Dear Beast Mode,
I work in a small, family-owned business, and a few months ago one of the owners adopted a dog. It has turned out to be great. She’s an 8-month-old German shepherd mutt, and we love having her around.
She gets a lot of attention, but she gets a bit perturbed when people aren’t focused on her, and she will emit some high-pitched yips to turn the attention her way. This would not be too bad, except we have very high ceilings and it echoes like the dickens. She does this when customers come in, and she seems to get rewarded for it because they often pay attention to her. Is this something she is likely to grow out of, or are there other things we might do to help her stop? She is very sweet and affectionate, and her owner is a very diligent caretaker who takes her to dog-training classes on a regular basis.
—Dealing With a Doggy Prima Donna
Dear Dealing With a Doggy Prima Donna,
Your new co-worker sounds adorable. A little needy, sure, but there are worse ways to act in the workplace. I hope your bosses appreciate your patience. If not, may I suggest emitting a high-pitched whine? It’s a really effective way to get attention—just ask the furry employee of the month.
At 8 months old, your co-worker is still very much a puppy. Her entire life is all about testing boundaries and pushing buttons. She’s learning through the canine Socratic method (dogcratic method?), and each whine is her way of asking, “Will you acknowledge my existence?” It’s a pretty clever trick question, as any reaction whatsoever will reinforce her behavior. This includes castigation, and if you issue a sharp “no!” or “quiet,” then you have already lost this battle of wits.
The best solution is to ignore her, but this is as difficult as it is obvious. Puppies are nature’s most perfectly engineered manipulators. It’s easy to get away with being a sociopath when you look like this.
That’s my dog, Ruby, as a puppy. Don’t be fooled by her peaceful-looking demeanor. She whined all the time, for attention, treats, ear scratches, dinner at noon—everything. I’d love to say we were sternly judicious in response, but we gave into her demands more than we should have. I mean, look at her. That’s one tough negotiator right there.
Ruby still whines occasionally, but it is nowhere near as bad as when she was still A/B testing the universe. We’d like to take all the credit for this, but our puppy parenting was hardly perfect. A big factor was that she simply grew up, and I expect your boss’s dog will eventually chill out, too. In the meantime, you can reinforce desired behavior by rewarding her with treats when she’s acting calm. Some people call this bribery, but it’s really just good office etiquette.
Your boss’s dog is in an interesting situation. While you know to ignore her whines, none of the customers popping in have read the “play it cool around the adorable puppy” memo. But this attention won’t derail her training. If anything, it’s preparing her for a social life full of visitors, and it already sounds as if she’s doing a good job with all the workplace drama. Considering your boss takes the puppy to regular classes, they will be in a good position to address any issues—whether related to whining or otherwise—should they become serious.
For now, your best strategy is to be patient. Puppies grow up. It’s both the best and worst thing about them. Who knows? You might even miss her whining once she matures into a working stiff.