Every day when Charlie goes to the office, he says hello to the receptionist — and she greets him with a bacon-flavoured treat. During the day, he likes to visit a patch of fake grass outside, unfazed by the sound of drones being tested or by a garage full of self-driving cars next door.

Charlie is one of the office dogs at X, the subsidiary at Alphabet that works on “moonshot” science projects and, according to his owner Mike, he is a very sociable guy.

“I bring him to meetings and he will sit on the chair — he loves it, he loves people,” Mike says. “Then we start talking about human stuff and he gets bored, falls asleep and starts snoring. People on the conference call are like, what’s that noise?”

Snoring dogs are not out of place at Alphabet, née Google, where dogs are enshrined in the corporate code of conduct. “Google’s affection for our canine friends is an integral facet of our corporate culture,” it reads. “We like cats, but we’re a dog company, so as a general rule we feel cats visiting our offices would be fairly stressed out.” There’s even a doggie bus, for dogs and their owners who commute from San Francisco to Mountain View.

Other tech companies go further. At Zynga, the gamemaker named after the founder’s American bulldog Zinga, dogs can enjoy peanut-butter doggie biscuits straight from the kitchen. Amenities include a dog run on the roof and an indoor “barking lot”.

Amazon has some 4,000 dogs registered at its Seattle headquarters, roughly one for every eight employees. There is even a high-tech doggie roof garden in one of its new skyscrapers, featuring fire hydrants to encourage dogs to pee, and a hose and drainage system to help clean up.

In the world of tech, dogs are the antidote to all things digital. They have no screens, no batteries. Pets can also play the role of surrogate kids in a city such as San Francisco that has more dogs than children. In fact, pets are so humanised here that referring to a dog’s “owner” is passé — the preferred term is “parent” or sometimes “manager”.

Goose hangs out at the Zynga "barking lot"
Goose hangs out at the Zynga "barking lot"

Those who take dogs to work say it changes things dramatically. “It increases productivity threefold,” says Kia, an employee at X, as she strokes the head of Loona, her puppy. “I’ve seen some of our hard-core engineers just melt when they pick her up.” Others say that dogs can improve the tone of meetings and break the ice with colleagues.

Friends who do not own pets mostly say they like having dogs in the office. “Sometimes, if I was having a really stressful day, I would just go chill with a dog and after 10 minutes feel so much better,” says a former employee at Lyft, the ride-hailing company.

But some employees are allergic, some dogs behave badly (although their owners would never admit it) and some people just don’t like being surrounded by dogs all the time. “I would never want to work at one of those companies because I’m just not a dog person,” confesses a friend. Some companies deal with this issue by segregating their dog-friendly areas.

Still, for many tech companies, dogs are part of the founding lore. Back in the early days of Amazon, the company’s first dog, a corgi named Rufus, would help launch new versions of the website — people would apparently use his paw to click the mouse for major updates. Amazon has now named a building in his honour.

Amazon dog park
Amazon dog park

At Google, the company’s first dog was Yoshka, a Leonberger. Yoshka and his owner were often the only ones who showed up at the office before 11am, making the Leonberger a de facto receptionist. Now Googlers get to work a bit earlier, and Yoshka is memorialised with an eponymous café on campus.

Why are tech companies leading the pack in terms of dog-friendly offices? Perhaps there is an evolutionary explanation. Thousands of years ago, humans and dogs started to co-evolve, and people selectively bred dogs to be sociable. A symbiotic relationship developed, as dogs would help hunt and keep watch in return for protection and companionship.

Today, in the world of tech, dogs are no longer necessary to guard the campfire. Instead they are playing a role that is every bit as vital in the modern office — helping to socialise their owners.

Puppies that were born on the Google X Loon launch site and adopted by employees
Puppies that were born on the Google X Loon launch site and adopted by employees

Leslie Hook is the FT’s San Francisco correspondent

Illustration by Christopher de Lorenzo

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023. All rights reserved.
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