Decompression Walks for Dogs: 10 Things Every Puppy Owner Should Know

Decompression Walks For Dogs Featured Image

Did you know that decompression walks can be a game-changer for your dog's physical, mental, and emotional well-being? Today, I want to share the exciting world of decompression walks for dogs, how they can provide unparalleled benefits for both your furry friend and you, and how to do them safely. Get ready to revolutionize your daily walks and enjoy a happier, healthier pup!

Short Summary

  • Decompression walks offer mental and physical benefits for dogs, allowing them to engage in natural behaviors in a safe environment.
  • With the right equipment and location, owners can help their pup reduce anxiety levels while building confidence and practicing training skills.
  • Urban dog owners can enjoy an enriching experience with urban adventure walks that provide stress relief for both the owner and pup!

Understanding Decompression Walks for Dogs

A dog enjoying a decompression walk in a natural setting

Woman enjoying a decompression walk with her dog in a natural setting

What Is A Decompression Walk?

In short, a decompression walk is a leisurely stroll that allows dogs to explore their environment at their own pace. This simple practice is more than just a walk in the park; it can significantly enhance your dog's mental, physical, and emotional health.

These walks can be incredibly beneficial for dogs who are feeling fearful, frustrated, or having emotional reactions to environmental stimuli, and who may struggle with more traditional neighborhood walks. So you may be wondering what makes them different from regular walks, and how can you ensure a successful walk for your dog?

But before heading out with your puppy, here are a few things you should know:

  • A decompression walk, also known as a “sniff walk,” “nature walk,” or “sniffari,” is done with the dog on a long line leash, usually between 20 and 30 feet, to give our puppies freedom of movement with plenty of room to roam and explore while maintaining a measure of control to keep them safe while wandering.
  • It provides an opportunity for your puppy to DECOMPRESS, so we do them in quiet areas without a lot of environmental stimuli or distractions.
  • This is NOT a time for working on dog training, so we don’t ask for any obedience or skills from our dog during a decompression walk.
  • It’s an opportunity to give your puppy lots of time to meander, sniff and explore.

Remember that decompression walks are not a substitution for neighborhood walks that provide training on leash skills. Instead, they are an additional, rewarding activity that nurtures your puppy’s mental health and curiosity while reducing stress.

But your dog also needs to learn to walk nicely on a short leash and pay attention to you in environments with distractions. So these activities complement one another.

The Science Behind Decompression Walks

Overstimulation can lead to stress in dogs, just as it does in humans. Decompression is all about relieving pressure and reducing anxiety, With decompression walks, dogs are allowed the freedom to navigate their surroundings and create their own adventure, which helps reduce anxiety and stress and boosts their confidence. These walks are closely related to dogs' natural instincts, rooted in their primal need for exploration.

In other words, decompression walks allow your puppy to do dog things – such as lots of sniffing, exploring, climbing over things, wandering, following a scent trail, rolling in some grass, chasing a leaf, or checking out a bug. These are normal dog behaviors, and when your puppy gets a chance to do them, you will find him more settled indoors.

Decompression time and movement in nature help your puppy to relax after all that adjusting they’ve been doing. If you think about it, living in a home, not chewing on shoes, going potty outside, and not barking at the doorbell are all things humans have asked their dogs to do. These are not natural behaviors for the dog, but he does them because he’s been trained to fit into the human world.

Decompression walks might seem boring to you, but it’s up to your dog to determine what’s exciting, what’s TOO exciting, and what’s relaxing. If you’re paying attention to canine body language and noticing behavior patterns, you’ll be better able to find out what your dog loves.

Decompression Walks vs. Regular Walks

Decompression walks are all about providing mental stimulation for your pup, while regular walks are more about physical exercise and skills training (formerly known as “obedience”). One key difference between the two types of walks lies in the freedom and exploration allowed during a “sniffari.” A regular walk, for example, offers a more structured form of enrichment for our canine friends, whereas a decompression walk is a more relaxed exploration of the surroundings.

Benefits of Decompression Walks for Dogs

A dog running along the shore at the beach

A dog running and playing in a natural environment

Dogs benefit immensely from decompression walks, experiencing physical, mental, and behavioral advantages, as well as improvements in training. From muscle development to reduced anxiety, decompression walks offer a plethora of benefits that can greatly enhance your dog's quality of life.

These walks can help to strengthen the bond between you and your pup, as well as provide an opportunity for them to explore and learn about their environment. Decompression walks can also help reduce stress and anxiety.

Physical Benefits

Decompression walking allows dogs to exercise and explore, which keeps them fit and engaged. This activity can help your pup develop stronger muscles, improve their cardiovascular health, and maintain healthy joints. The physical exercise of engaging in natural behaviors can also help maintain a healthy weight and provides the mental and physical outlet that helps them feel more calm and relaxed.

Mental and Behavioral Benefits

You might be surprised to learn that sniffing and investigating their environment can be a mental workout for dogs!

Animal behaviorist Dr. Patricia McConnell wrote a piece in 2016 called “Take Your Dog on a Sniff” that goes into the importance of scent and how “using their noses engages a dog’s brain in vital ways and can prevent a raft of behavioral problems.”

A 2018 study also revealed that sniffing can lead to positive behavioral changes in dogs, such as decreased vocalization and increased sleeping, as well as reduced anxiety and stress.

So letting a puppy sniff, wander, regularly engage with nature – away from the hustle and bustle of city life, and just BE A DOG is often precisely what they need to replenish their emotional cup and return nicely to their human’s world.

And the mental and behavioral benefits of decompression walks are not limited to just the walk itself. The calming and relaxing effects can carry over into other aspects of your dog's life, leading to a happier, more well-adjusted pup.

Training Benefits

By releasing excess energy and stress, decompression walks enable dogs to focus and be more attentive, which can improve their overall behavior and responsiveness to commands and cues.

Also, a relaxed and focused dog is more receptive to training and more likely to be successful in learning new behaviors and strengthening existing ones.

Preventing Reactivity and Fear

Decompression walks can also help prevent reactivity and fear by providing a safe and calming environment for these dogs to explore and engage in natural behaviors. Positive experiences in new situations and the ability to participate in instinctive behaviors while avoiding social triggers can help your dog build confidence and reduce fear, anxiety, and aggression.

As your dog becomes more comfortable and confident in their surroundings, they may begin to exhibit fewer signs of fear and anxiety both during the walk and at home.

How to Conduct a Successful Decompression Walk

Using the Proper Equipment

A dog wearing a harness and leash while on a decompression walk

Using a harness and leash while enjoying a decompression walk is recommended for decompression walks for dogs

Using proper equipment is essential as it allows the dog to move freely and safely, ensuring an enjoyable experience.

  • A long line leash, about 20 to 30 feet in length. We prefer this rope leash because it is waterproof, durable, designed not to pick up burs, gentle on hands, and machine washable.
  • A BACK clip harness. If your Fido is in a front clip harness or a collar and sees a squirrel, he’s likely to take off running. On a long line leash, he could gain so much momentum that reaching the end of the leash puts a huge force on his neck and spine. The back clip harness protects against that. Always use a back clip harness if your leash is longer than 10 feet.When selecting a harness, it's important to ensure that it allows for unrestricted movement and provides a comfortable fit.

Choosing the Right Environment

dogs walking on a long line in a natural environment

Dogs walking on a long line in a natural environment

Finding the right location is one of the most important considerations for a successful decompression walk. We want a quiet area to avoid the dog getting over-excited, scared, or overstimulated. Safety should be your top priority when deciding where to go for your decompression walk.

Even if your dog loves people and playing with other dogs, let this walk just be the two of you. It will help build your bond with your dog.

Natural environments with many smells and textures can provide the most beneficial sensory experience. A natural setting like a park, cemetery, parking lot after hours, sports field, hiking trail, and beach can be great places for your puppy's mental well-being.

When choosing a location, try to notice all the sounds in the area, including traffic in the distance, trains, planes overhead, music playing, or other sounds. We usually tune these out because they are so normal to us, but these noises can be distracting to your puppy. When it comes to decompression activities… the quieter, the better!

Allowing Freedom of Movement

Permitting freedom of movement during a “sniffari” allows dogs to engage in their natural behaviors, such as sniffing, digging, and exploring, leading to improved mental stimulation and relaxation. And a long line leash with back-clip harness can be a great way to give them the freedom they need.

Choosing the Best Frequency and Duration

The ideal frequency and duration of these walks will depend on your dog’s age, health, and energy level, but generally, a daily decompression walk can work wonders.

Before continuing, I want to clear up a common misconception. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “A tired dog is a good dog.” I hate that phrase. Are you surprised? I hate it because I think it’s oversimplified.

A tired dog is just that – tired. He’s not necessarily better behaved; he’s just exhausted. We don't use physical exercise as a way to suppress behavioral issues.

A successful decompression walk will result in a SETTLED or RELAXED dog because exhausted puppies, like worn-out humans, can’t be on their best behavior. Instead, many dogs who are over-tired engage in biting, nipping, jumping, and general restlessness. The key to a calm and happy puppy is to create a balance between how physically tired and mentally tired your dog is.

During the walk, allow your dog to sniff, explore, and set their own pace. For dogs, stopping to sniff is like reading a good book. They will miss the rest of the story if you rush your pup or pull your dog away too soon!

Be patient and let your puppy enjoy their walk. If you encounter challenges or distractions, gently redirect your dog’s attention rather than forcing them away.

Providing Adequate Supervision

Remember, it's important to keep an eye on your dog during the walk, ensuring they stay safe while exploring their surroundings. With proper supervision and the right equipment, your dog will enjoy a truly relaxing experience.

Case Studies: Real-Life Success Stories with Decompression Walks

There are countless success stories of how decompression walks have helped dogs overcome various challenges. For instance, a dog who was once anxious and fearful transformed into a more confident and happy dog after a routine of daily decompression walks.

Similarly, a hyperactive dog that used to destroy furniture at home found relief through these walks, displaying significantly less destructive behavior.

Another dog owner reported improved bonding and social skills in their pet, attributing this change to decompression walks.

Expert Opinions and Advice

Professional dog trainers and veterinarians endorse the benefits of decompression walks. They recommend decompression walking as part of a balanced training routine, not just for the dog's mental stimulation, but also for their overall health.

Some breeds or sizes may require specific considerations for this type of walk, but generally, all dogs can benefit from them.

Frequently Asked Questions about Decompression Walks for Puppies

Many dog owners have questions about decompression walks, and we'll address some of the common ones.

Can I take my puppy on decompression walks before being fully vaccinated?

I am often asked this question, and the answer is a resounding YES. I definitely want you to start decompression walks before vaccinations are complete. You might have to work just a little bit harder to find a good spot. Look for areas where other dogs are not likely to have gone, like parking lots, business complexes, or sports fields.

How long should decompression walks be?

A good rule of thumb for daily walks is 5 minutes per month of age twice a day, with one of these walks being for leash training around the neighborhood and the other being for decompression. Because our goal is to balance physical and mental tiredness, 5 minutes of any kind of walking is plenty of time for a puppy.

Once your dog is fully grown, you can just go for however long he would like. But remember, we aren’t trying to build a super athlete here. Just watch body language and end the walk when your dog seems to have had enough.

How often should I take my puppy on a decompression walk?

The answer to this question varies based on your dog's individual needs! Some of my students do these walks every day. Others find that their dog enjoys them more when done every other day or a few times a week.

Pay attention to the dog’s behavior when you do a decompression walk to determine what frequency works best for your dog – most puppies benefit from even a few times a week. Just remember that dogs like novelty, just like humans, so always be on the lookout for some new spots.

What do I do when my dog constantly eats dirt, sticks, and leaves?

We don’t want those things to be a big part of a dog’s diet, but a leaf here or there won’t hurt him. If your dog is still consuming everything and hasn’t yet learned the “leave it” and “drop it” cues, it’s best to find a different spot without those distracting Items. That’s another reason why parking lots and sports fields work well. I can help you with the “leave it” and “drop it” skills as part of my online course. After some training, you can go to those stick-filled spots, and your dog will listen nicely!

Are decompression walks suitable for all dog breeds?

Yes, they are, but adjustments may be necessary.

Can decompression walks replace regular walks?

No. Decompression activities complement your short-leash neighborhood walk, where your dog learns to safely navigate his urban environment, check-ins to keep his focus on you, and good listening skills. They are not a replacement.

Conclusion

In summary, decompression walks are a simple yet effective way to improve your dog's mental and physical health while strengthening your bond with them. It's an enriching experience that allows your dog to tap into their natural instincts and provides them with a much-needed outlet for exploration. So why not try taking your dog on a decompression walk today?

Resources and Further Reading

For more information, you may want to check out some of these additional resources.

No Pulling Puppy! Tools to Walk With Ease
Epic Tips for Leash Training A Puppy to Walk Without Pulling

Michele Lennon with her dream dogs

About the trainer

Michele Lennon

After spending 20 years helping families with their dogs face to face as a professional dog trainer, Michele realized that so much of what she knows could be shared with families everywhere - in a way that actually works. People sometimes think their dog is just SUPER difficult because the advice they’ve gotten was incomplete, confusing or just wrong. So she set out to help. Michele loves training dogs because of the impact that it has on the families she gets to help. The peace and joy they get from being able to enjoy their dog LISTENING. Besides teaching classes, helping private clients and running seminars, Michele is also a foodie and fantasizes about being a food critic or secret shopper for restaurants. Talk to her about food and your instant best friends.