More people are working from home than ever before. Are you one of them? While the extra-short commute from your breakfast table to your desk is great, transforming your home into your office can be challenging. Your spouse wanders in to ask you questions while you’re trying to focus. Your children decide to make “cameos” during video meetings. And then there’s your attentive dog, who seems to be dedicated to ensuring that home and work don’t mix, now or ever!
You want to focus but your dog has other ideas
You have a deadline, but your dog wants to play. Or maybe he’s just decided to bark to let you know every time a bird flies by the window. Or he could be convinced every call requires his input, so he starts whining as soon as you pick up the phone. Bottom line: Your dog is not helping you get work done. Deadlines loom, so what now?
Make it stop!
We humans tend to focus on how to stop annoying behavior. Unfortunately, in most cases—even if the dog stops for a moment while we’re yelling—the behavior happens again the next day, and the next, and the next. There are a lot of reasons for this (which I can go into another time), but the main one is that saying “no” doesn’t provide especially useful information to your dog. “No, don’t bark” can be interpreted as “yes, jump up into my lap” or “yes, whine at me,” or “yes, grab my shoes.” Worse yet, some dogs interpret “no” to mean “my human is paying attention to me.” If what they want is our attention, they hit the jackpot when we say no!
Flip your thinking
Dogs are usually feeling bored or lonely when they get in the way of our work. That means telling them to stop doesn’t really help—they’re still just as bored or lonely. So instead of focusing on how to make an annoying behavior stop, try coming up with a behavior your dog can do instead. For example, you could give your dog a specific action command, like “go to your bed.” “Stop bugging me,” doesn’t really give your dog any guidance about what to do instead of barking, but “go to your bed” is simple and clear.
So what can your dog do while you are working?
There are lots of things you can teach your dog to do while you are working, but if you’re looking for the most bang for your buck, I recommend teaching your dog to be quiet while in a crate or ex-pen, or behind a baby gate. To simplify our discussion, I’m going to use the term “confinement area” to refer to all three of those options (crate, pen, and behind baby gate), and I’ll break the process out into five clear steps.
STEP ONE: Place treats in the confinement area while the dog is locked out
Start by putting yummy treats in the crate or pen and locking the door, so your dog is shut out. Make sure your dog watches you put the treats in the confinement area, so he knows they’re there. Then leave the door closed for a few minutes.
This is my favorite reverse psychology trick for dogs—I’ve seen dogs go from hating the confinement area to pawing at the door to go in when this tactic is used.
STEP TWO: Open the door (and treats rain from the sky)
Next, open the door and let the dog find his way into the confinement area. As soon as he does, drop in another treat for him. Keep dropping treats in the confinement area as long as the dog is in there, but let him leave whenever he wants. Leave the door open for now—you’ll work on closing it later.
STEP THREE: Close the door an inch at a time
Once your dog is racing to get into the confinement area as soon as you open the door, and hangs out in there waiting for you to drop the next treat, you can start shutting the door an inch at a time. Add a treat inside the confinement area each time you move the door. Don’t close the door all the way; just move it so it’s partially shut. Then, after five or six treats, open the door wide (so it’s no longer partially closed), and call your dog out.
STEP FOUR: Dogs choice: Reload confinement area or treats rain from the sky
As soon as your dog comes out, drop a treat or two in the crate or pen and then lock the door again—with the dog on the outside. If your dog refuses to come out (yes, this can happen), drop more treats in the confinement area with him and shut the door a bit farther.
STEP FIVE: Build up to a closed door
Over the course of a few sessions—five minutes at a time, three times a day is good—you should find you can close and lock the door while your dog is inside and your dog will be fine with it. After all, it’s raining treats, right? Once the door is closed with the dog inside, keep dropping treats, about one every 10 or 15 seconds. Let the dog stay in there getting treats for the five minutes of training before letting him out and locking the door again (treats inside, dog outside).
To make the confinement area an even happier place, start feeding your dog all his meals inside it. You can also put his favorite toys in there.
If you want to let your dog wander in and out of the confinement area but still want to make the confinement area super-fun, use a piece of heavy-duty string or twine to tie a favorite chew item or food toy to the inside of the confinement area. That way, your dog will have to be in the confinement area to have the fun item, but he can also leave whenever he wants.
TIP: If your dog is barking at outside noises, even while in the confinement area, consider setting up a white noise machine to make it harder for him to hear what’s going on in the neighborhood.
Time to reap the benefits!
You’ve done your homework and your dog is doing great in the confinement area. Now, when you need peace and quiet, you can open the confinement area door, let your dog walk in, and then give your dog a long-lasting chewable item or stuffed food toy. With the right chewie or toy, you should get at least 15 to 30 minutes of quiet work time—and meet more of those deadlines!