One of the biggest challenges of working from home is the incessant barking of my dogs. Although my dogs are sweet and loving, I have always known that they are not exactly a quiet bunch. However, it was not until I switched to full WFH mode following the pandemic that I realized how difficult it is to be working around barking dogs.
Although I can read and write even in noisy places such as packed airports, hotel lobbies, and conference rooms with ongoing meetings, there is no way I can take a call or listen during a meeting when I’m distracted by the barking of my own dogs. I’ve been in extremely embarrassing situations when my dog would start yapping in the middle of a meeting. My worst memory was one meeting when I had no access to the mute button, so I had to plead with the meeting organizer to turn off my microphone. A more recent case was my first one-on-one meeting with my newly appointed boss. Since it was the two of us in that conversation, I could not mute myself and he had to hear my dogs howling in chorus. (Quotable quote: “It’s okay, I’m happy to hear them.”) In both cases, I wanted to bury my head in shame over my inability to control my dogs.
Unfortunately, I have no full control over meeting schedules. Working with people in different time zones, all of who have various priorities and schedules of their own, I have to accept that some meetings will happen during inconvenient hours (i.e., when activity levels at the house are high, such as when dogs are playing, running around, or during meals).
I know, of course, that I am not the only one with this problem since I have also heard other people’s barking dogs in the middle of a meeting, but that is no source of comfort. I’ve also heard colleagues’ crying babies and noisy children during calls, but I tend to think that this is far easier to explain to more people. I mean, not everyone is a pet lover or pet owner who can tolerate noisy dogs, but with children, people are more understanding.
Needless to say, I dread meetings and I am always hesitant to speak up, knowing that this would mean turning off the mute button, which could mean the world possibly hearing my dogs go into a barking spree. The chat button has become my go-to when I want to raise a point, although of course, speaking up still cannot be avoided especially if I feel that my point is important, or if someone asks me a direct question.
Since I know that I will continue to be working from home for quite some time, and that there is no getting away from endless Zoom and Teams calls, here’s what I’ve been doing to cope with my vocal pack:
Making sure meetings don’t happen during the dogs’ meal times — I’ve realized that some of my dogs can be very excited during meal times, and some would bark at this time. For my own sanity, I try not to have calls during their meal schedules if it can be helped. Besides, I want to feed the dogs myself, so I try to keep meal times call-free and ask colleagues who want to schedule calls close to lunch time if we can reschedule. (Yes, there are people who do not understand that there is such a thing as a lunch break but the good thing is they would easily accede to a request for reschedule when they know they’re intruding on my meal time).
Knowing schedules of couriers, garbage collectors, etc — Although I can’t always know this, I try as much as possible to schedule calls when I know no one is going to come ringing the door bell. If I am expecting any delivery, I try to schedule calls after the delivery has been made since I know that my dogs will always create a ruckus when someone comes to the house. I’ve familiarized myself with the schedule of the mobile market, garbage collectors, meter readers, and even know when dog walkers would likely be passing by our house.
Getting the dogs settled before a meeting starts — Around half an hour before a scheduled meeting, I try to begin the long process of getting the dogs into their usual quiet time. This means that I have to get settled and relaxed in one place myself, since this is their trigger to relax and just sleep. I try to avoid activities that would excite them around half an hour before a meeting, including eating anything, giving them snacks, going around the house, and the like. My goal is to get them calm and just lazing around just when a meeting starts. One thing I’ve noticed is that I have to be perfectly relaxed so that they would be relaxed too. Of course, this is not always the case, since there would be times when I could be very stressed out before a meeting. But being aware that I am stressed helps, not only in keeping me settled, but also in getting the dogs calm and quiet.
Locking myself in a room with only the non-vocal dogs — This is the easiest way to buy myself some peace and quiet during meetings. Of course, that can mean there will be a dog scratching on the door so that he or she can be let inside. Locking up myself in my room isn’t very practical for long periods, but I do this from time to time, especially for very important meetings. This also means talking to the humans to ask them to please make sure that the dogs don’t come crying on my door, pleading to be allowed in with whines that sound like they’re being tortured (most of my dogs demand to have me in sight all the time)
Honestly, there is no telling which one of these strategies would work best in any given situation, so I always play it by ear. What helps is letting people know about my circumstances — the people I work closely with are aware that my dogs can be occasionally disruptive, and understand (I hope) when there’s a barking dog in the background. With those who don’t know me, I apologize in advance that I may have a barking dog during the meeting, and keep the call/meeting as focused and as fast as possible.
Despite this, I must stay that I deeply relish the opportunity to be working from home with my dogs around me, with their friendly and reassuring presence giving me the much-needed strength to get me through the working day. Those soulful stares, gentle nudges, and loving snuggles never fail to get me through the most challenging of days.