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Michelle Benecke and her 3-month-old German shepherd Nova pose in their Bellingham home on Friday, April 17. Young dogs like Nova need extra socialization, and Benecke made that possible in the midst of a national lockdown. // Photo courtesy of Michelle Benecke

By Victoria Corkum

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) website estimates that there are over 872,200 dogs currently owned in Washington state. Many of those dog owners are struggling to find healthy, safe ways to exercise during Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order.

While people are encouraged to take part in social distancing, what about dogs who require socialization in order to be healthy and grow?

“All dogs need exercise, even those tiny dogs who lounge around all day,” said Angela Lenz, owner of Tails-A-Wagging Doggie Daycare & Canine Training.

Bellingham resident Michelle Benecke and her three-month-old German shepherd, Nova, have overcome some challenges of the stay-at-home order to get daily exercise as well as safe socialization.

“I send her to daycare once a week to help with socializing and training,” Benecke said. “She needs training, but the daycare canceled their training classes which is why I took that next step of putting feelers out to see if anyone would be interested.”

By using the app Nextdoor, Benecke connected with several neighbors who agreed to meet for social distancing play dates so their dogs could interact while the owners kept a safe distance from one another.

“I honestly did not think anyone was going to take me up on it,” Benecke said. “Everyone I have met is respectful. We stay six feet or more apart, let the dogs play and that works great.”

In this search for playmates, one of the largest concerns for Benecke was the possibility of contamination.

Laura Clark, director of the Whatcom Humane Society, said there are a few veterinary websites that release accurate and current information for pet owners who are concerned about animals contracting or spreading the virus.

“I recommend that you review materials online provided by the AVMA and WSVMA [Washington State Veterinary Medical Association],” Clark said.

According to both the AVMA and the WSVMA there are no existing cases of pet to human transmission. However, there have been a handful of human to animal transmissions. Because of this, both sites offer guidelines for pet owners as to how they can best protect their animals.

“The AVMA has confirmed we cannot contract COVID-19 from fur, so dogs playing with each other is not an issue,” Lenz said.

It is vitally important that dog owners are offering their pets two main types of exercise: physical and mental, Lenz said.

Here is a list of solutions Lenz suggests for dog owners to give their pets proper care during the stay-at-home order:

Go for walks.

Lenz suggests that dogs are walked twice a day. A morning walk for physical exercise and an evening walk for mental exercise.

“For me and my dogs, the morning walk is for distance,” Lenz said. “We leave from my house and often do a similar route. It takes us 28 minutes.”

“The evening walk is for time. I call our evening walks ‘sniff walks.’ We walk out to our driveway and I let the dogs decide where we go. Right? Left? It's up to them and we simply stay out for 30 minutes.”

Lenz said that going for walks can be a valuable time to practice commands, wait cues and focus exercises with one’s dog. Social distancing walks can be made easy as well. Lenz suggests sticking to sidewalks as walkers can cross the street to create distance between them and others.

Set up social distancing play dates

According to the AVMA, COVID-19 doesn’t live on dog fur but it can live on surfaces, Lenz said. Therefore she recommends that dogs should play without collars, leashes or harnesses.

As long as the dog owners are social distancing, the dogs should be able to play safely, Lenz said.

“Dog parks are closed right now, so play dates with your dogs friends or doggie day care is a good choice,” Lenz said.

Consider doggie day care

“A training-based day care with a special puppy group is a good idea for dogs less than seven months of age,” Lenz said. “They can exercise and receive basic manners training during the day. A special puppy play group is essential, so the puppy can actively work on puppy biting.”

According to Benecke, day care is an option she has utilized for her puppy at the price of $28 per day.

“I send her to day care once a week to help with socializing and training, so you can do something like that once a week if you can afford it,” Benecke said. 

Utilize social media

Lenz strongly encourages dog owners to use social media as a way to connect with others who might be searching for a similar solution.

“Let your friends and family know you have a dog who enjoys other dogs of a certain age or size and set up playdates,” Lenz said.

Lenz also suggests a trade off method where dog owners can take turns watching both parties dogs without the owners coming into contact.

Above all Lenz encourages dog owners to reach out for support.

At Tails-A-Wagging, dog owners can talk to a trainer for free, according to Lenz. The day care also offers videos and handouts about training issues, puppy socialization and day care.

“There are a lot more resources than people are aware of,” Lenz said.


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