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, even in the positive training world. 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, 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 any of our human expectations getting in the way.

Decompression walks 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.” They can 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. Your role is simply to monitor the environment for safety, check in with your dog or hold the leash close when necessary, and keep the leash from getting caught on anything. 

RECOMMENDED SUPPLIES

  • Unless you'll be in a designated off-leash area, you'll need a long leash (5-10 meters). I recommend a biothane leash like the one pictured here. This material is strong, easy to grip, and easy to clean and detangle.
  • A harness. If the leash becomes tangled on something or if you need to quickly grab or step on the leash to prevent your dog from running away, it’s important for their safety that the leash is attached to a body harness and not 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 rewards on-hand.
  • Gloves (not required, but can be helpful). Gloves can help protect your hands from rope-burn.

IDEAL LOCATIONS

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

RECOMMENDED PREREQUISITE SKILLS

  • Attention and/or “come” cue. Unless you are alone in an enclosed space, in order to safely practice a decompression walk, your dog should be able to respond reliably to an attention cue or a “come” cue. 
  • Recall signal. If you will be dropping the leash during your walk, your dog should be able to respond reliably to a recall signal. 

TIPS & BEST PRACTICES

  • You can either hold onto the leash loosely, or let the leash 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! Check out my video below for tips.
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