Working With Dogs: How to Work From Home With a Furry Friend
What about people who fall into both of those categories? That’s exactly the situation many of us find ourselves in these days. The question is how can we make working at home work for both us and our pets?
Working with your dogs nuzzling your feet can be a dream setup, but it isn’t without its challenges, especially if you have a needy or high-maintenance pup who requires more than a walk around the yard on your lunch break.
Thankfully, there are many steps you can put in place to create a schedule and enrich your home that allows you both to thrive. Read on to learn how dog parents can successfully work from home without anyone losing their sanity.
Schedule Short Play Breaks
When you work from home, your computer is your lifeline to your colleagues. It’s tempting to sit tethered to its screen from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. just to get everything done and make sure you don’t miss anything.
If you’ve asked your employer, “Is working from home OK?” and received an affirmative, you might feel even more pressure to knock out your digital to-do list and keep up with the rest of your team.
Dial back a little on uninterrupted screen time to stay healthy. Research shows that staring at a screen for hours on end does more than exhaust our minds. It can also wreak havoc on our bodies, leading to vision problems, back pain and more.
That’s why experts recommend taking short, frequent breaks to give your mind and body a chance to rest and reset. After working for 50 to 60 minutes, take a five to 10-minute break and use this time to connect with your furry friend.
Take a walk around the block or play a game of fetch to get both you and your dog’s blood pumping and work some energy out. Depending on the time of day, you might also need to designate one play break as a meal break instead! Then, when it’s time to get back to work, he’ll be less excitable and more likely to let you finish that important assignment in peace.
Distract With a Chew Toy
You’ve got a big conference call coming up in five minutes. You just let your pup out, but he’s still barking, pacing around the room and diving into the wastebasket. When you’re working from home with your dog, this can be a daily reality.
This is why it helps to have a handy stash of safe chew toys nearby. Keep a basket of them in your home office for moments just like this. Be sure to clean and sanitize them regularly, as they’re certain to get plenty of use!
There might be lulls during your day when you don’t mind your dog’s loud and crazy antics, but when you’re in the middle of an important meeting or simply need to hunker down and focus, keeping your dog quiet while working from home will be your top priority.
Before you go shopping, check out this list of tips from The Humane Society. It’s important to choose toys that are safe, healthy, and appropriately sized for your pup!
Don’t purchase any dog toy that encourages destruction. I’ve taken too many toys out of tummies and seen complications, including death, from well-meaning gifts that ended up being eaten. When selecting your next dog toy, here is my best advice:
- Made in the U.S.A. – I prefer pet toys made in America whenever possible. I trust the manufacturing regulations and oversight our country has more than many countries. Our system is far from perfect and I’m always pushing for better protections, but our pet industry produces some of the safest products in the world. Plus, I believe in supporting American jobs.
- Chewable but Not Too Hard – Dogs desire toys that compress or allow them to chew on them. The tendency is to make dog toys more durable, requiring harder plastics and rubber. That may not be the best approach. Look for a plaything that yields to hard pressure. If you can crack concrete with it, it’ll also crack your pooch’s pearly whites. Most of my dog’s toys showed visible evidence of tears, chunks, and breaks within a few weeks of usage. That’s perfect in my book. That tells me they’re sufficiently chewable. It also tells me time to pick up something new.
- Toxic Substances – Sadly, lead, bisphenol A (BPA), arsenic, and other toxins have been found in pet toys. American-made products may be safer, but do your homework. Toys spend most of their time in your pet’s mouth, and any chemicals leached end up in their bloodstream. Evaluate toy packages as critically as you analyze food labels.
- No Bells, Squeaks, or Stuffing Unless Closely Supervised – These toys promote total annihilation. They are only safe if you’re there to immediately step in and take away the partially-destroyed doohickey.
- Rotate, Rotate, Rotate! For two decades, I’ve been advising pet parents to switch out dog and cat toys every one to two days. This research confirms my practice. You can also rub the toy in grass or a little salt to change the smell and taste to revive an aging toy. Better for budgeting.
- YOU are the Best Toy – I devoted an entire chapter in my book, “Chow Hounds” to rewarding with your time and attention. Go for a walk, throw a ball in the park, do anything together. Toys are great when you’re at work or away; take the time to be with your dog whenever possible. You’ll both be healthier for it!
Make Your Workspace Pet-Free
Sure, you and your pet might share a home, but that doesn’t mean he needs to have his paws on your keyboard while you’re trying to respond to an email. It’s safer and healthier to establish designated workspaces for each of you!
Depending on your preferences, sharing spaces can take a variety of forms. You might allow your dog to be in the office with you during the morning, although on his own bed. Or, you might prefer to put him in an indoor crate or use a baby gate to separate your “office” from his “play” area during some of the day. Either way, once you set it up, it’s important that you stick to the plan.
This will help establish physical and temporal boundaries and let your dog know that you are the one in charge. It creates a schedule (and dogs love regimens!) and can help calm your dog when they know what is expected from them and when to expect it. After all, dogs need a job too! Bonus: It can also keep your pet from getting into your files, cables, and other work-related accessories.
That’s a pretty hip office you got there
Stick to the Plan
There’s a learning curve to acing this setup. Especially in the beginning, you might wonder, “What’s the best way to work from home and spend time with my dog?” You might feel guilty about neglecting him at certain times of the day or worry that he’s not getting the attention he needs.
At the same time, your pup might feel equally anxious. When your focus is spread thin and you’re distracted with work, he might feel left out or confused. This can lead to whining or crying, as well as pawing at the door or baby gate to get your attention. When this happens, remember to stay strong. Once you’ve set boundaries, it’s important to stick to them.
Caving and letting him curl into your lap might feel great in the moment (or allow you to finish that video conference), but it sends the wrong message and sets back training. It makes him think that he can beg for his way and get it any time he wants (negative reinforcement). It might be hard, but it’s important not to deviate from your plan once you create it.
Reward With Healthy Treats
You guys did it! You had a big video call and calmly told your dog to stay quiet. He listened and everything went off without a hitch. Now is the time to break out the healthy treats as a reward!
Give him a few, along with a belly rub or five, to show him that his behavior was good. Good behavior equals good outcomes equals healthy treats! Then, the next time you make the same request, he’ll be that much more likely to oblige (treats!). Rather than filling his sensitive tummy with the artificial chemicals found in many dog treats, stick to high-quality, all-natural ingredients you both can feel good about.
Approach It Incrementally
You can’t expect to go from giving your dog around-the-clock attention to only seeing him during designated break times while you work from home. To the greatest extent possible, try to ease into this new routine by increasing your alone time in increments.
Doing so helps your dog get used to seeing you less frequently, which can keep him from feeling shocked (and responding in kind) the next time you close the door to get some work done. Begin by taking long, frequent breaks during the first few days, then slowly taper them as you get a clearer view of how your “new normal” will be structured.
While you both figure out this new way of living, don’t be too hard on yourself. If you were supposed to work on a project for 20 minutes but you decide to go for a walk together instead, don’t worry too much about it. Remind yourself that there are distractions in every workplace. Yours just happens to be a lot furrier and cuter!
When you work from home, you know that every day can be different from the next. On Monday, you might find yourself tied to the computer with little time to do anything but grind out your assignments. By Thursday, that work might be totally finished, giving you plenty of downtime before the next task launches.
This is why it’s important that both you and your pup learn to embrace a flexible schedule. While we’ve mentioned the importance of creating and sticking to a routine, expect that there will be moments when this isn’t possible. That’s real life. Don’t be too hard on yourself when things don’t stick to the schedule or go perfectly. It’s a journey, not a destination.
Each day, try to provide one “surprise activity” at an unexpected time to help your pup understand that each day is a little different. Some days, you might be able to swing playtime right at noon, but what happens if your boss wants to chat then? If you’ve been too stringent with your schedule, you might find yourself shushing your pet with one hand, while balancing your phone in the other.
Train Around Distractions
Many dogs need obedience training to help them establish good behavior. While you’re working on showing Buster when and where to sit, stand and stay, don’t forget to factor in household distractions. One of the most important ones to consider? The doorbell.
You could have the most well-trained pup in the world, but if the doorbell rings and he isn’t expecting it, the result could be a symphony of barks that leaves you scrambling for the “mute” button on your work phone. During your training, press the doorbell and teach your dog how to identify the noise and respond calmly to the stimulus.
The same goes for anything else that could send your dog into “guard dog mode,” including sirens, loud engines, and delivery people. Any of these could interrupt your workday, and it’s important to expose your dog to them as much as possible before it’s “mission critical.”
Working With Dogs Can Be Fun and Rewarding
Working from home can be great, but working from home with dogs is even better. With this setup, you can have the best of both worlds, but it’s important to plan out your strategy, first.
Take the time to create a flexible routine that fits your schedule and allows your pup plenty of socialization. While it might take a few weeks to figure out what works best, you’ll eventually fall into a groove that works for everyone.