How do you walk your dog? Do you have a specific route you follow each time? Do you tend to walk for physical exercise, or let them stop and sniff? You may be surprised to know how important it is to incorporate the power of scent on walks with your dog. Perhaps more important than physical exercise, is brain engagement through new scents and sights. Dogs absorb their surroundings through olfaction - or scent - rather than sight. So it’s only natural that they would get the most enrichment out of a walk that lets them smell their surroundings.
Let’s explore two different types of walks that will let your dog experience nature on their own terms.
Have you ever heard of a decompression walk? Decompression walks are walks where the dog is allowed to walk freely in nature, explore, make decisions, and simply be. This is helpful for any dog, but is especially helpful for dogs who live in the city, are high-energy, or exhibit anxiety-related behaviors. The term “decompression walk” was coined by canine behaviorist Sarah Stremming, who describes it as “a walk where the dog is allowed freedom of movement in nature.”
So what does a decompression walk look like?
A decompression walk occurs in a wide open space in nature. Your dog can either be on a long lead that clips to the back of a harness, or off-leash - depending on their recall skills. The rest is quite simple: let your dog roam freely and engage in nature however they please. Recall your dog when you encounter humans, other dogs, or animals. These types of walks help increase confidence, lower anxiety, and help with reactivity.
Where to do a decompression walk?
The ideal place for these types of walks is on a trail with lots of wide open space. We know that this isn’t always accessible, depending on where you live. If you can’t get to a trail, try a grassy area like a soccer or baseball field, or a cemetery.
A scent walk is of a similar mindset, but is a bit more accessible for everyday life or those who live in urban areas. Scent walks allow your dog to lead their own walk (within reason, of course) that is guided by their intuition and the smells around them. This has similar benefits as a decompression walk like brain engagement, stress reduction, and increasing confidence as your dog makes his own choices.
What does a scent walk look like?
A scent walk can occur almost anywhere. Take your dog out with a shorter leash and their favorite harness. Let them lead the way. Allow them to stop and sniff whatever they choose, for as long as they want. You might worry that they are not getting enough physical exercise through this type of walk, but try and take note of behavior changes after your dog goes on a scent walk. Chances are, you’ll notice they are much more calm and less anxious.
We hope this provided some helpful ways to give your dog more enriching walks.