Everything You Need to Know About Working from Home with a Pet

published May 24, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Woman freelancer sitting on armchair and putting your feet on windowsill with plants, remote works on laptop computer at sunny home office, cat nearby wants attention and to be stroked. Top view.
Credit: Dima Berlin/Getty Images

Are you interested in becoming a first-time pet parent? Make your way through our starter pack. This content was created independently by our editorial team and generously underwritten by the Toyota Corolla Cross.

By year three of the pandemic, many people have probably figured out the basic rules of work-from-home etiquette. But what about when you add a new pet to the equation? 

We spoke with experts about how to make working from home an enjoyable, productive experience for you and a new animal companion. Follow the tips below — and remember that it might take some time to fully figure things out. But, important reminder: When you work remotely, a doggie head scratch or kitten cuddle is only steps away on a stressful day, and that could make the whole balancing act more than worth it!

Set a Routine

Many pets, especially dogs, thrive on regularity and pay close attention to what their humans are doing. If your work-from-home routine is, well, nonexistent, your dog will likely pick up on that and figure he or she can just interrupt at any old time. 

“Routine helps your dog know when to relax, and what’s expected of them and when,” says Ali Smith, founder of Rebarkable. “If you know you have, say, a coffee break at 11 for yourself, make sure to bring your dog and enjoy that time together.”

For Indiana-based PR professional Natalie Bickel, creating a routine that worked for both her lifestyle and her 7-year-old beagle mix Otis was an important step at the beginning of the pandemic. “We made the mistake of feeding him lunch, and then he began to expect it,” Bickel remembers, noting that Otis would then often interrupt afternoon work time. So Bickel cut out lunch, and instead incorporated a walk into her morning routine to give Otis a little exercise before she sat down for work.

Durham, North Carolina-based software developer Marcus Southern also found that bringing along 6-year-old Border Collie mix Matilda on his daily walks to drop off his son at daycare helped to tire her out. “Having structure has helped the most,” Southern says.

Credit: Kai Byrd

Reinforce Positive Behaviors

This is another key to maintaining a balance between focusing on work and what your pet needs. And Smith has a tip for if you have a particularly anxious or needy pet: “Keep a jar of medium or low value treats, like a biscuit or even some of their regular kibble, on your desk,” suggests Smith. “Then, throughout the day, when they’re relaxed, give a little praise and drop or throw a treat! This reinforces to your dog that they’re doing something you like. The more they get that reinforcement? The more they’ll relax.”

Conversely, beware of encouraging behaviors that could cause distractions. Trainer Stephanie Zikmann gives the example of cuddling (sorry!). “Remember, if you let the cat or dog lie on your lap once, then they will think it’s acceptable to do that again,” Zikmann says. “Be consistent and never punish.” 

Establish Boundaries

Zikmann says that, if you’re able to, designating an office area that your pet can’t access could be useful. “This can be as effective as being at an office elsewhere if approached correctly,” says Zikmann. “For example, setting up an office in the front of the house and having the pet’s space to the back can give just enough distance to keep work and personal [space] separate during working hours.”

If you live in a smaller space and cannot always physically separate from your pet, Zikmann suggests providing them with multiple activities and distractions so that they can focus on their tasks while you focus on yours. This could include scratching posts, toys filled with treats, and even putting together what Zikmann calls an in-house “Sniffari” — a series of textures, scents, games, and rewards to sniff out and explore around the room.

Know Your Work Culture

Some companies are much more casual than others. It’s important to communicate early and clearly with your supervisors and colleagues to understand what’s expected of you at your specific job.

“Dogs are a common presence in Zoom calls for me,” says Rory Hadley, an HR and benefits manager from Seattle. “I think the answer to whether it’s acceptable largely depends on your job function and company culture. If you’re having a regular team meeting or chatting with a colleague, dogs [could] be a welcome addition to the conversation. If you’re having a sales call or working with a client, or are in HR and are having a difficult conversation with an employee, maybe pop the dog on the sofa with a chew toy for a bit.”

The same holds for mid-day breaks for non-work activities, such as feeding your cat or walking your dog. Hadley, who works in the tech industry and notes that his particular employer is fairly flexible when it comes to breaks, notes that the same might not hold true for other employers. “Some jobs or companies are inflexible in terms of breaks,” he says. “A customer care agent working their way through a queue of callers likely has very regimented breaks due to the demands of their function.”

Credit: Carina Romano

Prepare Now So You Can Avoid Separation Anxiety Later

If you’re bringing home a new pet while working from home but might return to the office either part- or full-time at a later date, you may encounter some serious separation anxiety from your pet at that time. In order to try to steer clear of that in the future, make sure you give your pet alone time each day. For example, Zikmann says she incorporated time outside of the house with her family, sans pets, during the height of the pandemic in order to reinforce that alone time was acceptable.

Want to start this now with an already-anxious dog? Smith recommends building up to longer periods apart. “Start by popping your dog into their dog-proofed space with a long-lasting chew, or a Kong. Head to the door, walk outside calmly, and return,” Smith says.

Be Patient and Flexible with your Pet – and Yourself

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, both Zikmann and Smith say that adjusting to working from home with pets isn’t an overnight process.

“Patience, time, and consistency — these three things will get you really far with any animal,” says Smith.

“It’s important to remember that routines can often be disrupted due to unforeseen events, and so pet carers should be compassionate to themselves if this happens,” adds Zikmann.

For Hadley’s part, he sees more companies moving toward an understanding that employees who work from home may have to operate under a different set of circumstances and etiquette than those who are still in the office. “Our workplace philosophy is wrapped around the fact that we have unique needs and different working styles and preferences, so taking time away from my laptop in the middle of the work day, whether it’s to go for a walk with my dog or even going to the grocery store, is not an issue,” he says.

For pet parents like Bickel and Southern, learning to balance a work-from-home lifestyle with the needs of their pets, while not always easy, has certainly been worth it. “For the first six months Matilda avoided me; she was afraid of men,” Southern explains of the early times with Matilda, pre-remote work. But now that he doesn’t have to commute to his job, he’s been able to spend a lot more time with her. “It has allowed me to really build a great rapport with our dog,” he says.