How to Prevent Your Dog From Bugging You When You’re Working From Home

You bug me.

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A whole lot of dog owners are working from home now, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Lots of dogs are loving it – and lots of dog owners are discovering that their canine companions are really good at demanding their attention while they are trying to work. Since it looks like this social isolation situation is likely to last a while, we’re sharing some management and training protocols to help get you and your four-footed pal(s) through self-quarantine.

Our first, very important piece of advice is – remember to not reinforce your dog’s demand behavior. Try to anticipate her need for attention and spend time with her before she gets pushy. Tire her out in the morning before you sit down in front of your computer so she’ll be happy to lie quietly at your feet when you’re ready to work. Then, if she’s nudgy or barky for attention, ignore her until she is calm and quiet. Of course no hitting or yelling. Remember to reinforce her appropriate behaviors!

Related: Ask (Nicely) and You Shall Receive, August 2017

Survival Guide For Dog owners working from Home
Photo: martinedoucet / Getty Images

Here is a survival guide for dog owners working from home:

Exercise: A tired dog is a happy owner. While there may be some restrictions on going for walks, that doesn’t stop you from doing other things. (A walk on leash isn’t really much exercise for your dog anyway!) If your dog will fetch a ball or a toy, throw one in the yard (or down the hall, or down the stairs – carpeted for safety) until she’s ready to collapse at your feet. Some dogs learn to love a treadmill (this one will take some training!). Put brooms across chairs in your living room and encourage your dog to jump over them. Other indoor exercise games include On-the-Bed, Off-the-Bed; back-and-forth recalls with family members on different levels and at different ends of the house… get creative!!

Scent Work: This activity is amazingly tiring for dogs, and wonderfully fun for dog and human. Start by letting your dog watch you hide a few treats, then release her to find them. Eventually put her in another room while you hide treats, then let her look for them. (Don’t help her!). You can even hide yourself (or your kids) and let her find you! (Related: Everyone Nose That, September 2019)

Enrichment: Rather than feeding your dog and then sitting down, put her meals in food-dispensing toys and let her work for her food while you work. Keeps her busy, and uses up energy canine energy. (Related:Play With Your Food, April 2019)

Training: You now have time to train your dog – no excuses. (If there is an upside to coronavirus, this might be it.) You can teach everything from basic manners training to tricks and more to help your dog learn to behave more appropriately in your home – and to tire her out. (Related Tricks for Clicks, April 2016). 

Especially useful behaviors to train for dog-bugging-you issues include “Settle,” (See Give It a Rest, September 2015,) and mat work (See Useful Matters, January 2020). It’s also very useful to teach an “All done” cue. When you’re finished throwing the ball or toy, say “All done!” in a cheerful tone of voice and put the ball away in a drawer and ignore any of her attempts to get you to engage. This cue can eventually generalize so that when you say “All done!” she’ll know you mean it and there’s no point in bugging you for more.

Management: Last, but not least… you can use a crate or exercise pen, or even a tether, to restrain your dog near you while you work but prevent her from physically bugging you. You are likely, at least at first, to have to provide her with those food dispensing toys mentioned about, or some other long-lasting chew, and she’ll do better if you’ve exercised her well in advance, but in time there’s a very good chance she’ll learn the routine and be able to settle for you. If she’s not already crate or ex-pen trained, now’s the perfect time! 

Now when your boss says quit playing with your dog and get back to work, you can.

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WDJ's Training Editor Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, grew up in a family that was blessed with lots of animal companions: dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, goats, and more, and has maintained that model ever since. She spent the first 20 years of her professional life working at the Marin Humane Society in Marin County, California, for most of that time as a humane officer and director of operations. She continually studied the art and science of dog training and behavior during that time, and in 1996, left MHS to start her own training and behavior business, Peaceable Paws. Pat has earned a number of titles from various training organizations, including Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA) and Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). She also founded Peaceable Paws Academies for teaching and credentialing dog training and behavior professionals, who can earn "Pat Miller Certified Trainer" certifications. She and her husband Paul and an ever-changing number of dogs, horses, and other animal companions live on their 80-acre farm in Fairplay, Maryland.

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