Tales of Tails: Home office and dogs: Six rules to help it go smoothly

By Hersch Wilson

You wake up thinking it would be a great idea to have a home office. After all, 30 million Americans already do (at least once a week). You think, why not me? You clear it with your boss and your significant other. You’re set!
Then, you look at your dog’s face. He looks up at you adoringly, maybe holding a ball in his mouth. You don’t notice the tiny glint of obsessive/compulsive, “I need to be with you every moment” in his eyes. So you think, what could possibly go wrong working at home with a dog?
This is a question that affects, hmm, let me do the math here: 1 in 4 homes have home offices. Forty percent of homes have a dog, that’s 40 percent times the difference between 1 and 4, divided by seven (English majors always divide by 7) that equals, well, on the back of a napkin, a lot of homes with someone working at home with a dog. Woof.

As an experienced working-at-home/dog partner, let me explain what lies ahead. I’ll offer you a few stories:

On a video conference a few weeks ago, one of the participants dove off camera yelling, “Stop that!” Then there tankvideowere the sounds of multiple dogs barking. When she came back on camera, she was a bit disheveled. We also noted that under her business jacket she was wearing pajamas.

Of course, I’m just as guilty. Our dogs need to be the center of attention at all times. Nellie, our alpha female Bernese mountain dog, seems able to sense when there is a teleconference. Once I was standing, wearing a suit, looking all corporate-y making a video presentation. Nellie slide into the shot, leaned against me and nearly pushed me out of the picture, much to the amusement of everyone else in the conference.

It’s not just communicating with the outside world. Dogs also have no regard for the amount of focus required to work alone. They believe they are the center of the world and they don’t seem to get that the work we do pays for their dog food. Work? Money? Pay? These seem to be foreign concepts to dogs. Food just appears magically in their bowls. Of course, our kids thought the same thing for years.

After a few years of “canine interruptist,” I suggested to Laurie, my wife, that maybe I should buy a small shed, put it in the back, so I could work uninterrupted.

She looked at me and asked, rhetorically, “So you want to get a dog house for you?”

Well, when you put it that way …

But far more disruptive in my opinion is when at 2 p.m. they decide to nap. They curl up right next to you! They look so comfortable. Why do we have to work all day anyway? Maybe I could just close my eyes for a minute …

And then it’s 3:30, they want to play, and I’m hours behind.

But don’t be discouraged. I’ve come up with a few simple ideas to help you successfully be productive at home with even the most obsessed canine.

  1. Sit your dog down and explain to them how important work is in a capitalist economy. Hold a handful of dog food as a visual to make the point: no work, no dog food.
  2. Master the mute button on your phone! You need to be able to anticipate when your dog is about to bark and hit that button within a quarter of a second!
  3. The exhausted dog is the best work companion. Long walks in the early morning guarantees that they will sleep the rest of the morning when we typically are at our best.
  4. On important calls with bosses or clients: Dogs sense our stress and bark because they’re worried about us. Have a safe room. I often sit in my closet with the door shut.
  5. Follow the dog schedule. Don’t try to work during play or meal times. They will not let you. Just go with the flow, learn their schedule.
  6. Include your dog! Bounce ideas off them. Some of my best work has come after long conversations with Tank, our male Berner. He is especially good at helping me stay focused on what matters, namely food.


A last thought. When things aren’t going as planned, when it has been a bad day at work, nothing beats curling up on the floor with your dogs for a long afternoon nap.

For more writings by shelter volunteer Hersch Wilson on dogs, firefighters and life, visit herschwilson.com. Contact him at hersch.wilson@mac.com.