Many of us are *still* spending a ton of time on Zoom or other video calls for work. While our dogs (and cats) may be enjoying the extra social time, sometimes it’s less-than-convenient to have pets on-screen (or on-mic). Unfortunately, you can’t just explain the concept of “work” and “money” to your dog, so we’re here to help your pooch professionalize a bit.
Sure, it’s cute to have Fido’s nose poking under your arm during a casual team meeting – but it can be truly annoying to have a yipping pup interrupt meetings with clients or bosses! Here’s how to help your dog be a polite cowoofer at Zoom meetings.
- Set up for success beforehand: Exercise, Enrichment, Location. If your dog is acutely or chronically bored and underexercised, Zoom meetings are going to be an issue. Before you head to work, ensure that you give your dog meaningful mental and physical exercise. That means more than some fetch in the backyard or a march around the neighborhood for most dogs. That means a sniffari and some puzzle toys! If your dog isn’t satiated yet, you’re fighting an uphill battle. Pick your resting place for your pup carefully, too. For some dogs, that might be right at your feet so they don’t cry. For other dogs, the best location is in another room where they can’t barge into your meeting. With my puppy Niffler, I put him in a “puppy palace” right beside my desk. He couldn’t jump up on me because of the pen, but he also was close enough that he wasn’t likely to get scared or lonely and start to cry.
- Offer other “hobbies” to your dog. Right before you settle in for your Zoom meeting, give your dog a tasty chew. Giving your dog a distraction BEFORE your meeting starts is key to helping them learn that Zoom = restful chew time, not time to beg for treats. I can’t stress enough that it’s important to give the long-lasting chew before your meetings start, not as a way to distract your pup after they’ve started bugging you.
- Respond consistently to interruptions. Mistakes happen! If (or when) your dog does interrupt a Zoom meeting despite your best efforts, it’s super important that you respond consistently. If sometimes you coo and cuddle your pup and other times push them away, you’re likely to make the problem worse. The confusion can lead to your dog attempting to visit more often! I find it’s best to quietly but firmly give your dog a cue for something else (like to go lie down or sit) if you can’t simply ignore them. Try not to create an “accidental behavior chain” where your dog learns to jump up -> get attention or a cue or a “distraction treat” -> repeat! It’s hard to overstate how rewarding attention can be to a bored dog, so ignoring them and preventing the problem is really important.
- Be careful if/when you invite interruptions. I get it, your dogs are cute. So are mine! And sometimes, you want to show them off during a casual Zoom. But your dog doesn’t know the difference between a family Zoom get-together and the quarterly all-staff meeting. I reccomend not inviting your dog onto Zoom if you’re still struggling with interruptions. It’s just too confusing! Once your dog is reliably not interrupting Zoom, you can start to invite them into Zoom meetings. Be sure to only reward them with attention if/when you’ve invited them up and not if they’ve invited themselves.
- Utilize teamwork as needed. Sometimes life gets in the way. If you have a super important meeting or know that your dog is insufficiently tired (or you’re raising a young puppy, as I was in December 2020), you might want to call in the cavalry. Ask a family member, neighbor, friend, or even someone from a dogsitting/dogwalking service to take care of your dog during that important meeting. If your dog is on a walk with a friend, there’s no way they’ll interrupt that all-important sales call.
Of course, not all of us mind having our dogs interrupt Zoom calls. If you and your coworkers agree that having cowoofers on Zoom is great, I’m all for it! But if you’re struggling with unwanted interruptions from your dog, I hope you find these tips helpful.
Kayla grew up in northern Wisconsin and studied ecology and animal behavior at Colorado College. She founded Journey Dog Training in 2013 to provide high-quality and affordable dog behavior advice. She’s an avid adventurer and has driven much of the Pan-American Highway with her border collie Barley. She now travels the US in a 2006 Sprinter with her two border collies, Barley and Niffler. Aside from running Journey Dog Training, Kayla also runs the nonprofit K9 Conservationists, where she and the dogs work as conservation detection dog teams.