Is It Ever Illegal to Have an Office Dog?

Part of the appeal of startups and small businesses is that they can have unusual offices — and one of the shorthandiest ways of communicating, “Hey, we’re different!” is to have an office dog. A little pooch wandering around the office, doing its part for the bottom line, just like Google’s campus in California! But is it right for you? Can you really just buy a dog and plunk it into your office, no problemo?

Not exactly.

“It is not illegal in a criminal sense to have a dog at your house,” said Aron Susman, co-founder of real-estate leaser TheSquareFoot. “In most cases, this is not allowed per your office lease. Depending on the landlord and your relationship, it may be allowed.”

So what do you do? You need to ask a lot of questions, and not just of your landlord.

You should also ask your staff if they’re interested in having a dog at all.

“Most people like dogs and as along as the dog is not disruptive, enjoy the canine company,” said Lisa Woody, owner of “But there are others who do not like animals, no matter how well-behaved. The decision must be unanimous.”

Woody also warns that people may also have allergies, which “could cause legal trouble if you force them to work in an environment with an allergen that causes physical discomfort or forces them to go on allergy shots to be able to work at your company.” You can also expect legal trouble if you don’t really need a dog at your office but you choose to have one anyway.

As your company grows, at some point you will want to consider having official policies concerning the dog: designating who will walk the dog, who will clean up after the dog, how to moderate giving treats to the dog so it doesn’t get fat and so forth.

Joan Mayer, a certified dog trainer in Santa Barbara, California, sent along this checklist of questions you should also field before going to the rescue shelter:

  • “Health Dept: What are their requirements - for instance, beauty salons are not supposed to allow pets (aside from service animals) but many people dance around that law and call their dogs 'therapy dogs', therefore allowing them on the premises.
  • Does the company have insurance to cover a dog biting or tripping someone, or knocking someone over?
  • Does the company have specific policies and procedures for allowing dogs on the premises?
  • Does the owner have insurance to cover any type of incidence involving the above, along with destruction of property?
  • Is the property owned by a 3rd party company whose laws are separate from the company allowing the dog?”

Good luck and happy dogging!

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as IFC’s comedy, film, and TV blogger, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City and an adjunct professor in DePaul’s College of Computing and Digital Media. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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