• Dana VanSickle, KPA CTP

Decompression Walks: Good for the Soul

Updated: Apr 8

I took a decompression walk with my dog today. To be honest, I was the one needing to decompress more than my dog. I'm not sure if it was the weekend spent in 32 hours of zoom meetings or the unfamiliar stress of having to keep 6' at all times while trying to navigate the grocery store. But by the time I took care of my last meeting today, I knew I needed to head outdoors to blow off some steam.


We are all dealing with unimaginable stressors right now. My dog, Hope, and I are right there with you. One silver lining is that the stress of the unfamiliar is forcing me to find new ways (and dust off some old good habits) for finding calm and relaxation. The current state of things is NOT what we all joked about when we wished we could be stay-at-home-dog-moms!


As social distancing becomes the norm, I have a newfound understanding of what it must feel like to be confined to a 6' leash all the time. Being forced in one direction when you want to go the other. Rushed through my selections (or for dogs, their sniffs), because I have to keep moving to stay out of the next patrons' way. Frustrated because I'm unable to connect meaningfully with those around me, as we awkwardly shuffle around each other.


Or how about the way it feels to be stuck at home all day? Whether you're overworked or just lost your job, being stuck indoors is utterly exhausting. Even as I stay busy with yoga, working out, video calls, books and online courses, I. Still. Need. Too. Get. Out. Of. Here! To breathe some fresh air. Watch the sunset. Get some dirt on my boots.


I can't help but think, the same must be true for our dogs.

Today's decompression walk looked similar to the hikes we usually take, with some key differences. My typical pace, both on trails and in life, is full speed ahead. We've got places to go, people to see, and things to accomplish. We can't hit the same trail too many times lest we get comfortable. And sure, I'll stop and take in the view, but only for a few minutes.


It's probably no surprise that I needed a chance to slow down and just be in the moment. That's exactly what a decompression walk is all about. Table the hurried preoccupation. Hit pause. Breathe deep. Shut your pie hole. Listen to the silence.


I first encountered this idea of a decompression walk when working with high-strung dogs. But the reality is that we ALL benefit from decompression walks -- dogs and parents alike! Many of the dog mom stressors I have described are paralleled in the average dog's day-to-day life. While we may not always be able to curb those stressors, we CAN help our dogs cope better by offering some time to blow off steam. Decompression walks are one such way to help our dogs relax and calm down.


Whether for you or your dog, make decompression walks successful by dropping your agenda. For dogs, find an appropriate area to give them space and the freedom to go at their own pace. If off-leash is not an option for you, try a long line and a non-restricting harness. Take the pressure out of your hands and off of your leash. Let your dog sniff while you take in the view. Maybe your dog zig zags or back tracks. Maybe they stop and literally smell the roses.

Some dogs, like me, are so used to the hurried pace of rushing through walks that they don't know how to handle the freedom of a decompression walk. My late dogs were like this. What do you mean "go sniff?" If this is the case for your dog, help them slow down by tossing them some low-level treats in the grass for a little sniffari. You can also encourage independence by keeping your voice to a minimum. The less distracting you are, the more peace becomes accessible.


A good decompression walk also gives us freedom of movement. For instance, I veered off the trail a few times tonight and it felt great. Why? Because choice is empowering. At one point I laid out on a bench while Hope laid out under a bush. A while later, she bolted up and down the arroyo, leaving me belly laughing with the same intensity as her zoomies. She got to be a dog and I got to be me.


Hope and I ended our time on the trail tonight feeling recharged and centered. That's the power of a good decompression walk. For more information about the benefits of decompression walks, check out these pro tips and tricks.

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