Before I was really getting into training, I started walking Luna and Leda in the forest nearly every day. I was pleased with the results of these walks. Luna was more confident and her training went easier, and Leda’s obsessive behaviors, such as running back and forth between windows to watch for potential triggers declined. After I had been doing the walks for quite some time, I had a trainer walk with me to help me with an issue Luna was having; she was over correcting Leda if she thought she wasn’t listening. This is when I was told about Sarah Stremming and her ideas about decompression walks.
I had already seen the benefits and was happy to see that I had accidentally stumbled across something that someone else had already discussed and validated. I knew from listening to her podcast that these walks are definitely beneficial to our four-legged family members. As I’ve worked with other clients who have introduced and committed to these walks, I’ve become even more confident that decompression walks are essential for our dogs’ mental health.
The main thing you need to make a walk qualify as a decompression walk is an area away from things that trigger your pet. If your dog parks at cars or at people, you’ll want to be as far from those triggers as possible. Next, you need to either have an excellent recall and a place your pet can be off leash or a back clip harness with a long line. The long line should be at least 15 feet long and potentially longer. I highly recommend a biothane long line since they are easier to clean and comfortable to handle. Finally, let your dog lead the walk. This doesn’t mean that you should be allowing your dog to dislocate your shoulder. They should be able to walk and sniff at a pace that is comfortable for you, but they should make the decisions about where, how long, and when to sniff.
One of the first things that I recommend when a dog struggles with a behavioral problem is decompression walks. My theory is that our dogs were definitely bred to be domestic animals who live with us in our homes. However, dogs haven’t changed much in the past century where most dogs were used for what they were bred for, like hunting, herding, protecting, etc. By letting our pets have time away from triggers where they can sniff and move about freely, we are allowing them to engage their senses and relax.
Fortunately, decompression walks have become a habit for us. When it’s cold, hot, rainy, icy, etc., I may not be thrilled about going out in the elements, but I know it is important and always find the walks relaxing for myself as well. I also know that walks mean more work for me, especially since Leda has environmental allergies and, therefore, needs her feet soaked and any accumulated dirt (usually on her abdomen and back legs) cleaned off after the walk to prevent inflammation. Nevertheless, we go because in the long run, their well-being is in my hands.