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For as necessary as it is to practice social distancing during the pandemic, it's made exercising our dogs outdoors more difficult. "Covid-19 has stopped a lot of activities, but it shouldn't stop you from walking and exercising your dog," explains Mary R. Burch, PhD, certified applied animal behaviorist and family dog director at the American Kennel Club (AKC). "On average, most dogs need about 30 minutes of exercise per day."
So, how can you keep your pet safe with these protocols in place? "Walks can be taken in places that aren't crowded such as on greenways and parks, as long as dog owners wear a mask and keep their distance from other people," Burch says. And if you can't stick to your pet's normal pet routine, Dr. Jamie Richardson, medical chief of staff at Small Door Veterinary, suggests reducing the amount of food they're getting, to "compensate for the lack of activity and ensure they don't put on weight."
Looking for more advice about how to walk and exercise your dog while social distancing? We asked Burch and Richardson to share some ideas and here's what they had to say.
Keep your dog six feet away from other people and pets.
While masks aren't necessary for your pooch, Richardson says it's important to limit their interaction with other humans and animals. "Do not let other people (except those you're isolated with) touch your pet, and likewise do not touch other pets during this time," she explains. "The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends keeping dogs on a leash, at least six feet away from others."
Pick a quiet, remote area to walk them in.
According to Burch, the best way to practice social distancing on a walk is selecting a location that doesn't naturally bring you in close contact with other people. "Busy sidewalks, with people going in both directions, are not ideal," she says. "Seek out a park that does not have many people walking at certain times of the day, or walk in a neighborhood that is not bustling with people to limit your exposure."
Be cautious at the dog park.
While it may be difficult to practice social distancing at a dog park, Richardson says there are still ways to be safe. "As dog parks are now beginning to reopen, if you choose to take your dog, ensure you stay as far apart from others as possible, wear a face mask and use hand sanitizer before and after touching anything," she explains. "Consider going at off-peak times to reduce the risk of crowding. You should also ensure your dog is up-to-date on their vaccines and preventatives, and it's worth bearing in mind your pup may not be up to as strenuous or long a play session as they were used to pre-pandemic."
If you're lucky enough to have a fenced-in backyard or access to an outdoor space, Richardson recommends playing physical games with your dog to tire them out. "Practice short bursts of obedience training each day, or teach your dog a new trick," she says. "A game tug-of-war can expend a lot of physical energy, or you can play hide-and-seek by telling them to sit, hiding, and then calling their name to come find you."
Try indoor exercise.
When all else fails, Richardson says there are ways to exercise your dog indoors if it's not possible to social distance outside. "There are a number of things owners can do to stimulate their pets' minds, including obedience and trick training, food puzzle toys, and games that involve their sense of smell," she explains. "Hide treats around your home and let them sniff them out throughout the day. Or, let them look out the window—pets love to watch the world go by."