Decompression walks: what they are & how to start

Decompression walks: what they are & how to start

We put a LOT of pressure on our dogs. It’s easy to expect them to be “on” all the time — to respond when we want them to, to perform behaviors when we ask them to, and to not perform behaviors when we don’t ask them to.

And while taking the time to teach our dogs is important, it’s also imperative that we are allowing them enough opportunities to just do their thing. To walk or run at their own pace, to lay down in the grass, to track a scent, to dig in the sand. We owe it to our dogs to give them this time to decompress without our often arbitrary human expectations getting in the way.

Decompression walks (a term coined by dog trainer Sarah Stremming), are a fantastic way to meet your dog’s physical and psychological needs. During a decompression walk, your dog is simply allowed to “be a dog.” Your dog can be off-leash (in areas where it's safe and permitted to do so), or attached to a long leash of about 5 meters or more. When given this additional space, your dog is much more free to move at their own pace, and be free to sniff, dig, and play.

The opportunity to do this regularly has an incredibly positive effect on your dog’s physical and mental health. Using a longer leash has been proven to increase the amount of time a dog spends sniffing, which in turn, significantly lowers their pulse. Your role is simply to monitor the environment for safety, and check in with your dog or shorten the leash when necessary.

Recommended supplies

  • A long leash of 5-10 meters (unless you're in a designated off-leash area). I recommend the Trail Leash or Field Leash that we sell here. Biothane is strong, easy to grip, and easy to clean and detangle.
  • A harness. For your dog's safety, the leash should ideally be attached to a well-fitted body harness and not to a collar.
  • High value treats. To practice recall and reinforce your dog for checking in and responding to you, you’ll need to have good reinforcement on-hand.

Ideal locations

  • An ideal location for a decompression walk is an area with no car traffic, wide walking paths, and as few people or dogs as possible.
  • Some great examples are open fields, quiet parks, beaches, dog-friendly nature reserves with wide trails, and empty playgrounds or athletic fields.

    Tips & best practices

    • You can either hold onto the leash loosely, or let it drag behind your dog if you are in an area where it is safe to do so.
    • Always be aware of your surroundings so that you can pick up the leash and hold your dog closer if you are nearing a blind spot or if another person and/or dog is nearby.
    • ​Practice checking in with your dog with attention cues (their name or another signal), and reward them each time they respond to your cue.
    • Reward your dog heavily for spontaneous check-ins (whenever they look at you or come close to you without you asking them to do so).
    • Be sure to introduce the long leash to your dog and practice handling it BEFORE using it on a decompression walk or hike!

    Decompression walks are one of the best things you can do for your dog. and my guess is that you'll benefit from the experience of slowing down a bit, too.

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