With a lot of us, work has changed in the last year. Many of us have moved out of the office and started to work from home. Pre-lockdown 24% of UK households had a dog. Now that number has increased and we need to work from home with our dog/s. Shahlia Nelson-Rogers, client director at Magenta Associates is one such person, working at home with her English Bulldog, Bernie, she gives us her tips on making your dog a better work from home colleague.
It’s now been a year since I set foot inside my office (apart from a couple of occasions when I had to replenish diminishing stationery supplies, and to re-home the secret packet of chocolate digestives from my desk drawer) and in that time, like thousands of other people all over the country, I have been working full time at home.
Despite the obvious challenges that lockdowns and restrictions have presented, there have been huge benefits to being at home. No more rushing for trains and buses, I can do a load of laundry on my lunch break, I see my shift-working husband for more than 5 minutes at a time, and I get to wear slippers while working through my to-do list.
But my English bulldog, Bernie, clearly believes the sole reason for my being at home all day, every day, is to entertain and cuddle him. Where he used to happily snooze on the sofa for hours, my mere presence became an irresistible call for playtime. It’s great to have so much more time together, we all know about the mental health benefits we get from our four-legged family members. The difficulty is that while my home-schooling 10-year-old understands that I have a job, that I need to work, that I have colleagues and clients relying on me, Bernie doesn’t.
Fortunately, a year is long enough to pick up some tricks and we’ve now got into a routine that we can both live with, so here are some top tips for balancing dog-parent responsibilities with being a work from home professional!
Start The Day With A Walk
If the last year has taught us nothing else, it has proven that no-one likes being stuck within the same four walls endlessly. It’s no different for our dogs – they get the same physical and mental benefits we do from getting out in the fresh air. We start the day with a stroll to the park and spend half an hour having a good sniff about in the bushes. Well, Bernie does. When we get home, he gets a good drink of water and finds his spot on the sofa for a morning nap, meaning that I get an uninterrupted couple of hours to start my workday.
Dog Free Space For Work
I know not all breeds snore quite as loudly as English bulldogs, but in my house, this is a big challenge. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to explain “that lawnmower noise”. The fact is, whether it’s snoring or something else, our dogs don’t always make the best colleagues, so it helps to have a dedicated dog free space. You don’t need to use it for your full working day but having somewhere quiet to retreat to can make a great difference when you’re trying to put on a professional front for those video calls. It’s good for the dog too, when they know some areas are off-limits, they will settle where they are allowed. With Bernie, I play some classical music in the kitchen and as soon as he hears it, he heads straight to his cosy spot for a snooze.
When you’re working at home, managing your time can be a challenge in itself – it’s made even more difficult when your dog is looking for attention. A few minutes of playing with toys here, a stroke and a cuddle there. It leaves the pup wanting more, and you behind on your work! We’ve put a couple of blocks in the day just for playtime. When I make my morning cuppa, I spend 10 minutes playing tug-o-war or hiding Bernie’s toys for him to find. In the afternoon, we do the same. It means that Bernie knows he’s going to have some dedicated time during the day and he’s less likely to try and get my attention when I’m trying to work.
This feels like a bit of a buzzword for dog-parents but ultimately, it’s just about making sure your dog doesn’t get bored as you work from home. If yours is anything like Bernie, boredom = destruction. That morning walk is a good start, a tired dog is a happy dog, but a good range of toys is really important too. In addition to balls, chew toys and Kongs, we’ve invested in a great snuffle mat that keeps him occupied for ages. For me the trick is changing them up. Every few days the toys get put away and exchanged for different ones. It keeps Bernie busy and he constantly thinks he’s getting new toys!
Don’t Give In
This is the hardest one, it’s so difficult to just walk away from that grumpy, wrinkly little face, but sometimes that’s what you need to do. When you respond to the whining, the paw on your knee or the head nudges, it just confirms ways for them to get attention. So as hard as it is, it’s really important not to reward that behaviour. I reinforce the behaviour I want to see so that when Bernie is calm, lying by my feet, and not vying for attention, that’s when he gets a stroke or a treat. And believe me, if it works with the most stubborn dog in the world, it will work with yours!
Shake It Up At The Weekend
This one is as much for me as it is for Bernie. When the whole week is spent at home, and all of our walks are on the same streets to the same park, I find it really helpful to make the weekend different. We shake things up by going for longer walks and head to the beach or the South Downs instead. The change of scenery and smells keeps Bernie engaged and means we can do some exploring in new places while sticking to the restrictions and keeping safe.