While we at Milwaukee Paws Pet Care have always stressed the importance of cognitive enrichment for pets, especially cats and dogs, we have noticed that this year, there is a marked increase in the number of companies shifting their focus to it as well. This makes us happy- cognitive enrichment is such a vital and important part of pet ownership, but it is often overlooked simply because pet owners don’t know better.
When more companies stress the importance of this aspect of pet ownership, all pets win. This makes us so happy! One area that has become very popular is offering “Decompression Walks”; walks designed to allow the dog to move without restriction and to be a dog doing dog things. We call them Urban Adventures, and if you have followed us at all on Facebook or Instagram, you know that we have been pushing them for a while. Why? The answer is because they are a resource for pet parents already spread thin trying to work, care for a family, do home schooling and maintain their health during a pandemic.
I walk my dog everyday, isn’t that enough?
A normal, fast paced walk in an urban environment, with a 4-6ft leash is ok for exercise, but it does not suit every dog. To begin with, they are typically moving and not given ample time to stop and sniff. Sniffing is how our dogs get information on their surroundings and it is important for their well being. As humans, we often forget this and try to keep the dog moving along to give them exercise.
Urban environments prevent dogs from greeting as they normally do as well. We often ask dogs to pass one another head on, as we do. The problem is that in doggy body language, this can be threatening. Dogs do not have the opportunity to give off signals that indicate they are not challenging one another or that there is no threat. They cannot approach in a wide, curvy pattern as they do in nature.
We pass close by each other, there are cars, bikes, busses, trucks, so many noises! Not to mention that we can be taken by surprise by another dog coming out of a building or around the corner! All this stimulation can increase stress and anxiety in a dog.
I’m not saying don’t walk your dog- you should absolutely walk your dog every single day. Dogs need regular exercise, they need time with you and they need to be out of the house every day.
What’s so great about Urban Adventures?
Decompression walks and urban adventures are one and the same. We named ours Urban adventures because we believe your dog deserves an adventure! Going to a new location, to sniff, climb, run, swim, do whatever they want to do, is wonderful for their physical and mental wellbeing.
We take dogs to different parks, hiking trails and environments. When it is safe to do so, we attach a long lead to the dog (between 15-30ft typically) and let the dog lead us on the walk. We move at the dogs pace. They are permitted to stop and sniff as often and for as long as they like. They choose the route we take, they are encouraged to problem solve obstacles we encounter (such as a fallen log blocking their path or a shallow river).
Urban adventures are not fast moving walks, unless that is what the dog wants- and some do! Most however, choose to move at a slightly slower pace, sniffing their way along the path, sometimes backtracking before moving forward. The benefits to these pets have been astounding!
Benefits of Urban Adventures and Decompression walks:
The benefits of these walks have been noted by several pet experts. Sara Stremming coined the term in her podcast Cog-Dog Radio podcast. She defines a decompression walk as a walk in nature on a long leash or off leash and allowing the dog to move freely to sniff, move and explore.
I have done this with my own dogs for years, without realizing there was a formal name for it. My husband and I love to hike, we lo
ve our dogs, so almost every weekend, we would load the dog in the car and go hiking to different trails. We often would drop the leash and let the dog wander freely back and forth- we now use a long leash ( a tool I was not aware of years ago) . I can attest to the benefits of this type of walk- for human and dog!
As a company we started offering Urban Adventure Decompression walks about a year ago- either solo or in small groups for more social dogs. We have seen the benefits in the dogs we regularly walk and research backs up what our staff and clients have noticed.
They encourage dogs to learn how to be dogs: We have taken these animals, put them into our homes and expect them to learn to live as humans do. We feed them on a schedule, ask them to potty on a schedule, we teach them to ask nicely for things, to sleep on warm comfy beds, eat easy food that appears before them in a bowl, etc. There are a lot of benefit to the dog when we do this, but we don’t allow dogs to be dogs. Dogs need to sniff, explore, they have to be taught to learn, to problem solve to forage, to get along with others. This can be hard to do in a home environment. When walking dogs on long leashes in nature, they naturally start to sniff, to explore, to wander.
- Reduces anxiety and stress: Walking for 1.5-2 hours is great for dogs! being able to move at their selected pace and to explore for that length of time allows them to reset. Dogs that take regular urban adventure decompression walks are more likely to experience a reduction in stress and anxiety. They are not only physically tired, but mentally tired as well. This allows the dog to release the stress and anxiety it may be holding onto- much like humans, time in nature is regenerating for dogs.
- It builds confidence: dogs learn to problem solve on these walks. There are all kinds of obstacles they will encounter, and when they do, we
encourage dogs to figure it out. We wait patiently as they try different options. Encounter a large fallen tree that is blocking the path? Some dogs will opt to go around, some will go over right away and some will try a few options that may or may not work before getting over. It doesn’t matter how your dog gets over the obstacle, what matter is that they solved the issue. This increases your dogs confidence. Confidence is also built when the dogs face things that typically make them nervous like other dogs, for example (in nature, it is much easier for dogs to use their normal body language to communicate with each other, making these interactions far less scary and confrontational).
- It builds the relationship between you and your dog: Spending 2-3 hours with your pet in nature strengthens your relationship with them! You both get the benefit of nature, but you also learn to communicate with each other. When you spend that amount of time with your dog in nature, you begin to really appreciate the wonderful ability they have to communicate with their bodies and energy!
- It helps maintain a healthy weight: regular urban adventure decompression walks allow your dog to maintain a healthy weight. Being overweigh brings with it, it’s own health issues, but it also makes your dog feel sluggish, anxious and tired. Maintaining a healthy weight is important to your dog living their best life!
- It helps provide your dog with new experiences: Walking in the woods, on a beach, wading across a river, swimming in a lake or rolling in a field of freshly fallen snow are all very different experiences for your dog! It’s important for dogs to have different experiences, not only to build confidence, but also for cognitive enrichment. Imagine if you only stayed in your house, never left for work or to see friends, and your only exercise was a 20 minute walk that followed the exact same path every day. Imagine how bored you would be! Your dog is the same- and a bored dog can be a destructive dog! Helping to relieve that boredom can help with your dog acting out of boredom at home.
- It’s fun! You and your dog want to have fun- why not have fun together and reap all the above benefits?
Reports from our clients show us that the dogs who do regular urban adventure decompression walks are more sociable, less anxious, more relaxed and better able to cope with stress or frustration.
Case 1- Poof
Poof is a 2 year old American Eskimo/Pomeranian mix (Pomimo). We have been walking Poof since he was a puppy, but he started to become more leash reactive and nervous in the home. His owners tried everything, training, longer walks, running, and medication. He would get a little better, then revert back to being shy and nervous. Poofs parents asked if we could start him on our group urban adventure walks.
Initially, we took Poof with my dog, Murphy, who is not reactive and does well with other dogs. We had two staff people, myself and another staff person each week. Poof was nervous, so we started at a park with wide open spaces and started very far apart allowing Poof to help dictate the pace and direction we went. By the end of our first walk, he was walking side by side with Murphy!
Over the next several weeks, Poof and Murphy continued to do their walks together. Poof become more relaxed and confident with Murphy, often sniffing him and walking closely with Murphy- they would share sniffs and smells and trot along happily.
After a few months, we introduced a dog I was training, Charlie. Poof and Charlie became fast friends! They spent the entire walk playing and interacting as if they were best friends for years!
Last week, we introduced Poof to Ace, a 2 year old Doberman. The same thing happened- Poof trotted along like he knew Ace for years! They explored and had a great time! Poof is still a little nervous, but his confidence is growing, he is not leash reactive any longer and he is really starting to blossom!
Case 2: Gertie
Gertie is a 4 year old lab mix. We have been walking her about about 7 months when Covid hit. She is shy and nervous of strangers and had a little difficulty leaving her owners behind when they are home. Gertie loves walks and hikes with her parents and they regularly engage in long hikes!
Gerite won an urban adventure decompression hike in our Ugly Sweater contest on Instagram. She did one adventure, and her owners were hooked! Gertie now takes an urban adventure decompression walk with us on a regular basis.
Gertie comes alive on these walks, she is all smiles, loves to roll around and plays with the walker!
These are just two of the several dogs who have benefitted from urban adventure decompression walks. I regularly speak with other companies and know that they are seeing the same success with their clients. We purposely keep our adventures longer than an hour because sometimes it takes a while for the dogs to relax, to really settle in and to really experience the benefits of the long leash walk. If you are able, I encourage you to schedule your dog an urban adventure decompression walk, or even better, make plans to take them on your own adventure and allow them to explore, sniff, climb and be a dog for a few hours!