T H E V A L U E O F
D E C O M P R E S S I O N &
M E N T A L E N R I C H M E N T
What Is A Decompression Walk?
I originally heard about the concept of a "decompression walk" very early in my dog training career from Sarah Stremming's podcast Cog-Dog Radio as she explained her Four Steps to Behavioral Wellness, which I now practice religiously with my two personal dogs and strongly recommend implementing to every client I work with. Chances are if you and your dog have worked with me, you're about sick of hearing the phrase "just let your dog be a dog."
A decompression walk should look like: you, your dog(s), no leash, in nature, with no cell phone glued to your hand.
Day hikes on trails, local rivers or lakes, fields, beaches, orchards, etc. are the best places to aim for. I typically recommend avoiding manicured parks or campsites for these types of walks because we 1) don't want our unleashed dogs disturbing the public's peace and 2) it's better for our own and our dog's enrichment to be in a calm, natural setting. Find places with things like tall grass, critters to chase, natural water, unkempt trees and bushes, space to sniff and run, minimal human presence, etc.
What's the Science Behind the Sniffer?
A dog's sense of smell is anywhere from 10-10,000 more acute than a human's - they have 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses compared to the five million that we do. Their olfactory sense is their primary sense. When we inhale through our noses, all the information goes into the same tunnel for our brain to process. When dogs sniff, their anatomy works to separate the information their brains need to receive and process into two tunnels. They have a small flap of skin in their noses that divides smells from the oxygen they need and therefore frees up lots of processing space just for olfaction.
Sniffing is an amazing mental exercise for dogs (check out #letthemsniff on Instagram). I always recommend using meals as a source of doable, easily accessible daily enrichment in my client dogs. My Mental Stimulation and Enrichment handout is given to every client and commonly referred to during regular sessions. I cannot stress enough how important allowing our dogs to use their brains through olfaction is.
There's lots of research out there on the positive effects exposure to nature has on humans. Personally, I find the presence of nature very calming and enriching. I receive time completely unplugged from technology, physical exercise, and one-on-however-many-dogs-you-own time to watch your pets enjoy being just dogs. Why wouldn't our dogs feel the same?
ensure you're wearing the right kinds of clothes/shoes for the environment you'll be in
if you're planning on going hiking, your dog should be wearing some kind of bright collar, preferably a harness, for visibility's sake
if you don't trust your dog's recall in any possible worst case scenario they should be put on a long line (NOT a retractable/Flexi lead) that they can drag along or you can hold to play "follow the leader" (i.e. they run, you run; they stop to sniff one spot for 20 minutes, you stop with them) - 30+ feet is recommended
daylight hours will always be safest
if you live in an area where potentially dangerous predatory animals live, buy bear bells to attach to your dog's collar
don't allow your dog to approach any people or other dogs out of courtesy for them and safety for your dog
always be aware of your surroundings
Dogs love using their brains, but it's totally a developed skill. The