6 Tips For Practicing Social Distancing When You Walk Your Dog

People around the globe are adjusting to life under a pandemic, and social distancing is one of the best techniques we have at our disposal to do just that.

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The Cleveland Clinic defines social distancing as follows: "Social distancing involves avoiding large gatherings. If you have to be around people, keep six feet between you when possible." The CDC recently recommended that any gathering of 10 or people be cancelled, postponed or held virtually when possible.

During these times, many people are (understandably) trying to avoid leaving their homes as much as possible. For many dog owners, however, that's not an option. Pandemic or not, dogs needs to go outside and that means they need their owners to take them. There's the obvious need for potty breaks, but then there's the fact the average dog needs anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours of exercise per day—numbers that can be hard to hit from the confines of an apartment, for example.

If you're struggling with how to practice safety and social distancing without sacrificing your doggo's very necessary time outside, here are some tips to help.

Tip 1: Change your walk schedule

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As any dog owner knows, there are definitely "peak" times for dog-walking. This is explained by a number of factors, including feeding schedules (which, of course, directly impact bathroom schedules) and work schedules. With more and more people working from home or experiencing mandatory furloughs and time off, pet parents will, on the whole, have more flexibility to adjust their walk schedules. Making a point to walk your pup during less crowded times will, obviously, minimize your contact with others.

Tip 2: Set (and keep) firm boundaries

If you have an especially cute pupper, you know that people often want to reach down and give them some loving and pets during walks. To practice effective social distancing, make sure you extend the invisible distance bubble around your dog, too. Although pets (thankfully) don't appear capable of contracting the COVID-19 themselves, they can act as temporary carriers. Meaning: If someone who is infected with the virus (including people who are asymptomatic—aka showing and feeling zero signs of illness) pets or kissing your pup, the virus could be transferred topically to your dog.

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Think of it like a doorknob or a table top—the doorknob can't get sick, but you can definitely pick up a virus from the surface. In this case, your doggo is the doorknob and you don't want his face to become a temporary home for germs that you can pick up next time you kiss or cuddle him.

Tip 3: Take a hike

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Being outside is not, in and of itself dangerous during the pandemic. In fact, many experts actually recommend people continue to spend time outdoors, as long as they're maintaining a distance of six feet from others. For this reason, now might be a perfect time to take your dog on an adventure and trade your usual long walk around the neighborhood for a hike somewhere less crowded. (Note: this may or may not be allowed in your city right now, so check your local ordinances first. While hiking is a safe activity, some cities are only allowing residents to leave their homes for groceries or to take care of others.)

Tip 4: Cancel playdates

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If you and your dog go on group walks or trips to the dog park for walking and exercise, cancel those for the time being. A walk with a friend won't be much fun 6+ feet apart, after all.

Tip 5: Avoid your dog's best friends

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This might be the most difficult tip to follow of all, but it's important. If your dog has a BFF in the neighborhood and you spot them down the street during a walk, it's a good idea to redirect your walk another way. One of the toughest things about social distancing for many people is feeling "rude" when canceling plans with or avoiding friends and acquaintances. Not only will you be struggling with your own urge to stop and chat with your fellow pet parent, but the difficulty will only be compounded by the disappointment your pup is sure to express if you try to drag him past his best friend without so much as a sniff.

Tip 6: Skip the dog park

Just as human parents are being advised to avoid playgrounds with their kids while practicing social distancing, pet parents should avoid dogs parks. Anywhere that large groups regularly gather is at a higher risk of infection, even just on surfaces.

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Of course, everyone has to make their own choices and make the changes that are right for themselves, their lifestyles, and their loved ones during this time. If basic social distancing isn't enough for you (which could be the case for especially vulnerable populations, like the elderly and the immunocompromised), check out our guide to exercising your dog during bad weather, which includes tons of tips for indoor alternatives to a standard walk, which can help keep your dog physically and mentally healthy while keeping your time outdoors to an absolute minimum.

Most importantly, stay safe and stay healthy.