How can I walk my dog safely during the coronavirus pandemic?


01 April 2020
Are you worried about how to walk your dog safely during the coronavirus pandemic and the current lockdown situation? Andrea McHugh advises...

Who would have thought that walking our dogs would become such a hot topic of conversation on social media, the news, and within the dog walking community?

But, then again, who could have predicted the tsunami of devastation that the corona virus is causing globally. At the time of writing, UK residents have been told to protect the NHS by staying indoors, with the exception of going outside for food, health reasons, or work (if you cannot work from home), and also for one form of exercise a day, alone or with members of their household. Dog owners are taking advantage of this to walk their dogs, but with ambiguity concerning the wording of the Government’s advice, and controversy over people heading to the coast and national parks, plus police drones shaming people on social media, it’s no wonder that there is confusion, anger, and frustration over the entire topic.

On March 31, 2020, Transport Minister Grant Shapps, speaking on the Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme said: “It is important that people do not get in their cars and drive somewhere in order to get their exercise, which should be done as near to home as possible, ideally by walking out of the house where that is possible.

“I have dogs and rather than put them in the car, and drive somewhere with them, we are just stepping out of the house and walking them around the block. The best advice is not to jump in your car and go somewhere to walk your dog. Please stay home and don’t go travelling unnecessarily. This is how we will beat this virus.”

So, although the Government has not (yet) issued a total ban, the advice is very clear. That being the case, how can we adapt to this new lifestyle, and walk our dogs safely? Here are 10 top tips that may help…

1) Perfect timing

Choose the best time to walk your dog, taking into account his personality and reactiveness to other dogs and people. If necessary change your schedule to walk very early in the morning, or later in the evening, when there are less people and dogs about. Remember that local walks will all be much busier now, with families walking every day that may not have previously done so.

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2) Long line

If there is an area where your dog can run off-lead, only allow it if there is nobody else around and he has 100 per cent recall. The last thing you want is to have to run after your dog and break social distancing rules with another dog’s owner as you try to get him back on the lead. If your dog’s recall is less than perfect, consider using a long line, or clipping several leads together so he has more freedom than normal but is still under full control.

3) Sniff and stroll

With more time on your hands, you can allow your dog much more time to enjoy some leisurely sniffing when you are out and about. He can ‘check the mail’ of where other dogs have been, and as you relax and reduce the pace, so will he. It’s nice to stop for a few minutes and enjoy a view and some fresh air together.

4) Vary the pace

After a period of strolling and sniffing, call your dog to you, and increase the pace of your walk for a few minutes to get your heart rate up and help to maintain your fitness. This may even be a good time to have a go at cani-cross! Finish the walk with a leisurely cool down.

5) Paw patrol

If your dog is not used to daily pavement walks, check his paws regularly to ensure that his pads don’t become cracked or sore. Consider applying a dog paw balm or wax to help keep his pads in good condition. Pavement walking should help to keep his nails shorter, but check regularly and clip if necessary.

6) Ditch distractions

Now is not the time to be listening to your favourite music on a walk, or talking on your phone. Give your dog your undivided attention, so that you remain constantly aware of other dog walkers in the vicinity. Remember that we are all supposed to maintain a two-metre distance between each other to help protect ourselves from the virus, so pull into a gap in the hedgerow if necessary to allow another walker to safely pass.

7) Great explorations…

You may think you know all the walks from your home, but there may be new routes that you have missed, or you could check on an ordnance survey map and see if you can find any new ones.  Even if there are no new routes, mix and match which route you take, varying them as much as possible.

8) Social work

We are all supposed to be practising social distancing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t actually be social with other dog owners. Now is a great time to teach your dog to settle on a walk while you have a chat with another owner and their dog over the road. Take some treats with you, encourage your dog to sit or lie down, and reward him for a minute or two of settling quietly.

9) Helping hand

The Government advises that you may also leave your house to walk a dog for someone else, who is unable to because they are self isolating. Remember to wash your hands before and after handling the dog, and keep two metres away from other people and animals, including when handing over the dog to the owner.

10) Double up

If you share your home with someone you could take your dog out separately so that he still gets two walks a day. However, if this is not possible, introduce a new routine of one good walk plus some games in the garden, or scent work and indoor trick training, plus regular grooming to help keep your dog happy, healthy, and to improve the bond between you. By accepting that things are different for the foreseeable future, embracing how to make the best of the situation, and not trying to maintain our old lifestyle, we will reduce our frustration and make this temporary situation more bearable.