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Q: One of the best parts of being able to work at home is having my dog with me. In fact, her regular place is under my desk. But being a dog, she barks when someone comes to the door or while I'm on the phone. Sometimes she greets business visitors as though they were Attila the Hun. I'm concerned about the negative impression it makes to people who hear my dog sound off. Is there hope for having Fluffy with me and not losing out professionally?
A: Like you, having our dog with us while we work is one of our joys of working from home. Over the years we've gone from having Scotties to Whippets to Italian Greyhounds to our current Toy Manchester. While we can't imagine living without a dog, sharing a home office with one can challenge even the most indulgent pet owner. As a result, we've learned some basic rules of home office canine etiquette:
1. Find out how your business guests feel about dogs before allowing yours to greet guests at the door or sit in on meetings. You'll inevitably have guests who are either deathly afraid of or allergic to dogs.
2. Get liability insurance that covers business guests-even if you have a dog that never bites.
3. Buy a telephone with a mute button. It won't help in all cases, but it will allow you to hear the person on the other end of the line while blocking out noise on your end.
4. Train your dog. Teach it not to bark, socialize it to be friendly with strangers but not to jump up on them, and make sure it will come to you when called. How on earth will you ever do that? A well-regarded book is Good Owners, Great Dogs by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson.
5. Get professional help if you need it. We turned to dog trainer Dana Miller and learned it wasn't our dog she'd be training: It was us. Miller taught us how to teach our dog to behave using a basic three-step process:
Interrupt bad behavior by getting the dog's attention using a leash or long line.
Correct the dog's behavior by using a command like "hush" or "down."
Praise the dog as soon as it produces the desired behavior.
Meanwhile, we've discovered Rule No. 6: Keep the door to the laundry room closed if you don't want your unmentionables scattered around your home office.