in bites to make sure there was no rabies involved (there never was. There hadn’t been a case of canine rabies in the area in decades). But the number of people with this job who would get bit in situations of “oh my dog doesn’t bite, see, he’s so friendly!” *chomp*…

          I only got “bit” once by a tiny cockerpoo whose teeth couldn’t get through my jeans. The owner had him on a leash, but wasn’t doing anything to restrain him while he gnawed away at my ankle

    3. Snuck*

      There are a range of external tests a dog and handler could take, if you can verify the quality of the testing agency… Canine Good Citizen, or a Public Access Test. These are commonly used to confirm a Service Dog’s capacity to work in public, and are generally available. They test for reactive behaviours, public hygiene behaviours and so on… It would cover the business’ need to only allow dogs that are reasonably well behaved… with an external party making the choice about whether a dog is suitable. The only issue might lie in which PAT test from where is agreed – generally there’s always someone willing to sign off and doesn’t care, so you’d want to narrow down some quality assessors who actually do their job.

      1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

        Um, the CGC does not really test for reactive behaviors. My dog nearly passed it (she passed everything most people would think of with the CGC; failed by whining when I left the room) and she’s fairly leash-reactive. It’s pretty easy to train behaviors in a controlled setting without a lot of external stimuli. Different when you’re out in the real world.

          1. Snuck*

            And having just looked it up… the CGC covers people, dog and vehicle reactivity… not all things by any shot of the imagination (ADs also need to ignore wheelchairs, people in sombreros, fireworks, cars backfiring, toddlers screaming, women of indeterminate age determined to pat them etc…)… but… a good start. Good enough possibly for a workplace.

  3. CatCat*

    It also seems odd since Mr. Goodboy isn’t there, as far as I can tell, to provide any therapeutic services even if he is trained to do so.

    1. fposte*

      Yeah, that’s weird, and I can see why it made the OP wonder if this was really a policy that Mr. Goodboy can come in but not other dogs. Alternatively, though, it might just be somebody who thought that it was being a therapy dog that made Mr. Goodboy so well behaved and wasn’t familiar with things like the Canine Good Citizen or other obedience standards.

    2. skarlatha*

      Or it could be that Mr. Goodboy is a service animal, but Jane hasn’t said so to her co-workers because she doesn’t want to disclose her disability. I had a student in one of my classes whose service dog never did anything that appeared service-y–he just looked and acted like a really well-trained dog. He was there in case she had a flare-up of her condition, in which case he’d spring into action–but since it never flared up during class, no one ever knew that what he did unless she specifically gave them a heads-up about why he was there. I don’t know if that’s what’s going on here with Jane, but it’s possible.

      1. Snuck*

        My son’s Assistance Dog is a medical alert dog…. he’s never going to spring into action… unless he is cued to.

        My son is anaphylactic on contact to egg… so Jack discreetly inspects playgrounds, benches and tables WHEN CUED and alerts to the presence of egg for me to clean areas… but we don’t get him to background alert because we’d spend all day saying “nah” to him… egg is EVERYWHERE.

        He also tracks my son when he does a runner… again… a rare to see one… but more visible… a tiny brown poodle tracking a tall 8yr old is pretty funny and cute, but a lifesaver for sure.

        1. Flash Bristow*

          Wow. I’m a total dog lover and I’ve trained my own goldendoodle to assist me in many ways (I have various medical conditions) but I had no idea they could alert for egg etc. That makes sense since they can alert for drugs, gunpowder, whatever – but I just hadn’t even considered it or its use. Well done ;ack!

        2. Media Monkey*

          wow. jack sounds like a very good boy! that’s amazing – i had no idea dogs could do that.

    3. BadWolf*

      Unsure of the designation, but it could be a certification to go into places (nursing home, school, etc) and be a visiting therapy dog. Not a personal therapy dog.

      1. Animal loves*

        Without diminishing the possibility that Mr. Goodboy is indeed a personal therapy dog whose service is not immediately visible (e.g. seizure detection): I had a friend who had this^ kind of dog and would bring it everywhere no matter what his business was. I always felt like he was abusing this status on a low level, but at least he wasn’t working in an environment where the (very, very good) puppy was an issue.

        I can easily see how folks rationalize it, if that is the case!

        1. Quill*

          The seizure dog may very well have been “on call” 24/7 for your friend, though – it’s not unreasonable to assume that he was better off relying on the dog full time than on alternate accomodations that were only temporarily available or constantly saying “well, it’s UNLIKELY I’ll have a seizure in the next 3o minutes in Panera.”

          1. Emi.*

            I think Animal loves is saying the friend had the kind of dog BadWolf is talking about — i.e. he has a dog whose job it is to visit children in the hospital, say, but he uses its “therapy dog” status to bring it around lots of places besides children’s hospitals with *him*.

            1. Quill*

              Ah, I may have read that in reverse. Taking the dog around where it’s not otherwise allowed when it’s off duty is a little different.

        2. Close Bracket*

          What you describe is a service animal, not a therapy dog. It’s possible to be both, for sure, but a “personal therapy dog” doesn’t exist. If it provides a service to the handler, it’s a service animal. If it provides emotional support to the handler, it’s an ESA.

        3. Dahlia*

          A dog that detects seizures would not be a therapy dog. It would be a service dog, as it performs a task.

    4. Anon Librarian*

      A major organization (ASCPA?) offers a Therapy Dog certification, and this is often a requirement for dogs who routinely visit nursing homes, hospitals, etc to provide companionship.

      I looked into it for my dog. It’s like the Canine Good Citizen certification. They have to be well trained in all the basics and able to demonstrate that they get along well with all people and other animals regardless of the situation. Obviously, not all dogs can pass because some are not great with other animals.

      It seems reasonable for an office to require something like that – the dogs have to be certified as well trained and sociable. But, ideally, they should specify which exact certification they’re looking for and how to obtain it.

      And that would be a great way for OP to bring it up. Ask which exact certifications they’re referring to and, since the stated intention is to be dog-friendly, if the certifications are easy to obtain.

  4. The Cosmic Avenger*

    My first thought was that they were trying to make a list of qualifying criteria, one of which is that the dog is a service or therapy dog (maybe to make it clear that those don’t require approval?), but then as Alison said, it got borked in the copy-and-paste phase and there was no independent proofreader. (Even if someone who worked on it tried to proofread it, they might be reading it with the understanding of what was intended, not with fresh eyes.)

    I think SOMEONE needs to ask!

    1. Kiki*

      Yes! My first thought was that they meant to convey trained therapy and service animals are allowed always and that other dogs would be allowed at managerial discretion or something along those lines. It’s good to ask and clarify because there could be a lot of discontent at what is ultimately a typo or miscommunication

      1. fposte*

        Seriously. If it’s got us so upended, what does it do for the people who actually have dogs they want to bring in? I’m imagining somebody bringing in a certified therapy dog only to find out that the office meant an ESA.

    2. JSPA*

      Copypasta fail, willing to bet.

      Do a quick skim for BETTER dog-friendly wording. Have it ready.

      If you want to go over and above, offer to print and paste the correct version into the hard-copies of the handbook, if they want to repair the policy.

  5. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    It sounds like Mr. Goodboy has set the bar very high with respect to other dogs in the office. Maybe the powers that be are afraid of letting in a Mr. Baddog unless some sort of standards is spelled out in the handbook.

  6. Jennifer*

    It definitely is poorly worded and confusing. I’d use Alison’s suggestions to get some clarity.

    OTOH, I don’t know how people really are being inconvenienced, even if the policy seems weird. Jane brought her dog because he’s a certified service animal, so I’m a bit confused as to why other people took that as a sign to start occasionally bringing their dogs in that weren’t certified service animals. Jane’s dog is in a totally different category than the rest of the animals. I wouldn’t assume I was allowed to bring my very sweet but definitely not certified dog in because someone was bringing a service dog in. It seems people took advantage of the situation a bit.

    I’d love to have my dog with me. I get the disappointment.

    1. ThatGirl*

      I’m a little confused, honestly, by “therapy dog” because to me that conjures up dogs that visit hospitals and nursing homes — very well behaved, but not the same as a support or service dog. I feel like Alison muddled that a bit, an emotional support animal is not the same as a therapy dog to me.

      But I really think the crux is that it’s confusing to call yourself dog friendly and then put specific limitations on it, and there should be some clarity.

      1. Jennifer*

        I think the LW meant emotional support animal. They seem kind of similar to me, as someone who doesn’t know much about therapy dogs or ESAs, so I can see confusing the two. It sounds like this dog is an actual trained ESA, as opposed to the ones who just have a certificate printed off the internet.

        1. fposte*

          Though being an ESA doesn’t require training–it’s not an animal performing a service. So it can be a real ESA and be completely untrained (which is good news for all the ESAs that are cats). But they don’t have the same rights to be in public spaces or workplaces as a service animal.

          1. Jennifer*

            My understanding is that a mental health professional can “prescribe” an ESA for a patient that could use one. If this dog is an ESA, then Jane needs him with her at work and my original point stands. People shouldn’t have assumed they could bring their dogs in because a coworker brought in a service dog that they need in order to function at work.

            1. Natalie*

              A mental health professional can certainly “prescribe” one but the rights that grants you are fairly limited: housing – that is, being able to have the animal in housing that normally does not allow animals – and transportation on aircraft. ESAs are not granted the same entitlements as service dogs, which are generally allowed anywhere the public is allowed and have been trained to perform some specific service for a person with a disability.

              1. Jennifer*

                Below the OP stated that the dog helps her with some physical limitations, not emotional. So I’m even more confused.

                1. fposte*

                  My guess is that she’s self-training the dog as a service animal after it was prescribed to her as an ESA and that she might not be familiar with self-training as a legitimate thing.

              2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

                The permissions for emotional support animals on aircraft are tightening, though, after the emotional support peacock incident.

                1. fposte*

                  Right, but air travel is still significant as being the rare area where ESAs are specifically protected (keep in mind also the ADA doesn’t apply to air travel).

                2. JSPA*

                  In that you can’t self-declare, and the documentation is rigorous and has to be recent, and only a few species count.

                3. Media Monkey*

                  the emotional support peacock was my favourite and best story. the pictures of the person walking through the airport with the peacock on their shoulder were brilliant.

            2. fposte*

              I’m differentiating because it’s an important difference generally and for Jane’s workplace–ESAs aren’t service animals. Their value lies in their companionship, not their training. Obviously some owners can train their pets whether they’re ESAs or not, but there’s no training standard to expect, because we’re talking pets, not working animals.

            3. Close Bracket*

              You are correct about the “presecription,” but no training is necessary. An ESA *could* be trained, just like any other pet, but they are not trained *to be an ESA.*

          2. SD Handler*

            Under Title I of the ADA an ESA can be a reasonable accommodation the same as a service animal. There is no definition or mention of either in the regulations. The EEOC has sued a company for not allowing an employee to have an ESA.

        2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          Emotional Support Animals don’t need to be trained, at all. It is super easy to get a certification for it and mostly used for people to get around housing regulations or take their pets on planes without paying the fee. Even when used properly by people who need them, there is no standard of training.

          1. Close Bracket*

            It’s easy to use an invalid certificate to get around housing regulations because many landlords are not familiar with the proper documentation. It’s not easy to take the pet on a plane. Airlines know the regulations, and they require that notice from a mental health professional, and it has to be dated within the last 12 months.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Could be, and I’d be curious to know – on the one hand, certified therapy dogs are very well-trained; on the other hand, I can see more of a need to have an ESA at work. I was just uncertain based on how the OP worded it.

        2. OP*

          I’m not entirely sure of Mr. Goodboy’s training status, to be honest. I know that he has a lot of training to assist his owner with medical issues (more physical than emotional support), but he’s not a fully-compliant, required-by-law-to-accompany-her-at-all-times type of service animal. (She didn’t bring him in at all when she first started working here, and she doesn’t bring him every day now.) I recall her describing him as a therapy dog before, so that’s the language I used in my letter.

          1. Jennifer*

            It sounds like she may actually need him at work with her, at least some of the time if he helps her with some physical limitations. If you’re not sure of his training status, after I got some clarity on the actual policy, I’d let this go. There could be things going on behind the scenes that you aren’t aware of.

            1. OP*

              Yes, if it turns out that the policy is really intended to restrict dogs that aren’t service or therapy animals, I will absolutely let this go.

              My question wasn’t really intended as “Mr. Goodboy can come to the office and my dog can’t, and that’s unfair.” It was more “Our supposedly dog-friendly office policy excludes almost all dogs – could this be a mistake?” I would have the same question if there weren’t a Mr. Goodboy in the mix.

              1. Mr. Shark*

                I think it’s fair to ask for clarification given the thought that the office is dog-friendly. Basically, you need to understand the requirements to know whether or not you can bring your dog into the office.

          2. Natalie*

            If he is trained to help her with some kind of medical issue, that’s pretty much all it takes to be a service dog as far as the ADA is concerned. It’s not a requirement that the dog has to be with her at all times, or that he be registered somewhere, or anything like that. It could well be she has a condition that runs in cycles and she doesn’t need him all the time.

            That said, if he’s only allowed in the office because he’s a service dog than they don’t really have a “dog friendly” office the way most people use the term! So their policy is certainly badly worded.

            1. Close Bracket*

              If he is trained to help her with some kind of medical issue, that’s pretty much all it takes to be a service dog as far as the ADA is concerned.

              Yep, that’s all it takes to be “fully compliant.”

          3. Dahlia*

            Honestly it kind of sounds like you don’t fully understand the laws surrounding service animals and are looking at this situation weirdly because of that.

            Just because it didn’t need to come with her every day doesn’t mean it’s not a service animal anymore than someone not using a wheelchair every day means it’s not something they need.

            1. OP*

              Thank you – you’re almost certainly right that I don’t fully understand service dog laws, and it’s entirely possible that this dog is a service animal who I didn’t recognize as such because he doesn’t stick with his owner all the time or wear a little vest calling out his status, and because his owner has described him as a therapy dog. You make a great point that someone might not require a service animal all the time, and the wheelchair comparison makes total sense.

              I’m not sure any of that changes my question about why an office that restricts most dogs would call itself dog-friendly, but thank you for pointing it out.

        3. L Dub*

          Not the OP, but therapy dogs and emotional support dogs aren’t the same thing. Both are also different from service dogs. Therapy dogs need to be certified (either through TDI or AKC) and their certifications are updated annually. Becoming a therapy dog means the dog and the human are certified as a pair. For example, I had a therapy dog named Bettie, and we were certified through TDI as a handler/dog pair, so she could only act as a therapy dog with me.

          The exam to become a therapy dog is fairly similar to a Canine Good Citizen test, for anyone familiar with that. as I recall, there are only the two agencies (TDI and AKC) that you can certify the therapy dog through, and they keep pretty stringent records around your certification, volunteer hours and things like the dog’s vaccinations. There are also criteria around things like not using training collars while on a visit, carrying a copy of your certification ID with you, and the dog having to wear something that identifies them as a therapy dog.

          Generally, once you have a therapy dog, you can volunteer in a number of activities – things like going into hospitals and nursing homes to visit patients. Bettie and I did a lot of programming with children, like she would lay down at libraries and little kids could read to her. We also volunteered in at risk youth shelters and there was programming provided to the kids there which the dogs got to participate in. There are some court systems that also bring in therapy dogs for people (both youth and adults) when they have to participate in things like trials.

          Short version is: ESA’s don’t require any specific training. Therapy dogs do, and also require certifications. Service dogs require significantly more training than therapy dogs do, and service dogs are assigned to a singular human to provide assistance to. (Once they’re out of training, that is.) Therapy dogs can provide support to anyone, but only under the supervision of the human they were certified with.

          1. Starbuck*

            “Service dogs require significantly more training than therapy dogs do, and service dogs are assigned to a singular human to provide assistance to. (Once they’re out of training, that is.) ”

            Not necessarily – keep in mind, people can train their own service animals and there’s no certification requirement. You’re right that they’re usually highly trained, by experts, but that’s not a legal requirement.

            1. Snuck*

              Generally a therapy dog needs good public behaviour and an ability to sit still and provide comfort to a wide range of people through its presence.

              An assistance/service dog generally has about two years of highly skilled trainee (owner or professional trainer) with chained and shaped tasks on top of public behaviour…. MUCH more training

      2. Support dog owner*

        Emotional support dogs, service dogs, and therapy dogs are three district categories, although I’m sure there are dogs that are all three.

        Of the three, only service dogs (trained to perform a specific task to help with a disability) must be given workplace accommodations under federal law. Emotional support dogs (prescribed by a mental health professional, but not required to receive any special training) receive legal protections when it comes to housing and flying but can be restricted from accessing public place and businesses, just like pets. Therapy dogs receive extra obedience type training, but they don’t have any legal protections.

        Unfortunately, even people who have support dogs and therapy dogs don’t usually understand exactly what they are entitled to under the law, and businesses owners don’t want to deal with the lawsuits that result when they do kick dogs out. It doesn’t help that support and service sound like they should describe the same type of dog.

        1. Feline*

          I’ve seen writeups from therapy pet organizations who specifically don’t want pets who are also service dogs or ESAs. I think it was Pet Partners who said one job is enough to ask of your pet.

          1. Starbuck*

            Yeah, I would have assumed that a service dog and therapy dog are incompatible occupations – one is trained to assist its owner with specific needs, the other works with a handler to comfort others. It seems it would be very difficult to train a dog to switch between those focuses; and why would you want to?

        2. SD Handler*

          Under Title I of the ADA an ESA can be a reasonable accommodation the same as a service animal. There is no definition or mention of either in the regulations. The EEOC has sued a company for not allowing an employee to have an ESA.

    2. tencentblues*

      A therapy dog isn’t a service dog, though. It wasn’t a requirement that they allow Jane to bring her dog in, so it makes sense that other people would expect the same level of accommodation.

      1. Jennifer*

        I don’t know if the LW misspoke and really meant service dog. If he really is a therapy dog and Jane doesn’t need him at work with her, I see your point.

    3. somanyquestions*

      A service animal is different than a therapy dog. Therapy dog is a certification you can get with an advanced obedience class.

      1. Jennifer*

        Yes, that has been pointed out. I’m hoping the OP will weigh in and clarify. It’s easy to confuse the two if you don’t really know the topic.

    4. Shark Whisperer*

      I assumed that the OP meant AKC certified therapy dog, which is not a service animal, but it takes tons of training to become certified

    5. Lucette Kensack*

      Right. Folks are referencing three “classifications,” but they’re not at all similar:

      Service dog: Extensively trained to provide a specific service (and, typically, extensive obedience training). Has legal protections that allow them in most public spaces, providing the dog is well-behaved. Poorly behaved service dogs can be removed. No registration or certification required.

      Emotional support dog: No special training required (even basic obedience). Has legal protections that allow them in residential facilities. No registration or certification required.

      Therapy dog: Typically has very strong obedience training, but no specific training required. No legal protections in any circumstances. No registration or certification required.

      1. L Dub*

        That’s not accurate. To be a therapy dog you absolutely do need to be certified either through AKC or TDI. Bot no, there are no legal protections required around therapy dogs.

        1. Lucette Kensack*

          No, you’re incorrect.

          While there are dozens of organizations (including TDI and AKC, but certainly not exclusively them) that will happily charge you for a therapy dog assessment and certification (and, potentially, provide insurance or other benefits once you are certified), there is no standard certification, and every facility that invites therapy dog has different requirements and standards.

          The relevant point for this OP is that “therapy dog” isn’t actually a meaningful descriptor. “Therapy dog” according to who? If they actually care about this detail, the policy should specify the specific certifications that meet that requirement.

      2. Asenath*

        Maybe this sort of regulation of dogs varies a bit, but I know that the dogs that visited a local nursing home had training and certification. There’s a local group, or rather, a local branch of a group, that offers the training. I don’t think the local institutions would allow a therapy dog in that hadn’t had that training.

    6. Dahlia*

      There’s no such thing as certification for service animals. Anyone who says they provide it is probably running a scam.

    7. Not So NewReader*

      If I take a job for several reasons one of which is that they told me they were dog-friendly and then I found out later that they meant something else, I would start to question other things.

      It looks to me like they do not understand what the term dog-friendly means to most people. Now I have to think what other common terms do they not understand and how will that impact me? It’s such a basic error that it starts to erode confidence in the company and the people who run it.

      I had an employer like this once. In the end people just laughed at management because they were always getting the words wrong. This is what happens in extremes. Some of this can be chalked up to “everyone makes mistakes” but a pattern of this type of mistake is Not Good.

  7. atalanta0jess*

    The other thing that is a bit strange about this is that THERAPY dogs, if I understand correctly, are trained to provide therapeutic services to numerous people in a given setting – think dogs that visit hospitals, nursing homes, etc. Emotional support animals would be there to help their own person. So a therapy dog isn’t necessarily doing anything for it’s owner/handler – it may very well be trained to provide services to others. It’s dissimilar to a service animal or ESA in that way.

    1. Likethecity*

      You are exactly correct. Therapy dogs are used in situations like hospitals to provide comfort for many people. My dog is extremely well-trained and is going through the process to become a therapy dog in our state. There’s no actual training (at least in our state) for her, instead she and I are evaluated separately and as a team to make sure temperaments are a match for therapy work. Her high level obedience training, temperament and status as an AKC Canine Good Citizen got her in the door for therapy dog certification. So, their inclusion of the therapy dog language is a bit odd, unless they’re saying that they’ll bring in therapy dogs during times when it’s needed.

    2. Dahlia*

      OP’s other comments lead me to believe they don’t really understand the difference, honestly, as they say Jane’s dog is trained to perform tasks for her. Seems like they’re just misunderstanding.

  8. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    I think it may be worth asking a few clarification questions because it is oddly worded and contradictory, but I wouldn’t “push back” on the new policy. If they’re only allowing service animals, that may have been their intention and their wording may have been used to try and not piss off everyone but Mr. Goodboy’s owner.

    1. OP*

      It definitely could have been intentional! I was just surprised because we have a pretty transparent and straightforward culture, so if that were the intention, I would expect something more like “due to [insert reason here], we’re going to need to restrict any dogs in the office to service or therapy animals,” rather than “we’re dog-friendly, it’s in the spirit of our company to be dog-friendly, so bring your dog as long as he’s a service or therapy animal.”

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I wonder if it’s a ham-handed way to give fair warning to dog-phobic and severely dog-allergic job applicants so they can self-select out of applying :
      “Use this text in the next job ad so no one gets a bad surprise on their first day.”

      1. SimplyTheBest*

        I don’t think that would be very helpful. I’ve never received an employee handbook before I’d already accepted a job, and most of the time not until I’d actually arrived on my first day.

    1. Goya de la Mancha*

      uffda….I’ve seen this so many times I can’t count. Even seeing “Teapots unlimited” as the business name for your llama grooming company….

    2. Antilles*

      That was my thought too – we need a written dog policy…grab the first result on Google…skim quickly…yeah looks fine…welcome to the New Policy!

    3. Persephone Mulberry*

      Same thought here.

      I once applied to be a cat foster, and when the org forwarded a copy of their foster handbook, it was immediately obvious that someone had taken their dog foster handbook, done a find/replace for dog to cat, and not proofread it after, because a LOT of the stuff didn’t make any sense when talking about cats. /facepalm

  9. CindyLouWho*

    The policy says “should” which I would take to mean that any dog brought in is not required to be a trained service or therapy dog. The wording is important, especially in an employee handbook.

    OP should definitely check with HR and clarify if that’s what the wording means.

  10. WKRP*

    I think they’re using the wording of a “trained therapy animal” in the sense that animals can get certified as therapy animals, regardless of whether they do therapy visits (hospitals, schools, libraries, etc.) Not necessarily that the animals have to be someone’s personal therapy/support dog. So folks could look for an org that offers training and certification to get the designation. Still, it’s not an easy process and not all animals would qualify to be therapy animals (because they’re trained to be constantly touched and surrounded by people. (So, the wording is still super exclusionary and strict)

  11. Construction Safety*

    The OSHA “should” is not mandatory.
    The OSHA “shall” is mandatory.
    Dunno if that’s their logic, worth asking.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      This. A lot of policies/regulations/standards are written this way and there is a huge difference between “should” and “shall”.

      1. Peter*

        As a Brit, that’s an interesting American English distinction.

        We use should and must in this circumstance.

        1. Jedi Squirrel*

          I do like “must” better. (And some I’ve seen some that are written that way.) I think more people interpret it as a mandatory thing, whereas “shall” is usually considered somewhat quaint and old fashioned (“Shall we go for a walk?”).

        2. Lyudie*

          I would not say that this is a standard American English thing. OSHA does this to make their safety regulations easier to interpret so companies know what is optional and what is required. In normal conversation they’re often seen as interchangeable.

        3. Obelia*

          As another Brit working on UK public sector employment contracts, there are some standard contracts which use “shall” to mean “must”, so that does exist in British English as well – but it does cause confusion and debate here so we’re now tending to use “must” where relevant in any new ones!

  12. Thankful for AAM*

    It is not difficult to get your dog listed as a therapy dog – google the Alliance of Therapy Dogs.
    I’d suggest you all get your dogs registered and bring them all in!

    1. Shark Whisperer*

      Isn’t it? I guess it depends on who is doing the testing, but my understanding was that your dog has to be pretty advanced in obedience to pass the therapy dog test

      My understanding is based on my local testing facility. They required at least two years of obedience training before you could test as a therapy, but maybe some places are quite lax?

      1. Thankful for AAM*

        Unless there is a law in your state, there is no official registry of either service or therapy animals. There are places you can choose to use to test and say your animal is certified. At my library, we have our own tests before we allow an animal to join our therapy dog “read to a dog” program.

        1. Shark Whisperer*

          I had always assumed that the AKC Therapy Dog Title was the official registry and all other “therapy dogs” weren’t really therapy dogs

          1. fposte*

            The AKC has the trademarked version, but there’s no necessary certification. It’s a thing a dog does rather than a thing a dog is.

            1. fposte*

              It sounds like I may be off base on this, at least in practice, and that there’s a level of obedience certification that’s the standard now.

          2. Voc Ed Teacher*

            Well, I had to pass a temp test and go through site visits and maintain certain standards. Its not just a “register your dog” thing through Alliance of Therapy Dogs. Its not terribly difficult but not all dogs can do therapy work.

    2. Close Bracket*

      Well, it’s a little more that that, even if ATD standards are lower than AKC standards. The dog still have to be well-behaved, and it has to be observed by someone from ATD. It’s not like one of those invalid ESA certificates that you can get online without ever seeing a doctor.

    3. anon9*

      My sister’s dog definitely wouldn’t get certified under their guidelines. Her dog isn’t even misbehaved; it’s just not well trained (will not sit in one place for 8 hrs and gets much too excited if there are lots of people or other dogs around). My understanding is that therapy dogs need to be well-trained and gentle since they interact with people who are frail, very young and very old.

      I think emotional support animal is what you are thinking of and that would be in a different group than a service animal (which is legally protected, highly-trained animal) or therapy animal (not legally protected, but understood to be well-trained).

    4. OP*

      Hmm, probably not doing this. My shy rescue dog likely doesn’t have the temperament to become a therapy dog unless the program is lax enough to be meaningless, and I don’t like the idea of doing some bogus certification just to try to get one over on management – I think it cheapens the rigorous training actual service and therapy dogs have to go through, and it dilutes people’s understanding of when a service, therapy, or emotional support animal is genuinely needed.

      I’m not looking to get my dog into the office by whatever means necessary. If there’s no mistake and the policy is intended to allow only service and therapy dogs, then I’ll accept that – I won’t try to do an end run around the policy.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        If you happen to be in NYC, I can point you towards a trainer who can help you evaluate your buddy’s abilities.
        If you’re not, you still might get a kick out of her book. “Play Your Way to Good Manners: Getting the Best Behavior from Your Dog Through Sports, Games, and Tricks” by Kate Naito & Sarah Westcott.

        1. OP*

          Thanks for the recommendation! I’m not in NYC, but I’ll check out the book – always a nice idea to make my own good boy even good-er!

  13. Tundra*

    Thing is, ANY dog can become a therapy dog. They just need to pass an evaluation with a therapy dog organization. The evaluation demonstrates that the dog has the obedience and temperament requirements to behave appropriately in a variety of situations. In my opinion, that’s actually a pretty good benchmark for dogs that are allowed in an office environment.

    1. nonymous*

      Yeah, but I wonder if that’s the appropriate bar?

      I mean the AKC Good Canine Citizen certification looks at how the dog handles friendly strangers and reactions to other dogs (there’s 10-item checklist that covers most workplace scenarios). The therapy dog certification from AKC doesn’t actually require specific behaviors, just a documented number of visits.

      1. Tundra*

        huh. I thought the AKC Therapy Dog certification also involved an evaluation similar to the CGC. I’m in Canada so might be a little different here, but the therapy dog evaluation that I’ve completed with our local organization was actually based on the Canine Good Citizen test, with added stressers for the dogs like wheelchairs, canes, crutches, people screaming/clapping their hands, etc. which are all very possible scenarios in a busy office. Do I think the CGC certification would be enough for most office environments, though? probably.

        1. nonymous*

          My understanding is that the therapy dog certifications are actually administered by a local org (and AKC doesn’t micromanage the standards, because they tend to be pretty high). A group that provides calming support to kids undergoing medical procedures may prioritize differently than the group where the dog helps with physical therapy goals which is going to be different than the one that visits the local nursing rehab center. I have an acquaintance that does the last one and there were basically no standards – the staff observed pup and he was deemed suitable.

          Additionally, there is often an ongoing commitment that the the org often asks, so unless the staff at OP’s workplace all want to volunteer in an ongoing capacity, it’s not really an option for the people who just want to take their good-natured mellow doggo to work (but aren’t inclined to join a community of therapy dog volunteers).

    2. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

      But a therapy dog needs skills like ‘don’t bite the old lady who is pulling your ears’ which shouldn’t even be an issue in a workplace. Good office dogs need to be well behaved, quiet and potty trained. Well trained is optional. If the dog spends the whole day sleeping under its owner’s desk, why does it matter if it doesn’t even sit when asked?

      1. Tundra*

        Because offices are unpredictable environments and an office dog could very well be put into stressful situations. Not everyone in the office will be dog-savvy. What if someone does pet the dog in a manner the dog isn’t fond of? What if there’s a fire drill and the dog needs to calmly exit the office along with the rest of the crowd? What if a coworker brings a child to visit? What if someone comes to work wearing a hat and your dog isn’t a fan? Yes the dog’s owner should always be on top of those situations and intervene before their dog can do anything, but the reality is that distractions happen and you want to be sure your dog responds in an appropriate manner if/when they get stressed. While I agree that perfect *obedience* skills aren’t required in an office, they also aren’t required for a dog to be certified to do therapy work. The focus is much more on temperament and how the dog interacts with people, which is why I think it’s a pretty good benchmark. But as Nonymous said above, a CGC certification would be another acceptable benchmark that covers a lot of the same temperament issues.

  14. Budgie Buddy*

    I wonder if they’re using “therapy dog” as short hand for “somewhat trained to be well behaved.” My bossed apparently called theirs a therapy dog, and she definitely wasn’t train to provide any special therapy services.

  15. EngineerMom*

    Trained therapy dogs are not necessarily there for the support of the owner. It just means they have passed certain training requirements to be allowed into places like nursing homes, schools, etc. Much of the training is centered around the dog behaving well in what can be a (to a dog) high-stress situation with lots of unfamiliar smells, sounds, and people.

    This is definitely worded strangely, with the emphasis on “dog friendly” followed by “must be formally trained”.

    On the other hand, based on the requirements spelled out the AKC, therapy dog training sounds like a formal certification of just being a good dog owner of a naturally calm dog:

  16. K*

    It’s likely due to their lease. Most corporate leases prohibit dogs unless they are certified therapy/service dogs.

    1. fposte*

      Does the boilerplate actually use “therapy dog,” though? Because that’s not usually an animal in a workplace.

      1. WS*

        Depends on your workplace – mine is an office but it’s in a hospital and so specifically has therapy dogs on the insurance. So they could have copied from that!

    2. Animal loves*

      The issue is less the classification of dogs and more the extremely contradictory phrasing!

      Only allowing service dogs is not “dog-friendly”, it’s “basic accommodation.” Even if ESA are included in that, which is not legally required, it’s still not anyone’s working definition of a dog-friendly workplace. That would be like saying our office is “miniature horse friendly” since the ADA includes them as valid service animals (since 2010.)

      The first thing to clarify is whether the company is actually trying to be dog-friendly. Then they should clarify which kinds of support dogs are welcome.

  17. Thankful for AAM*

    Also, there is no official service animal or therapy animal list so you can say your dog is a therapy dog. There are places you can take a class or register your animal, but unless your state has a law re: therapy dogs, there is no reason you cannot just say it is a therapy dog. Policies like this irk me because there is not official way to show you have a therapy animal or a service animal (Federal law prohibits any requirements for registration, vests, ID cards etc. for service animals).

    There are federal guidelines about what is a service animal (they must perform a specific task and the task must be related to the handler’s disability) but there is not official way to “prove” you have one other than answering two questions, “is the dog (or mini pony) a service animal required because of a disability?” and “what work or task has the dog been trained to perform?”

    1. Close Bracket*

      Also, there is no official service animal or therapy animal list so you can say your dog is a therapy dog.

      That’s not exactly true, either. If you have completed training and/or observation as a therapy dog/handler, you get a certificate that documents the steps you went through and lists the certifying agency. There is no prohibition against asking for this documentation, either.

      1. Thankful for AAM*

        But there is no central/federal registry for therapy dogs and there are so many agencies that can say you did the therapy dog training that there really is no official therapy animal list.
        That is why my library requires its own process to be a therapy (reading) dog in our library.

        1. Close Bracket*

          You are right, there is no master list of therapy dogs. However, that is not the same as “you can say your dog is a therapy dog.”

          There is no master list of PhD physicists, either, and there are many universities that can say you did PhD physicist training. That doesn’t mean you can announce that you are a PhD physicist and be one. You need that diploma, and your dog needs that certificate.

  18. Shark Whisperer*

    It seems like there is a lot of confusion around the term “therapy dog.” A therapy dog is not a service dog or emotional support animal. They are certified through the AKC to provide therapy for other people. AKC itself does not do the testing, so there can be a lot of variation between testing facilities. When my dog was up for her AKC Therapy Dog cert, she had already been in obedience classes for two years. She had to be able to lay down and stay for an hour without me giving her any signals and while people petted and children ran around. She then had to complete three supervised visits at a participating facility (like a hospital). She never actually passed her cert. It’s not something any dog can do.

    1. Stepinwhite*

      Not just AKC, there are other national agencies, like Delta Society, and all dogs have to pass a test to be certified.

  19. lilsheba*

    I have never even seen a workplace that allows pets of any sort, so the fact that they allow them at all is something to be thankful for. And if they include therapy animals, they should include all of them, they aren’t always dogs.

      1. Quill*

        Yeah, I think there’s going to have to be some legal or policy precedent that separates “therapy dog” (which is going to run into conflicting needs for allergies and phobia accomodations) from “therapy tarantula” which is… questionably trainable and far less likely that the average person is going to know how to safely interact with one if it wanders into their cube.

        1. Close Bracket*

          The thing that separates “therapy dog” from “therapy tarantula” is the certificate you get from the body that trained and observed your dog in the process of becoming a therapy dog. There is no such certification for tarantulas.

          1. Quill*

            More or less what I meant: certifying the dogs means that it’s easier for a workplace to have policies surrounding them, as is the fact that they’re dogs and there’s a lot of public awareness of how to interact with them and the pitfalls of their presence, compared to some other species that have been used for therapy. (Many of which can be licensed but which are going to be a lot harder to accommodate in an office environment – I picked tarantulas because arachnaphobia is relatively common, but I should probably have picked another moderately intelligent mammal…)

            1. Close Bracket*

              If the dog really is a therapy dog, it has a certificate! There are therapy cats, too, but the office doesn’t need a legal policy to allow therapy dogs and ban therapy cats.

      2. Dinopigeon*

        I have never heard a good explanation for why I can’t bring my cat or have a betta tank on my desk if others are allowed to bring their dogs. It always boils down to dog owners believe they are entitled to special treatment, and don’t understand that dog love is not a universal sentiment. Dogs aren’t special. They’re animals like any other pet.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Bettas and cats can both relieve themselves appropriately without needing direct human interaction at the moment it happens, unlike (the vast majority of) pet dogs. Your cat can take itself to the litterbox any ol’ time it wants to, while a dog can’t exactly go out for walkies if the human isn’t home to at least let them into a fenced yard.

          So there’s a timer on being away from your dog that doesn’t exist with nearly the same urgency for most other pets.

          That said, overall, I agree with you that the overall doggy exceptionalism is a little much.

          1. Stepinwhite*

            Well, that and the litter box issue :) I mean, how many litter boxes do we want around the office? (But a beta tank – eh. I see no big deal with that other than sadness of it all — I DID have a beta in my office and when the little guy passed away, didn’t get another).

            1. Quill*

              We always had a library betta when I worked for my high school librarian… His name was Dewey. I came back to pick up my senior yearbook and was abruptly confronted with Dewey II.

        2. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

          99% of cats would be deeply upset about being dragged to the office. All of my family’s cats would have been freaked out, even the one who was accidentally catnapped because he was too friendly. They don’t like strange places, they don’t like strange cats, they definitely don’t like strange dogs and most of them don’t like strange people.

          Some of the more exotic pets might work, but the logistics of inter-species relationships would be a nightmare. And they’d have to be housebroken. It might be ok if you had just one person that brought in their rabbit but not as general office perk.

          A betta on your desk sounds awesome though, and no annoyance to anyone. Except you don’t want to be taking it back and forth from home, and what about weekends and vacations? But if you could work out the logistics, with maybe a fish-loving coworker, I don’t see why it would be an issue barring allergies.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            The problem with fish at my office is that “appliances” are discouraged. My betta* got so sluggish so quickly I took him back home, where he got a 5 gallon tank too.
            (*Hans Bethe, after the physicist.)

    1. Close Bracket*

      And if they include therapy animals, they should include all of them, they aren’t always dogs.

      Personally, I would love to work in a place that had a kitten room filled with therapy cats (kittens probably aren’t capable of passing the training, but a gal can dream, right?).

    2. Thankful for AAM*

      Any animal can be a therapy animal or emotional support animal.
      From a registry site:
      Therapy Animals
      Many people confuse Therapy Animals with Service Dogs or emotional support animals. A therapy animal is most commonly a dog (but can be cats and other species) that has been obedience trained and screened for its ability to interact favorably with humans and other animals. The primary purpose of a therapy animal is to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, disaster areas, and to people with learning difficulties.

      NOTE: Therapy Animals do NOT have any federally protected rights.

  20. TwiceBitten*

    Maybe something happened with one of the dogs, and they think that if they limit this to trained therapy or service dogs there’s a better chance they won’t have any more behavioral issues. It doesn’t seem like that bad of a policy to me.

    I had a former coworker and friend who used to bring her dog to work frequently, and the dog had some pretty strong herding instincts that my friend didn’t seem to be able to keep under control – so the dog would try to keep people from leaving the floor by biting them in the shins when they started down the stairs. I got bitten twice – neither time breaking skin, but once tearing the cuff of my pants.

    No matter what we said to my coworker directly she’d brush it off as if it was a trivial matter, and she continued to bring the dog to work. We all liked the coworker, and didn’t even really dislike the dog – just its behavior – so nobody wanted to be the person to complain to HR about this, but eventually somebody did, and then we got a dog policy that said all dogs have to have proof of professional obedience training, and be able to be contained to the person’s immediate work area. I’m betting this policy is the result of somebody’s complaint, and it’s probably necessary, even if the OP doesn’t know the details of why.

    1. Anna*

      Yeah I was thinking the exact same thing. I would be willing to be that something happened to make them realize that they needed a policy and that they wanted it to limit the dogs in the office to only those who are certified and more likely to behave.

      Also, on a side note, I can’t believe that your coworkers dog was actually biting people and wasn’t banned from the office! Yikes.

      1. Quill*

        Yeah, we had to train my lab out of “hand holding” and “nose bumping” an actual bite is just yikes levels to bring unsecured into public.

    2. BadWolf*

      I’m horrified that the dog owner was all “meh” on her dog routinely biting/nipping people! Even if she doesn’t care about people, that’s one wrong bite away from having to put her dog down.

    3. Barefoot Libraian*

      I have always had herders (border collies and corgis) and the nipping ankles thing can be a big challenge to train out of them if the drive is strong. It’s not aggression so much as doing what they were bred to do. I would NEVER bring a doggo who nipped ankles to work though. It’s one thing for me to deal with it willingly at home, but not something you subject your coworkers too.

      1. PhyllisB*

        I have a friend who used to have a border collie. When it was time for her children to come in the evening, she would send the dog out to round them up.

    4. Quill*

      My grandparents had a collie/spaniel mutt whose favorite pastime was “herding grandchildren…” there would have been problems if random neighbors had played kickball with us.

      1. TwiceBitten*

        Yeah… I know, but… for me the issue was that the coworker/friend was the person who had helped me get my job, so I felt some debt and appreciation, and she was a friend – so it was just an awkward thing that I didn’t feel comfortable taking to someone above her. I did speak to her directly several times about the dog – especially after I got nipped twice! She just didn’t take it very seriously – it was basically “oh, yeah she thinks you’re all sheep for her to herd!” (as if that’s cute and understandable.) I think she just didn’t get that: 1. people were actually getting bruises, and ripped pants! and 2. people have different comfort levels around dogs, and for some people this was scary and distressing. I suspect there might be something similar going on in the OP’s office with one or more of the dogs.

  21. These Old Wings*

    I think if HR is using the policy to specifically exclude all dogs except for Goodboy, then it’s really passive aggressive and unhelpful to just put it in a policy and not just come out and tell everyone except Jane that they have to leave their dogs at home from now on. Because of this, it seems more likely that it was an oversight (unless HR is typically evasive) and just ask someone what the intention was rather than engaging in speculation.

  22. TotesMaGoats*

    I’m in higher ed and dogs are allowed for ADA accommodations for students, faculty and staff. Our admin has been bringing her dog in this summer (when almost no one is here) and it’s kept going. The dog is the female version of Mr. Goodboy. And the dog is approved for her use as a support animal. We don’t have an official policy and have just been quiet about it. Except having the dog here for students has been amazing. I hope you find an actual compromise.

    1. MechanicalPencil*

      A friend of mine works in academia, and on Very Specific days (I think generally when no students are on campus), employees are allowed to bring their dogs in on Fridays. There are specific caveats of no roaming allowed, etc. But it sounds sort of fun to me.

    2. Quill*

      Nearly every Hall Director at my college had a dog for purposes of impromptu student therapy. And there was a dog walking ring in my dorm because lets be honest, we all needed the exercise.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        My Director of Studies went on sabbatical and the professor who stood in for him with me also trained service dogs. She would always have a puppy in her office or lecture hall just getting used to large numbers of clumsy, loud humans.

        Meetings were significantly calmer with a pupper in the room, even one “working” so couldn’t be fussed over.

        1. Quill*

          One of the analytical Chem LA’s got a golden retriever puppy.

          Senior chem majors and selected other people (me) proceeded to spoil her and it was an open secret that most of the day we had a dog in the instrumentation lab…

  23. MechanicalPencil*

    I could see something like requiring the AKC Canine Good Citizen, but having a therapy dog distinction is a whole other ball of wax. There’s a whole slew of varying organizations you can get certified through that all have varying requirements, from somewhat extensive classroom training for the human (often ongoing) and required testing for the dog. Ease of testing for those organizations is much harder geographically than the AKC CGC is, which is much more widely known and accepted. And for a therapy organization, generally to retain your certification you have to actually volunteer with them to retain your credentials (at least the ones I looked into). This is a very interesting turn of events.

  24. AnonyMouse*

    So first, holy smokes not sure how I missed the update from the allergic coworker in the dog friendly office! Wow those people were way off base, and I’m so glad that they got out of there. I love animals as much as the next person, but the coworkers were being unreasonable. Plus the carpet smelled like pee and they had fleas? And they were fine with that? Hell no!

    In terms of this post, I’ assuming (like others are) that they’re trying to put some type of requirements around the behavior of the dogs up front so that they can enforce the dog friendly policy and avoid chaos. I wonder if requiring that the owners provide proof of completion of a basic dog obedience class instead of the therapy dog language would be sufficient? I can see how requiring that dogs be trained as therapy dogs just to come to work is odd, but I don’t think requiring an obedience course is unreasonable. Many shelters/humane societies offer these courses at affordable prices. The other option could be changing to more punitive language, saying “if the dog does X, Y, or Z, they will no longer be allowed in the office”

    Or, like Alison said, this is a sneaky way making the office not dog friendly…

    1. Tundra*

      Most obedience classes just focus on the basics: sit, down, stay, come, heel. The “advanced” obedience classes still focus on these things but with added levels of difficulty. While a good start, they don’t screen for things like temperament, or even aggression, that could get a dog in trouble in an office environment. Reactive dogs complete obedience training all the time. Therapy dog certification (or as another commenter said, a “Canine good citizen” certification) goes beyond obedience and focuses on whether your dog can actually handle being in different environments, situations, etc. without freaking out or endangering people around them.

    2. ArtsNerd*

      Yeah I missed it too; that allergy update was absolutely horrific. I’m glad they were willing to go scorched earth with threats of a lawsuit, because holy hell was it justified. What a nightmare.

      I think getting clarification on whether they’re actually trying to restrict dogs in the workplace is an important step before wondering which dogs and why. It sounds like there was an error in the communication chain somewhere, unless they’re doing some congressional sleight of hand where “DOG FRIENDLY” is actually an acronym of “Dogs Other than Goodboy Forbidden In …” uh, I can’t bring myself to torture that acronym enough to finish out the ENDLY but you get my drift, I hope.

      1. AnonyMouse*

        It took me a minute to get where you were going with DOG FRIENDLY as an acronym :)

        Yeah, on second read of this scenario I think that this was their way of making it so that only Mr Goodboy can be in the office. I’m guessing because they don’t actually want to be dog friendly, but they know that there will be push back potentially since Mr Goodboy is beloved by most of the staff. I’m curious what would happen if OP pursued certification for her dog or if the owner of Mr. Goodboy quit.

        I also just want to see a picture of Mr Goodboy now. I’m also disappointed that his name is not actually Mr. Goodboy…

  25. Delta Delta*

    This feels very targeted to ensure that Mr. Goodboy can keep coming to work and that the office generally doesn’t turn in to a kennel. It’s hard to say “we all love Mr. Goodboy so he can keep coming, but the 4 other dogs have to stay home, nothing against them personally.” So, it’s easy to draw a line and say that he can keep coming because of the level of training he has. It’s hard to take away the Mr. Goodboy privileges since he seems to be an integral team member, so it’s easier to legislate around them.

    I’m always leery of dogs in a workplace, partly due to liability issues. The last thing I want is for me or someone else to get bitten or otherwise injured by a dog in a “dog friendly” workplace.

  26. Voc Ed Teacher*

    So this is where it gets murky too: I have 3 certified therapy dogs that I team with. Its not hard to be “therapy trained” but mine are through Alliance of Therapy Dogs so some vetting and visits were done to become certified. One of the gray areas is that if you take your dog to your work place when you’re getting paid, the liability insurance offered through the agency does NOT cover you if something happens. I’ve taken my therapy dogs to work with the caveat that my employer is taking on that liability. Now we are also getting a facility dog at the school I teach at–I will be the facilitator for this and that certification is way more in depth and liability insurance is covered at the school for that dog through the agency we are certified through. I will be getting my facility dog dual certified as a therapy dog too.

    1. linzava*

      I never thought of the insurance issue with therapy dogs. I upped my renter’s insurance when I got my German Shepard puppy, though he’s well trained and I know he wouldn’t bite anyone, it’s high enough to cover any injuries in case I’m wrong. I know my insurance covers my dog when we’re out and about, but for working dogs, I wonder, would renters or homeowners insurance exclude them?

      1. Voc Ed Teacher*

        Its a different form of liability insurance specific to when my dog is doing therapy work. All 3 of my current dogs that are certified carry it while “working.” Both my mom and I are teams with different dogs. I’m a handler for 3 of mine, she’s a handler for 2 of mine and her pitbull is going through ATD next month to become a new team with her and then with me. So even thought I’ve been therapy certified for 8 years, I have to go through a new test and site visits for each dog I add.

  27. ElizabethJane*

    I’m wondering if they are trying to establish some sort of training/behavior marker? My dogs are highly trained (we compete in several dog sports) and some of the certifications my club offers are Canine Good Citizen and Therapy Dog training. CGC is a certificate that shows your dog knows basic commands and can generally behave themselves in public. Therapy Dog is a certification for people who would like to volunteer at, for example, a nursing home with their dog (it is not Service Dog or Emotional Support Dog training). Both CGC and TD require a few months of classes and that the dog is very well trained.

    My dogs have these certificates even though they are not Service or Emotional Support dogs for me. I feel confident when I bring them out in public because they know how to act (I don’t try to bring them to places where only Service Dogs would be allowed, but I do frequently bring them to the local dog-friendly brewery).

    So yeah, I’m wondering if your workplace is trying to set a standard of behavior, not put medical requirements down. Oddly worded policy to say the least.

    1. FormerFirstTimer*

      As someone who works in the wide-word of credentials, I love knowing that there are credentials for dogs too!!!

  28. FormerFirstTimer*

    Considering that they are trying to be dog-friendly and just instituted a not dog-friendly policy that they say they
    “based it on other dog-friendly workplace policies”, is it possible that it was literally copied and pasted from other companies policies and not edited well? I can see that happening at a few places I’ve worked in the past.

  29. Quill*

    I can easily see why they want to cut back on dogs – I love them and would be thrilled to have my now departed lab sitting on my feet right now, but even very well behaved dogs shed and can’t verbally express to your less than perfectly trained coworkers that they do not want to be picked up or have a strange person come near their face.

    (Also if it’s a crate situation I wonder if that’s any nicer for the dog in question than lying on the rug at home watching the birdfeeder, which was my dog’s entertainment of choice.)

  30. anon9*

    > one of which is, “Dogs should be a trained therapy or service animal.”

    I wanna just say this is just someone’s poor writing skills and they didn’t realize that this would negate any other conditions on the list (they should have used an “or” rather than an “and” when it came to this one). What were the other conditions for bringing in a dog? In my mind, if the other conditions related to the dog-behavior or days of the week or “don’t bring dogs when we have clients in the office” or something like that, I think maybe they have this in there to make sure they are compliant with ADA? i.e. someone complains about a service animal or is just being a fussy-pants about someone’s dog panting, then they have this policy saying “Well, sure it’s not following the other rules but it’s a trained service/therapy animal so it stays”

  31. Gene Parmesan*

    My guess is that they are trying to limit the policy to very well-trained and well-behaved dogs, and they believed the stipulation about “service dog” or “therapy dog” will provide that limitation. Many dogs do not belong in a workplace because they are too disruptive. My own dog, while I love him, is certainly in that category. He does not reliably execute down-stay for a long time–he would hop up when he saw something/somebody interesting and would be up in people’s faces and his wagging tail would knock stuff off of desks.

    1. Quill*

      Mine was not reliably quiet. Good with children? Yes. Friendly? Yes. Non disruptive? Absolutely not, until he was very old indeed and slept most of the day.

    2. Close Bracket*

      I met a therapy dog who was aggressive to other dogs! He was an event at my alma mater during finals week. His handler had him separated from the other therapy dogs. You wouldn’t want to bring him to an office with other dogs!

  32. Elbe*

    It sounds like they want the morale boost and good will that comes from being a dog-friendly office but they don’t actually want to be a dog friendly office. Did they think that they could ban the majority of dogs without anyone noticing?

    It doesn’t always make sense to allow dogs in an office, but it’s something that they should own up to and address. Doing it this way just makes them seem underhanded. If they’re taking away an employee benefit that people currently enjoy, they need to make that clear.

  33. Adlib*

    This sounds like they copied some boilerplate somewhere to be honest. If they didn’t, I wish they would have been up front about wanting to exclude certain dogs for XYZ reasons and hadn’t been sensitive to those reasons previously. I don’t like the bait-and-switch if that’s what was intended, and I hope OP can get clarification and maybe start bringing in her dog again.

  34. Anna*

    I worked in a dog friendly office, where “dog friendly office” was sort of an unspoken rule. And then a bunch of people wanted to bring in their dog and rules had to be put in (I think cause a few people complained about the dogs). They started a sign up sheet so people knew when they can bring in their dogs. I think the increase in people wanting to bring in a dog made them make this change.

  35. L-C*

    This is most certainly a limitation added in for liability purposes (for either the employer or landlord or both). Basically, if someone gets bit by one of the dogs the employer allowed to be in the office, they don’t want to be liable, so they keep that language in their handbook so that they can say that their pet friendly policy was simply them complying with the law.

  36. Beth*

    Either the policy is intended to exclude most dogs (and the “dog friendly” wording is confusing and should probably be clarified/removed), or the policy is intended to be dog friendly (and the listed requirements are based on a miscommunication, bad copy-paste, or other error and should get a second look). I don’t think there’s any way to know which it is without asking whoever is in charge of the policy. The key is asking it as a genuine question rather than coming off as upset about your dog being excluded; focus on trying to clarify the confusing language, not trying to push for a certain outcome.

  37. JSPA*

    Sounds like “therapy dog” is used to mean, “if you do the therapy dog certification with your dog, we trust your dog in an office setting with other dogs.” While certificates vary, the “not biting people, lying down for long periods, not chasing things, not fighting other dogs” are all presumably included in all versions. And it could be an insurance thing.

    So any or all of you can get your pet and yourself therapy-dog and therapy-dog-handler certified.

  38. fhqwhgads*

    It sounds like either the company does not at all understand what “dog-friendly office” tends to mean or they included a list of criteria for in-office dogs and meant it as an “OR” list (any of the the following) but it reads as an “AND” list (all of the following) and by having service animals in said list it makes the whole thing entirely confusing.

    FWIW when I’ve seen dog-friendly policies they usually either at the beginning or at the end had a whole separate section basically saying “none of this is about service animals; we follow the law on service animals”. It spelled it out more than that and sounded a little more Official Policy Legal Jargon but the point was they intentionally didn’t include service animals in any list about the dog-friendly rules because, of course, they’re required to allow service animals and would never not. So the policy had no need of mentioning service animals and very clearly was about non-service animals.

    There’s definitely a major failure on wording here. If they intended to clarify that the policy is “service animals as required by law, plus also therapy and/or emotional support animals” then they should not be calling it dog-friendly at all. I would expect that to confuse most reasonable people.

  39. Dog Trainer Guy*

    OP – When you seek to clarify the intent of the policy, I think it would be really helpful if you brought with you an example or two of what an actual dog-friendly work policy looks like, whether it’s an actual company’s policy that you have permission to share or a draft or template that you’ve created.

    It may be that your employer wants to limit the dogs allowed in the office. However, it does sound like maybe they didn’t understand how the policy they created is overly restrictive. It takes time and specific knowledge to craft one of these dog-friendly office policies. That means that even if they DO intend to allow dogs other than Mr. Goodboy (or service dogs), the person charged with putting the policy in the handbook didn’t know how to do this or what language to use. As noted above, many people really don’t understand what a therapy dog or service animal is.

    Without knocking anyone, there are ways you can offer them the specific policy language you’d like to see used. If you get the sense that you can take them at face value that they are trying to be a dog-friendly workplace, you can frame your approach to them as hoping to revise the language of the policy, rather than revisiting the decision to adopt the policy in the first place.

  40. Luna*

    Why bring your pet dog to work, anyway? I don’t own dogs (I’m a cat person), but I wouldn’t think of taking my pet to work. The pet doesn’t work there, nor does the job entail dealing with my pet, so why would I bring them in?

    And what kind of reason is that for getting a pet? “I’ll get it… but ONLY if I can take the pet to work” (where part of the responsibility can be hoisted off onto other people) That is *not* a good reason for getting any kind of pet.

    I’m probably focusing on the wrong thing, but I would genuinely want this type of thing answered, before focusing on the details of the policy…

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