Puppies have a short time window for optimal socialization. We asked experts on how to do it safely, even in light of the pandemic.

Some pets, like dogs, need to have social time with other animals. It helps them to learn how to behave and gives them an opportunity to burn off excess energy. But the novel coronavirus pandemic has changed the way all of us must interact and may impact how your pet engages with other pets. "Experts do not believe that pets play a role in the spread of COVID-19," explains Lorraine Rhoads, environmental biologist at Dogtopia. "With an estimated 95 million cats and 90 million dogs in the United States, it is comforting to know that this pandemic is not being caused by our furry family members."

young couple walking with their dog on the beach
Credit: Westend61 / Getty Images

People, however, do need to socially distance and that can pose a challenge for our pets' playtime sessions. So, how can you have a socially distanced pet play date? Rhoads provides a few tips to help us navigate our new world with its current rules of engagement.

Follow hygiene guidelines.

While your pets are not going to wash their paws on a regular basis, you should keep hand sanitizer for yourself and wash your hands often. You'll want to avoid touching your face, and wear a mask when you're around other people.

Keep the play date small.

The virus can spread easily in large crowds that are tightly packed together. Rhoads recommends keeping your pet play dates within a small social bubble. "Are you practicing social distancing with a small number of like-minded family or friends?" Rhoads says. "Reduce your risk by keeping your dog's social bubbles small, too."

Stay up-to-date on your pet's checkups.

There are safety precautions you should always take with your pet, pandemic aside. Before your pet is around other animals, make sure to be current on their checkups and vaccinations. Other considerations include current dog licensing and proper identification like a microchip or dog tag.

Bring your own supplies.

Rhoads recommends that you bring your own treats and water for your pet. Now is not the time to share supplies with other pet owners. "Pack a bag with your own essentials for you and your pup," she says. "Your bag should have your own water, bowl, snacks, leash, hand sanitizer, et cetera."

Have the play date in an outside venue.

"Safer play dates are outside in areas where people can maintain a safe social distance of at least six feet while still having fun with their pups," says Rhoads. Some ideas for your next pet play date might include going for an outdoor walk on a wide enough trail that people can keep their distance from each other, setting up an obstacle course for exercise and training, or even simply letting your dogs all play together and enjoy the sunshine.

You could also take your dog to a dog day care like Dogtopia. "It's the perfect place for dogs to play and you'll be happy knowing they are getting tons of socialization and exercise in a clean and safe environment," Rhoads says.

Skip the play date if you or anyone in your household is sick.

If you are experiencing illness of any kind, you should stay home. The CDC recommends that you quarantine for at least 14 days if you suspect you have COVID-19, but you should also follow safety precautions even if the only thing you have is a cold or the flu. It'll help to slow the spread of the virus, and gives you a chance to stay home and take care of yourself. Contact your doctor if you are not feeling well.


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