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A Flagstaff trainer's advice on what to do when your dog becomes that annoying coworker
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A Flagstaff trainer's advice on what to do when your dog becomes that annoying coworker

From the A collection of the Daily Sun's coronavirus coverage series

COVID canine memes abound on social media in this age of isolation — a favorite: that lugubrious mutt lamenting, not another walk! — and our dogs are a-bounding all over the house, too. They are Zoom-bombing that crucial client meeting, wedging snouts under your forearm when you have that report to finish, and barking and acting out in desperate pleas for attention.

Yes, Fido may be having some adjustment issues now that you’re home all day, every day, seemingly ad infinitum.

What to do? We love our dogs, of course, but some have become that annoying coworker that slobbers, needs a bath and follows us everywhere. And the thing is, you can’t call HR to fix the problem.

You can, however, consult animal behavioral experts, such as Flagstaff certified dog trainer Karen B. London, to learn ways to mitigate your mutt’s miscreancy during the Covid-19 stay-at-home order.

A doctorate in zoology — which London, by the way, has — is not needed to make your house a peaceable kingdom once again. Some of her suggestions are as simple as taking your dog on a walk before work (yup, another walk) and others more involved and touching upon strategies to keep your dog mentally stimulated, or at least distracted, while you toil.

London said, these days, she’s been overrun with questions from clients. She can’t say as she’s surprised, either.

“There was a feeling when people first started working from home of, ‘Yay, the big winners are dogs,’” she said. “In many ways that’s true, but a lot of dogs don’t do well with change. A lot of dogs are loving that their people are home, but there can be problems.”

In short, the dog doesn’t understand why her human buddy doesn’t want to play all day and, instead, chooses to stare at a screen.

“As much as they want to spend time with their dog, people need to work, and the dog is wanting to go for a walk, or throwing a ball in their lap, or is barking at them, or just sort of pacing around or standing by the treat jar and whining,” London said. “Definitely, dogs are not doing what they’d do when people aren’t home, which is probably amusing themselves with whatever toys they have or having a snooze or just being bored waiting until their people got home.

“So there’s a lot of pestering going on. Part of it is, like, you’re here, why aren’t you paying attention to me? And part of it is that people aren’t used to working when their dog is there, competing for their attention.”

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Dogs, for example, are feeling a little jealous competition with Zoom meetings. All of a sudden, their human is talking to the computer screen, not to them. One of London’s clients on a teleconference call turned and saw her dog prancing by with an unfurling roll of toilet paper in his mouth, and several others have reported that their dogs bark during Zoom meetings, which sets off the dogs of other people on the call and leads to a chorus of shushing.

“Some dogs act like kids, like, ‘I know if I pester you, you’re going to have to do something because you’re on the phone or on Zoom and you have to work,’” London said. “Some people accidentally teach their dog, if I’m on a Zoom call and you hear other voices and I paw at you, I’m going to get a treat. They accidentally train them that and it exacerbates the problem."

Her first suggestion is to give your dog a designated space to hang out during the day — its own cubicle, if you will. That might be a bed or a crate or even just a rug on which to lounge.

“Send them there with something to do, hopefully: toys, Kongs stuffed with food, bones,” she said.

Another solution, London said, is to have the dog perform abbreviated training sessions, lasting no longer than 5 to 7 minutes.

“The devil does really look for idle paws,” she said. “Boredom is the enemy of the well-behaved dog. Have them do puppy pushups. Ask them: ‘down, sit, down, sit.’ You can even do that with hand signals while you’re on the phone.”

One key to be successful working from home with a pooch is to plan to exercise your dog, tire it out, just before you have that uber-important Zoom meeting. Waiting to walk Fido at the end of the day, as you may have done in pre-quarantine days, isn’t as effective, London said.

Another issue dogging some of London’s clients the interaction between pets and kids, both home and both bored for long stretches of time now. Dog owners, she said, need to be vigilant in making sure the children aren’t harassing the dog, or vice versa.

“The dogs and the kids are getting in each other’s faces and it can lead to snapping and serious things,” she said. “I’ve seen videos online over the years of dogs being harassed by kids and the dog looking like, ‘Help me.’ Whenever a client says to me, ‘He’s such a good dog, the kids can do anything to him,’ my first question is, ‘Gosh, what are these kids doing to him?’”

Pet adoptions are up during the pandemic, especially people bringing puppies into the home. This gives them, theoretically, more time to train, but new owners these days ask London how to socialize a dog during social distancing.

“In the dog world, we’re calling them COVID-19 puppies,” she said. “You want to expose them to a lot of things. Shades going up and down, give your dog a treat. Turn the stove on. Pet them, give them treats. Have people in your house wear hats and carry backpacks. Definitely take them out and about to see other dogs at a safe distance. Make it a happy thing. Sure, they can’t have tons of people loving them and petting them now, but they can have people talk to them from across the street in happy voices. Keep it positive.”

And keep them away from the precious toilet paper rolls.

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Feature Writer, Community/Calendar Editor

Sam McManis is an Arizona Daily Sun features writer and the author of two books: “Running to Glory: An Unlikely Team, A Challenging Season and Chasing the American Dream" and “Crossing California: A Cultural Topography of a State of Wonder and Weirdness.”

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