WORKING FROM HOME WITH YOUR DOG

Working from home is becoming more common today.  For some people this means being home all day and for others home is the office you work from.  Most dogs ease into this scenario and are able to be with their owners throughout the day without exhibiting behavioural issues. For some, however, there are a number of behavioural problems that may arise, for example dogs demanding attention by barking or whining and often at the worst possible times.

flickrworkingfromhomeOften these problems start quite innocently.  Your dog might take to sleeping under your desk and when he wakes up he nudges you for a stroke or if he is smaller, climbs onto your lap for attention.  Later on you are making an important call and your dog is trying to get your attention.  You ignore him but he then starts to whine, or paw at you for attention.  You can’t divide your attention so you give in and pick him up, or pet him.  Later still you focused on completing an assignment on time, at which point he starts barking to be let out and wants to play ball in the garden.  You need peace and quiet to finish so get up to let your dog out.  The problem is that you are teaching him that barking and whining is rewarded with your attention and affection at the times when you are occupied.  This in turn leads to more and more demands for your attention every day.  Remember a dog will only do what is successful and if he can successfully get your attention when you are occupied he will simply do it more and more. 

TIPS FOR WORKING AT HOME WITH YOUR DOG

  • Separate your work space from your dog space and shut the door.  Even though your dog may choose to go elsewhere and nap during the day, if he has free access to you, he will most likely come and find you when he wakes up so it is important that your work area is off-limits.
  • Establish a routine for interaction with your dog. For example, a 10–15 minute break mid-morning and again in the afternoon and half hour at lunchtime. It’s important that you don’t continuously stop what you are doing to spend time with your dog so treat it as if you were going off to work without your dog.  He will quickly get used to the new routine and will settle down quicker during the in-between times.
  • Your dog might be bothered by these changes at first, but do NOT go to your dog’s space if you hear any barking, whining or pacing. Only return when he’s calm and quiet. If you return when he’s acting out of stress, he will learn that making a fuss is rewarded with your attention. If he barks for your attention at first, you may need to have at least a couple of closed doors between you as he gets used to the new situation.  Help him settle by giving him something to occupy him such as toys, chews and puzzle games.
  • Practice general obedience when you do return as this will engage your dogs' brain. This will tire him out and help him become calmer. You don’t need to do specific training.  Just try asking him to SIT and before you stroke him or toss a toy.  Ask him to WAIT before you let him outside.  Ask him to STAY while you boil the kettle.  Be proactive in asking for your dog’s attention and focus. Always begin play on your terms; for instance, if he brings you a certain toy for play, take the toy and wait until later to bring it out yourself and initiate play.  This is not “being mean” to your dog.  This is you helping your dog to understand that you play when you want to.  As he learns that your world doesn’t revolve around him during your work hours, he’ll relax and not be as anxious for your attention.
  • Keep in mind that his bad behaviours are simply learned behaviours, because they have worked for him in the past; your dog will only make a different choice if these behaviours no longer result in your attention and what he interprets as praise. Be patient, calm and consistent. Remember If you don’t separate from your dog, he will have a hard time feeling comfortable by himself when you do have to leave him, so you are actually helping him in the long term. Practicing separation while working at home will therefore help you both be more relaxed and happy, together or apart.

 What to do if your dog won't settle...... 

Some dogs' behaviour becomes so entrenched that these techniques on their own will not resolve the problem.  I look at the whole of the work/home environment and identify what your dogs stressors are before coming up with a modification program that will enable you to be able to work without your dogs behaviour interfering in your working life.  

For expert professional help and advice on sorting out your work life balance with your dog

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