Working from home with pets

Over a year into the pandemic, more people are working from home than ever before. Maintaining your productivity while managing your dog or cat’s need for attention involves something of a balancing act.

The number of people working from home has risen exponentially over the last year, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many home-based workers also have dogs and cats, and while we value our furry co-workers’ love and companionship during this time of isolation, there’s no denying they also present challenges in the home workspace. They’re known to interrupt telephone calls and Zoom meetings, and can disrupt our overall focus on work. If you’ve ever tried working with your cat lying across the keyboard, or your dog pawing at your legs, you know what I mean! Those of us who were accustomed to working from home with our animals before the pandemic have mostly found our groove. For newcomers to the “WFH with pets” gig, it can take some adjustment. Here are a few tips on how to successfully integrate your dog or cat into your home office and work schedule, and satisfy his need for attention without sacrificing your work productivity.

Create a routine

For many of us, a daily routine keeps us on track and we feel discombobulated when our schedules get thrown off. The same is true for our dogs and cats. The recipe for successfully working from home with your four-legged friend starts with having a predictable daily routine.

For dogs: “Dogs love routine. It provides structure for them. If you have to exercise your dog at the same time every day due to your work schedule, that’s fine by him. If you only have time to play with him before or after your workday, that’s okay, too. This doesn’t mean, however, that schedules have to be set in stone. If you get an early break and have time for an extra play session, by all means do so!” — Teoti Anderson, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP

For cats: “Cats are creatures of habit and they tend to thrive better with consistency in their lives. Routine builds confidence and security by making activities like mealtime, playtime, or sleep time familiar and predictable. The stability and security also helps them form stronger bonds with their guardians.” — Lynn Bahr, DVM

Provide enough physical activity

Dogs and cats create their own entertainment when bored, which is fun for them but probably not for you. You don’t want to interrupt a business call because your dog is chewing your favorite shoes or your cat is climbing the curtains. A bored, frustrated animal with pent-up energy needs a positive outlet before he starts engaging in destructive behavior. When you take a break, grab a toy and spark a play session. A played-out animal is a healthy, happy animal.

For dogs: “All dogs need physical cardio exercise, but how much depends on your dog’s age, health and breed(s). The average pug has different exercise requirements than the average golden retriever. In general, I recommend about 15 minutes of cardio activity a day. Please know this does not mean a walk — a typical walk doesn’t get a dog’s heart rate up enough to qualify for good exercise. Turning the dog loose in the backyard isn’t going to cut it, either. Most dogs run around, then stop and sniff, then run some more, then stop.” A period of vigorous play can help meet your dog’s exercise requirements, and tire him out so you can work when you go back in. — Anderson

For cats: “Activity is extremely important to every cat’s health and well-being, and it prevents boredom, depression, anxiety, conditions like obesity, and many inflammatory diseases. Pet parents should actively play with their cats at least twice a day for a minimum of five to ten minutes. Active play can include activities that get cats running, jumping, chasing, and pouncing. Other activities that promote physical well-being include clicker training, foraging, climbing opportunities and supervised outdoor time.” – Dr. Bahr

Don’t forget mental stimulation

Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise. We know that working in front of a computer for hours at a time, attending endless video meetings, or creating a project is mentally taxing and often leaves us exhausted.

For dogs: “Mental stimulation and environmental enrichment are important for your dog’s brain health and development. Even old dogs can learn new things! If you want a dog that is easier to live with, engage his brain. Teach him behaviors that make up good manners. Teach him what he is allowed to chew. If you have a super smart dog, this is critical.” — Anderson

For cats: “Cats need to keep their brains active too. Lack of mental stimulation can cause boredom, depression and behavior problems. It is vital that we provide our indoor cats with ways to keep their minds and bodies stimulated. Opening windows, scent enrichment, new toys, and cat trees are all ways to engage our cats and keep them active and entertained.” – Dr. Bahr

Working from home with our dogs and cats may require finessing, but it’s also rewarding. By positively satisfying your animal’s need for attention, you can successfully manage your time and productivity, and focus on work without a furry “assistant” trying to distract you!