04 May COVID-19: How to safely exercise your pets
Social distancing measures are smothering, it’s true. Even when we can emerge from our homes, the government and health officials are urging the public to maintain a 1.5-metre distance from others. That means dog owners can still walk and exercise their pets on a daily basis – even if it is from a safe distance.
Physical activity is important for both humans and animals, with most dogs requiring at least two hours of exercise each day to stay fit and healthy.
There’s currently no evidence suggesting that humans can contract the COVID-19 virus from dogs; however, studies have shown animal fur can carry the virus.
Because of this, governments and local councils are urging dog owners to be more diligent in maintaining the health and safety of their pets such as by altering their walking schedule and creating a two-person limit when walking a dog.
To assist you in caring for your pet during COVID-19, here’s a guide to help you walk your dog in a safe and responsible manner.
Maintaining Good Hygiene
One essential health and safety precaution during the current pandemic is to wash your hands. Owners and dog walkers should be washing their hands for 20-30 seconds before and after each walk.
Some health experts have also recommended people tie their hair up before going out and washing their face and hair upon returning. It is also recommended that you wipe down your dog’s paws and fur before entering the home in case they have picked up germs from public surfaces.
Surfaces such as park benches, tables, taps, bins, fences and gates should also be avoided. If you need to touch a surface, ensure that you are wearing disposable gloves or carrying hand sanitizer to disinfect the surface and your hands.
Driving to dog parks
The government restrictions during COVID-19 outline that cars are only to be used for essential travel, which means dog walkers who prefer to drive to enclosed dog parks, will need to change their routines to exercise their dogs in walking distance from their homes.
People living in busy city areas with few park spaces in their vicinity should also alter their walking routines, restricting themselves to only walking in off-peak hours around less-trafficked blocks. People with animals and livestock in rural areas will still be able to travel to their properties to feed and care for their animals.
Vets will still be able to provide emergency service for animals. However, non-essential trips to the vet should be avoided. If you do require veterinary assistance, you should call the vet prior to attending.
An increase in people walking
Due to the closure of public and outdoor gyms, swimming pools and playgrounds, many people are opting for walking as a preferred form of exercise. People with friendly dogs who are prone to approaching other people or dogs should be mindful of those that do not like dogs or interacting with them, by leashing their dogs and walking them elsewhere.
Socialising your dog
Many dogs love visiting ‘off-leash’ parks because it gives them the chance to socialise with other dogs. However, during this time, it is advised that dogs and their owners maintain their social distance until the situation is under control.
Staying connected with the dog-walking community
It is estimated that there are 4.8 million domestic dogs in Australia which equates to 20 dogs for every 100 people. Dog walking has become a very social activity, which has led many people to form friendships with their neighbours. Social media groups are a great way to stay connected during this time, and share tips and advice for other dog owners in your community.
Lack of training and socialisation of dogs can lead to aggressive tendencies towards people and other dogs. Owners with dogs who have such tendencies should not be walking their dogs in parks at any hour. (As a dog walker myself, I’ve found people with aggressive dogs tend to walk them at night)
New Zealand has also reported an increase in dog attacks since the COVID19 lockdown.
Playing in the garden
As life under lockdown continues with many working from home, some dogs may be feeling the stress and loneliness of being locked indoors for extended periods of time.
Pet owners with gardens are encouraged to help eliminate their dog’s boredom by playing outside with them. When doing so, ensure your garden is properly secured.
Indoor friendly games
Games such as hide and seek and treasure hunts can be played indoors with your pets, as well as scent games, shorter distance fetch and tag. See more tips to keeping your dog entertained indoors here.
Elderly dog owners
The Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has recommended that those over the age of 70 self isolate in their homes. Dog owners aged 70+ and people who fall within the at-risk groups* are still able to walk their dogs in public, although it is advised they take care, or request the help of a neighbour or family member.
*People with pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and respiratory illnesses like asthma or a history of pneumonia are also more susceptible to contracting the virus and should consider self-isolating at home.
Walking someone else’s dog
Volunteering to walk a self-isolating person’s dog is a great way to assist your local community. Dog walkers should remember to practise good hygiene techniques before and after their dog walks, and to only interact with the animals’ owners from a safe distance without entering their homes.
Dogs from self-isolating households should always be leashed during walks to avoid contact with other people and animals in public.
Owners that contract COVID-19
If you contract the COVID-19 virus, you should cease all interactions with your pet and pass on the responsibility of care to your friends and family if possible.
You can also request that your pet’s new caregiver stays connected through social media with regular video calls, daily photos of your pet, walking your dog down past your house, or by installing a pet video calling device.
Dogs play a significant role in our societies, as our companions and members of our families, so it’s important to give them extra love and attention during this time.