The Coronavirus pandemic, and the social distancing guidelines that have come since, have changed everything in our lives. Even the ordinary act of walking a dog has changed. Pets still need to be walked but, as with everything for the unforeseen future, precautions need to be taken and new dog walking rules need to be followed to #flattenthecure and keep everyone healthy. Otherwise, the innocent act of walking the family dog could lead to additional COVID-19 cases.
“Our pets need mental stimulation and physical exercise, as do we,” says Dr. Jamie Richardson, the Medical Chief of Staff at Small Door Veterinary in New York City.”Physical exercise releases serotonin and dopamine and all of the good things that help stress release for humans, as well as our pets.”
It’s also important to keep a pet’s schedule as consistent as possible. Dogs thrive on routine and struggle when they have to deviate from it. While you can’t get around the fact that you’re home for 40 more hours a week than normal, keeping normal walking times in place will help both of you stay sane.
So how do you walk your dog safely during the coronavirus pandemic? What does proper dog-walking etiquette look like? Here, with some advice from Dr. Richardson, are what dog owners need to know right now.
1. DO: Walk your dog if you feel healthy.
This one seems fairly obvious. Not only is exercise an essential activity for your pet, getting outside once a day for an extended walk will do wonders for your mental and physical health. “As long as you’re not displaying any symptoms for COVID-19, you can go outside,” says Dr. Richardson. “I encourage people to go on walks to make sure that anxiety and stress levels and physical health are all kept where they should be..
2. DO NOT: Go on Group Walks with Other Friends.
In some cities under shelter-in-place designations, only one person can go out and walk the dog any time the walk needs to be taken. But even if you don’t live under those strict guidelines, you should still do the socially responsible thing and only walk with family members or those with whom you live. In other words, this is not a time to hang out with old pals. “So, obviously, if you have a partner or a roommate and you’re quarantining together, you can certainly go on walks together, but this is not the time for group walks with friends, family, whatever, when you’re meeting outside. Just because you’re outside doesn’t mean that you’re safe,” says Richardson.
3. DO: Wear a Mask or Other Protective Face Covering
Some cities across the country have already asked people to wear face masks any time they go outside. Whether you’re asked to or not, this prevents those without symptoms from spreading viruses through their respiratory droplets.
4. DO NOT: Let Your Dog Greet Other Dogs.
This is perhaps the toughest rule to follow, but it’s also one of the most important. “The CDC and the WHO is saying that out of an abundance of caution, we really should not be allowing our pets to interact with other humans or other pets at this period in time,” says Dr. Richardson. ”You want your pet to be socially distanced along with yourself from other people and other pets.” Apologize to offended parties if you have to, but keep your dog from saying hi, sniffing butts, and all that other fun stuff.
5. DO: Keep Your Distance. And Pull Off to the Side When People Approach
“If you’re on a narrow path and you see other people coming towards you, pull off to the side to give them a wide berth to pass you,” says Dr. Richardson. This is good etiquette in any situation. But under CDC social distancing guidelines it’s necessary. Also, there’s no guarantee that anyone else will do it if they see you, so being the responsible one is fine.
6. DO NOT: Take Your Dog Off-Leash.
Unless you live in a beautiful, secluded wilderness, keeping your dog on-leash is the only way to have full control over their whereabouts and ensure that they won’t come into contact with other dogs or people.
7. DO: Avoid Popular Spaces like Parks or Narrow Trails.
Seen those viral photos of hugely crowded public spaces recently even though people are supposed to be socially distancing? Yeah, don’t be those guys. Right now, the most important thing you can do when walking your dog is to go to less popular areas. If that means walking in your neighborhood rather than going to the local park that has more green space, so be it.
8. DO: Wipe Down Your Dog After Walks.
The research on whether or not dogs can transmit, or get and exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 is pretty thin at the moment. But that’s all the more reason to practice extra caution, per Dr. Richardson, especially if, for some reason, your pet came into contact with other animals or people. “If you’re going to lose sleep about it if you don’t, absolutely wipe your dog down with either pet wipes, wash cloths, or something similar.” Do not spray down a paper towel with bleach or anything that will harm your dog. Any pet-grade wipe, dampened wash cloth, or human-safe wet-wipe will do.
9. DO NOT: Go to Dog Parks.
“Absolutely do not go to the dog park,” says Dr. Richardson. “Not unless you decide to go in the middle of the night and you’re certain that no one else is there. If there’s a place open, you shouldn’t be going right now. It is not the socially responsible decision to make,” she says. During the day, your dog will come into contact with other dogs at the park. Even if you take every precaution, don’t come into contact with anyone, you risk touching commonly-touched surfaces.
10. DO: Have a Dog Walking Plan If You Get Sick
If you start to feel any of the symptoms of COVID-19, quarantining yourself from your family and pet and staying at home until 72 hours after the symptoms subside is an absolute must. So is having a contingency plan for who’s walking your dog. If a spouse isn’t feeling any symptoms, they’re fine to walk it so long as they take extreme precaution with masks, hand washing, and social distancing. But if not, is there a neighbor who can take over? A service you can use? Figuring out a plan is important for keeping your pet healthy. If that’s not possible for you, every time you interact with your pet, you should be wearing gloves and a mask, says Richardson. And this is not the time to be kissing or snuggling with your pet, either.
While all of this might sound overwhelming, at the end of the day, there’s very little that you have to change as a pet owner when it comes to walking your dog. No matter what’s going on in the world, the exercise and fresh air will make you happy and your pet happy. Steer clear of others, avoid crowded spaces, keep your pet on leash, and appreciate the fact that you are healthy enough to take deep breaths in nature or on your sidewalk in front of your house. Take the time to reconnect with yourself and your pet.