Pet owners, specifically dog owners, believe walking their pets is a part of life. I won’t argue this point; our pets do need exercise. Yet, I’ll admit that I don’t do suburban walks with my dogs. I used to, but as I became more educated about my pets’ mental health, I moved those walks to rural areas away from the everyday noises of the city. As I’ve mentioned in my articles about decompression before, Luna and Leda have a decompression walk, usually at least an hour and up to two hours, around six days a week. In good weather, our cat, Egypt, joins us if she chooses to.
While decompression walks are a part of enrichment, not all enrichment is decompressing. I have found that the most decompressing things for my pets is sniffing. Luna and Leda are very fortunate to decompress off leash. In order to do this, we built a strong recall and worked a lot on proximity. They aren’t allowed to run amok. They can run and play but aren’t allowed to harass wildlife. My rule is that they have to stay in sight for safety. I stop and wait for them when they sniff and don’t ask much of them on the walks. When we do train, it is to practice recall, reward proximity, and acknowledge checking in.
Your pet does not have to be off leash to enjoy decompression. Egypt, my cat, has to be leashed for her safety, and my client dogs are always on a long line as well. I consider a long line anything 15 feet or longer. If I trust the pet, I’ll go up to 30 feet. Besides a long line, it’s important to use a back clip harness—preferably one that doesn’t restrict shoulder movement— so that there isn’t pressure on the pet as they move about.
During decompression walks, we want the pet to lead. We don’t have to allow them to drag us if we don’t move quickly enough for them, but we definitely want to give them the freedom to stop, sniff, and go where and when they please. When pets first get this freedom, they may not slow down and sniff much, but as they become accustomed to the routine and are decompressed regularly, they will.
Decompression walks are only a part of my pets’ enrichment routine, but I would definitely label it as the most important. They look forward to these outings and miss them whenever something, like smoke from wildfires or inclement weather, keep us in for a few days. During these times, we find other ways to decompress and use more enrichment to keep their minds busy. Over the next several weeks, we will be discussing these methods of enrichment. Until then, I do hope that you and your pet can get out and enjoy time to decompress.