Working From Home With Your Pets - And Helping Them When You Leave

Working From Home With Your Pets - And Helping Them When You Leave

October 20, 2020
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 You're just about to start writing that important paper for your boss, when you discover your cat got to your keyboard before you, or it jumps up in pursuit of attention, knocking over your freshly-brewed cup of joe in the process.

Or you're about to begin a Zoom conference with some of your senior colleagues, when your dog starts howling like the Hound of the Baskervilles or romping with her favorite squeaky toy.

These, and much more, are the everyday frustrations of pet ownership that many of the new breed of work-from-homers have to deal with. It's not always fun and can be downright embarrassing when your furry friend decides to intervene at precisely the wrong time.

But, hang on a minute. How is your dog or cat supposed to know anything about what you're doing and why you need to be left in peace? To them, you're mom or dad, the one that feeds them, plays with them and cares for them. So, they want to know, why not now? Remember, it's you who disrupted their routine, not the other way around!

If you want to see some of these needy animals in action, check out this photo gallery from Timeout magazine: https://tinyurl.com/Timeout-pets. Or this one from the Bored Panda website: https://tinyurl.com/BP-pet-antics There are lots more!

Managing a bored or attention-seeking pet when you work from home calls for a strategy that works for both you and them. Naturally, a lot depends on the type and temperament of your pet. Sometimes, they're good to be around; they're like co-workers.

7 Tips for Managing Your Pet While You Work

But, if you've encountered problems or you're one of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have become new and inexperienced pet owners during the pandemic, it's worth giving some thought to the following tips:

  • If possible, use a workspace where you can securely isolate yourself when necessary, even if it's just a baby gate. This is important not only for your own peace but also because sometimes pets "intervene" because they sense their owners are stressed.
  • Play actively and energetically with them before you start work or an important call or task. They'll tire and be more likely to sleep. But it's also important to help them feel wanted -- they need "me time" just like us! Taking brief but regular breaks with them can help too.
  • If there's another person in the house, delegate the minding and caring task to them, especially at crucial times. If not, is there someone who can look after them on particularly important occasions? Or how about hiring a pet sitter to give you a break every so often?
  • Feed your pet at regular, specific times, so they -- and you -- know when it's feeding time. This reduces the risk of them pestering you.
  • Give them interactive toys. In recent years, toys and challenges as well as automated gadgetry have been developed that provide stimulation for pets. For example, devices that shoot out "fetch" balls for dogs, or packages that contain hard-to-get-at treats for cats.
  • If they insist on being near you, bring their food and bed into your work area. Experts suggest a heated bed and plenty of coverings will lure cats away from your keyboard!
  • Be cautious about surrendering to whining or begging. If you can’t ignore it, speak firmly. There's even technology these days that claims to be able to remove background noise (see https://krisp.ai) if you're on a call.

Above all, patience with your pet is crucial to their wellbeing. Staying calm is best.

On the positive side, of course, enjoying the companionship of a pet can actually ease the potential isolation of working from home. There's scientific evidence that having animals around can actually reduce stress. More than half of all owners say their pats help them relax.

Plus, increasingly, web conference participants are used to hearing or seeing these kinds of interruptions from their co-workers. Even TV viewers have been treated to these kinds of distractions when reporters or guests appear on camera from home.

And, in some cases, firms that rely on home workers who have to interact with customers run a recorded message at the beginning of incoming phone calls, asking for customers' understanding if there are unexpected noises in the background.

7 Tips for Helping Your Pet When You Go Out or Return to Work

However, there's another issue that pet owners are now encountering: the bewilderment and loneliness animals experience when you have to leave, maybe to return full-time to work.

Research shows that, in some cases, they can suffer from severe distress or become destructive. Animal psychologists call this "separation anxiety". Dogs suffer most -- one in seven according to research.

And, of course, new pets who have never known what it's like to be "abandoned" to an empty home are particularly prone to stress.

Here are some of the actions experts advise or owners have found useful to help avoid this:

  • Make a habit of going out, on errands or for a walk, every day. If return to work is imminent, gradually increase the length of time you're away.
  • Don't make a big fuss either before you leave or when they return. Naturally, some will be excited to see you. Staying calm will convince them this is the norm.
  • If your pet causes unusual damage while you're away, that's a sure sign of anxiety. Don't reprimand them.
  • Talk with a vet or animal behaviorist if you're particularly concerned. They will be able to guide you and, if appropriate, prescribe treatment or a tranquilizer.
  • Some owners have found success with remotely speaking to their at-home pet, via phone messages or even an interactive video screen, complete with camera.
  • If you normally keep your pet in a particular place when you're out, like one room, a crate or a kennel, practice using them again before your return.
  • If all else fails, you might consider getting a 'companion' for them -- ideally a quiet, calm, more mature, animal.

Above all, remember that pets are generally creatures of routine, even if they don't always show it. When you have to or want to change that routine, do it gently and gradually.

Show them the respect they deserve and they will repay you with love.