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Mar 30, 2011 – There are all kinds of perks to dog ownership. There’s always a happy face greeting you at the end of a hard day. You have a built-in alarm system, so to speak, especially if your dog is on the large (or like mine, the small-but-extremely-vocal) side. And, if you have kids, pets can serve as an important lesson in responsibility. But did you ever think that a dog can help you in business?

That may be one reason why many offices are going dog-friendly these days. Nearly one in five companies allow employees to bring their pets to work, according to The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.

Here’s why you might consider adopting the policy—or, at the very least, bringing a dog into your home:

1. Stress relief. Even in a recovering economy, times are tough. A recent study from Brother International, a printer and fax machine manufacturer, found that 52 percent of small business owners have higher stress levels than normal. That’s slightly up from last year, when the economy was even more uncertain. Dogs aren’t the only answer, but they do seem to provide some relief, says Dr. Pam Reid, vice president of the ASPCA Animal Behavior Center. In fact, studies have shown that spending time with your pet can reduce more stress than spending time with a friend or spouse.

2. Socialization. Not for your pet, for you. Owning a dog gets you out and about in your neighborhood. At the very least, you have to take him or her for walks, and you may even visit dog parks or attend events specific to dog owners (these days, there are dog-friendly bars in most cities, and countless dog-centric groups on meetup.com). All of this means you’ll be meeting new people, and with that comes networking—central to any business’s success. “I think probably one thing that people may not appreciate as much is the fact that dogs do facilitate interaction between people,” says Reid.

3. Exercise. I’ve talked before about the benefits of exercise. For my book, The Difference, I fielded a study of 5,000 people and I learned those who were wealthy were more likely to be regular exercisers—and vice versa. In part, this is because staying fit saves you money on healthcare over the long-term, but exercise also clears your brain, and that’s when the big ideas strike. Walking your dog absolutely counts as a work out: Just a few weeks ago, researchers from Michigan State University found that 60 percent of dog owners who took their pets for a regular walk met the federal criteria for moderate or vigorous exercise.

4. Productive employees. If you have a dog-friendly office, your employees will thank you—in more ways than one. The APPMA study uncovered a handful of startling statistics, but I’ll just throw a few your way: 53 million people believe having pets in the workplace decreases absenteeism. Thirty eight million say having pets at work creates a more productive work environment. And 46 million people who bring their pets to the office say they work longer hours. Reid says dogs can reduce employee stress, too. “There’s been a fair bit of research looking at the impact of pets on stress, and handful of studies looking at their impact in the workplace. It does seem to be one of the perceived benefits of having pets in the office—employees are less stressed, they have better moods in general, and they’re more likely to interact socially with other employees.”

If you’re not ready to go full-on dog friendly, consider easing into it. You can start by participating in Take Your Dog To Work Day, which falls on June 24 this year. Or designate one dog-friendly day each week (or month).

Finally, understand the downsides. Pets are a big responsibility. If you can’t bring your dog into the office, and you’re going to be working long hours, you may not be able to give him the attention he needs. Also, keep in mind that some people (read: clients) don’t love dogs, so if you’re cultivating a dog-friendly office, you likely want to designate some dog-free zones—the lobby or reception area, a few offices, maybe the lunch room.

Jean Chatzky is financial editor of NBC’s “Today” show, a contributing editor at More magazine and author of “Money 911: Your Most Pressing Money Questions Answered, Your Money Emergencies Solved.” She recently launched the Jean Chatzky Score Builder in partnership with smartcredit.com. Check out her blog at jeanchatzky.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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