Working From Home with a Pet? 4 Expert Tips to Keep Your Cat or Dog From Crashing Work Calls

·6 min read

Courtesy Healthy Paws

Working from home means finding ways to add a dash of professionalism to your personal surroundings, but many pets didn't get the memo.

Throughout the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, pets, specifically cats and dogs, have become notorious for crashing their owners' work calls, pawing across Zoom screens and barking in the background of phone meetings. It's a work from home wrinkle that all pet owners are trying to work around, including pet professionals.

Rob Jackson is the chief pet protector of Healthy Paws Pet Insurance and the Healthy Paws Foundation, and is, not surprisingly, a proud dog dad.

"Currently, I have a 14-year-old Russian Spaniel named Barney that I adopted from a shelter. He's made many cameo appearances on video calls or meetings. I've always had dogs in my life — all of them rescued. They have been my inspiration for creating a pet insurance company and a foundation that helps homeless pets," Jackson told PEOPLE.

His time spent working at the pet insurance provider left Jackson prepared for the tricky world of working around your pets peacefully during the pandemic.

"Pre-pandemic, we had a pet-friendly office, so my dog had a little practice 'participating' in meetings before we went virtual! That experience helped me establish some guidelines for how and when they join video calls today," Jackson shared.

For him, an appearance from your pet in a video meeting isn't always a bad thing, if you gauge the tone of the meeting correctly.

RELATED: Cats Are Quarantine Heroes, Keeping Their Owners Happy During the Pandemic, Survey Finds

"From a business perspective, I look at who’s joining and what we want to achieve before I decide if it’s pet friendly. For example, my dog might appear in some of my more casual virtual brainstorms, but he is absent from more significant internal meetings or external meetings with new partners. You have to read the situation," the pet protector added.

Of course, you may deem a work call "not pet-friendly," but then find your pet doesn't agree with that analysis when they suddenly pop up in the background behind you. After years of working with pets, Jackson has some useful tips on how to keep pets and video calls separate while still respecting your close bond with your cat or dog. Read on to get the Zoom Call "Petiquette" tips Jackson shared with PEOPLE.

RELATED: Survey Finds Dog Owners Are Exercising More, Enjoying Working From Home During the Pandemic

Why do pets interrupt work calls? Our pets just want to be near us, and they don’t know the difference between us sitting on our computer for fun vs. something more serious like a job interview or other important meetings. When your dog gets in front of your computer screen or your cat sits on your keyboard, they are simply putting themselves front and center with you – literally – and most definitely getting your attention and acknowledgment.

How can you train your pet not to interrupt your calls? Our pets have gotten used to having their favorite people at home with them nonstop, and it’s not easy for them to be separated from us. That’s a big part of the problem when we need to close the door for a video call. So we recommend that pet parents take a few steps to help their furry friends get used to spending time apart again.

  • Take “no attention” breaks: Cuddles and playtime are highly welcome, but it’s important to set boundaries with your pet. Designate chunks of "no attention" time throughout the day during which you (and any other family members, children included) ignore your pet.

  • Stick to your "leaving for work" routine: If you would typically crate your dog, continue to do so. If you leave a special treat or feed them just before leaving, follow that same routine and then leave for a while.

  • Leave the house: You don’t have to be gone for eight hours, but it’s recommended you leave for a little while. Some suggestions are to go for a drive, sit in your car and read a book, or go for a bike ride or walk alone.

  • Separate yourself: During a few of your working hours, consider going into a bedroom or office without your pet and closing the door. They’ll know you’re on the other side of the door, but this gives them a sense of being home alone.

What is the best way to safely remove your distracting pet from a call? If you are not speaking and you’re on a call with a larger group, turn off your camera and sound briefly while you either relocate to a different room or calm your pet. If you are on a call with only one or two people, you can do the same thing. I would just recommend chatting or briefly saying you will be back in a second to handle the situation. Distractions happen these days – we’ve all been there. The key is to address the situation as quickly as possible and get back to business.

How do you prevent pets from barking or meowing during calls? Prep your pet! Make sure they are fed and watered, walked and have a favorite (quiet) toy or treat before you go into your meeting. Also, embrace out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Shut blinds or curtains to eliminate distractions, like squirrels or neighbor kids on their bikes. And use headphones for your video calls to minimize the chance your pet will hear talking and want to join the party. To create long-term change in your pet’s behavior, set the same boundaries consistently, and train your pets to recognize the signs when you are on important calls. Pets need and understand routines.

If you want to include a pet in your video call, what is the best way to do this?

  • Have a plan going into the video call and read your audience. Sometimes it’s ok to have your pets on camera for the entire call, and other times just a quick introduction is more appropriate.

  • Keep an eye on your pet’s behavior and adapt as needed. My dog can be incredibly calm and relaxed at some moments, but during others he is fidgety and ready to run. Our pets’ moods and energy levels can change quickly; you need to be prepared for that on a video call.

  • And be gracious if someone else’s four-legged friend creates a disruption during a video call. Today, we all need to be a little more understanding of other people’s challenges connected to working from home. Sometimes things go wrong and it’s more about how you handle it than the incident itself. A good laugh now and then can also help you build your relationships with other people and you may even specifically bond over being pet parents while navigating the pandemic in an increasingly digital era.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the WHO and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.