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How to talk to your dog about social distancing

April 1, 2020

Have you had “the talk?” The one where you explain to your dog about social distancing? It’s not an easy conversation to have, I know. At first, I thought maybe I’d buy a book about it and leave it out so my dog could find it. That way my dog could digest the facts when she was ready. And then she could vomit them up on my comforter for me to find later.

But the moment for that gentle approach has passed. This isn’t like all those times I’ve turned a blind eye when my dog has tried to have sex with a couch cushion. I need to communicate to her directly. I go so far as to sit at my desk, in front of my dog, and plead while shaking my fists. I’m like one of those awesome, Italian mayors on YouTube — you know, the ones who are angry at their citizens for using their “incontinent” pups as an excuse to go out. It’s not my dog’s fault she doesn’t understand. She just doesn’t speak Italian.

Still, the reason people love dogs, or at least the reason I do, is because they’ve never had much use for language. I mean, my dog is not an idiot. She knows enough words to get by. She knows “walk,” “outside” and “cookie.” And she knows we know that she knows. She’s not like the cat, who pretends she knows nothing, but is secretly tutoring the hamster for the LSAT.

The problem with dogs is that they are such good people, which is why it’s so hard to explain the current situation to them. The last thing I read about parenting during this pandemic — before I gave up parenting and decided to view my children as annoying colleagues — is that parents should try hard not to reveal their anxiety to their children. With dogs, that effort is wasted. My dog may not speak Italian, but she totally knows I’m feeling triste.

Surely, then, my dog should also know that I’m anxious about leaving the relative safety of our co-working space to take her out into the virus-filled world. Oddly, that doesn’t seem to bother her. I guess it only took a global pandemic to reveal the truth: man’s best friend? Not so much.

Making matters worse, I somehow ended up with the worst possible dog leash for a pandemic. My leash is like two feet long! That is not nearly long enough to let her say hello to neighbor dogs while keeping me at a safe distance from neighbor-dog owners. Where did everyone else suddenly score these 20-foot, retractable leashes? Were they bundled at Costco with all the Clorox wipes I also missed out on?

Once outside, I am happy to smell the fresh air and feel the sunshine among my dog-walking neighbors, who studiously keep their distance and don’t make eye contact. Unlike my dog, who stares moonily at every passerby. Can she read the room? No, not to save her life! I mean, my life!

Finally, I can’t take it anymore: I tell my dog all about covid-19 and why we need to behave ourselves when we go outside. I don’t edit out the scary parts. I don’t care that she’s four months old! That’s about four times the life of a worker bee! Maybe I could trade her for a beehive if all else fails.

To my surprise, my dog says she understands. And then she asks me an interesting question: Have I seen that Italian mayor on TV? The one who’s American, not a mayor, and also a physician?

Of course, I’ve seen Dr. [Anthony] Fauci, I say.

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