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Decompression Walks


So let’s talk about exercising our dogs. Everyone knows they need it, right? But how do we do it? Does it matter? Does where we are matter? Length of leash? The answer to all of these is yes. I find a ton of dogs that get more aroused and more stressed by fetch games and dog parks. Then, when they finally get too aroused and show us by taking out their excitement on another dog, we usually leave the dog park and the dog never learns to manage it’s emotions during arousal in any form. Fetch and dog parks are simply not natural exercise for them. Although these type of exercises can certainly be supplemental (although I am not so sure dog parks are even fun for most dogs), you may notice they don’t actually calm down your dog. They may satiate him for the day, but the next day, the dog wakes up raring to go again. It simply doesn’t scratch the itch that dogs innately have.

As you may have seen from some of my previous content, I’m a huge proponent for quality of life in dogs. I’ve seen the effects of dogs not being able to be biologically or emotionally fulfilled in shelters for the past 10 years, and quite honestly, it haunts my dreams. I’ve seen dogs go from beautiful, calm creatures to dogs that gnaw on their own flesh and tear ACL’s from their constant jumping. I’ve seen dogs go hoarse from constant barking. And I’ve seen them be euthanized for simply grabbing the leash once in an attempt to get a game of tug started. They’re just asking for their needs to be met, but the impacts of sheltering is for another blog post.

Exercise is necessary and downright life altering for dogs, so let’s move on. How do we exercise our dogs? Is it a walk around our neighborhood? In my opinion, that’s no where NEAR fulfilling or even fun for most dogs. Being stuck to you on a 6 foot leash that keeps becoming 2 feet and then 6 feet again and then 4 feet and then 2 feet and it’s constantly choking you and not leading to any communication except “stop sniffing that and stop running” is not fun. Will dogs accept it if they don’t have access to anything else? Some will and some others may just pull that damn leash out of your hand, and lots of owners just wont walk their crazy, reactive dogs making their behavior even worse since they aren’t getting fulfilled. All the training and enrichment in the world just doesn’t match the impact and the feeling of being in nature. Without decompression walks, you’ll see more chasing in the backyard, you’ll have a dog who jumps the fence to get what they need on their own since you won’t give it to them. They will sniff less on your regular walks and be more willing to pass by triggers. Be someone your dog WANTS to be with. Go explore with them. Take them on a decompression walk. So what are these magical behavior changing decompression walks?I These can be off leash or with a back clip harness and a long line (30 feet is about my soft spot but some dogs will need 50 feet to really be free- see trust-your-dog.com for great biothane long lines and great muzzles). Here’s the key though- it needs to be in nature. Shared experiences in nature can genuinely change aggression thresholds. On pavement with cars going by and dogs 2 feet away from them isn’t decompressing for anyone. It’s distracting and it’s way too dangerous to do on a 30 foot leash. Find an industrial park, find the outside of a dog park, find an abandoned house, find a field somewhere, find any open space, and go have fun with your dog. Don’t ask them for anything (except rewarding check ins/eye contact- that’s something I do at all times) , don’t practice recall, don’t practice loose leash walking, don’t bring a toy, just watch your dog. Watch how they act naturally when they are free. Trust me, you can do this even with the most reactive dog, and it will change your life. The reason you feel like you can’t trust your dog off leash is because their needs aren’t even close to satiated. Think about it this way: would you work everyday if you never got a day off? Wouldn’t your frustration show in different ways? Moodiness maybe? Are you a bit more reactive without a day off? Me too.

Letting dogs be dogs. Is it easy? Well, actually, for me, yes. It’s the easiest “training session” I do for dogs; but I’ve found a bunch of great places and gotten super comfortable with It and I SEE the difference. Even if your dog is a hunter that will chase deer and black bears, you can put a cow bell on the dog to let animals know your dog is coming and give them a chance to get out of there.

I would really love to see decompression walks be AT LEAST a once weekly session for dogs. Even if you only have an hour and you have the world’s most reactive/aggressive dog, you can still drive your dog to an abandoned lot and get this done. I know leash walking seems to suck with your reactive dog, trust me, I’ve been there. But this is life changing. Don’t even bother with that walk around the neighborhood, just get right in the car and go somewhere fun. You can go at night if that suits you better. Not only will you see the short term effect of exercise in general, but the long term effects are so much more. It’s vital stress relief. Keep in mind dogs are natural hunters and scavengers, they have needs and a walk around the block simply isn’t going to do it. But that doesn’t mean you have to go for a 5 mile run with your crazy dog everyday. In fact, you may just create an athlete this way. Try decompression walks instead (or in addition) to give your dog, and honestly, you as well, something different- a chance to get away from the city and modern life (which we have to admit is stressful for all of us- but most of all, our animals) and actually destress. A chance to sniff every bush, to follow a scent, and to be a dog.

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