Decompression Isn’t Just Sniffing
I hike my dogs so that they can go for an extended time using their bodies however feels good to them. They run and jump and crash through the bush, carry sticks, collect pine cones, walk beside me, chase each other, and swim in puddles. It isn’t ‘off’ time – it’s ‘do what feels good’ time.
There is a lot of buzz around the idea of hiking for decompression and the idea that the dog should be trotting around sniffing and being chill. That’s great, and some dogs love that. My dogs get a lot of decompression time in their day-to-day life, and I agree that it is important, but it’s not the only reason to hike.
Use That Body
Dogs, particularly active breeds, need physical activity and challenges. I can play fetch or tug, but those activities are too intense to play for extended periods. I’ll break my dogs if I play disc for two hours straight, but I have no qualms about hiking my dogs for 2 or 3 hours. On a hike, the dog’s body and mind tells them what to do, when to stop, and when to lie down in a puddle. I have one dog that I watch closely as he gets racy when he is tired – I watch for that and long line him. He’s a higher intensity dog and he sometimes runs harder when tired instead of slowing down. This is when knowing your dog is important so that you can help them if they are making poor choices.
A lot of dogs have the need to challenge their bodies just as much as they need to eat, sleep, and drink water. When we don’t meet this need, we can see a lot of other behaviour problems such as leash reactivity, bullying of other dogs, and destructive behaviour.
There aren’t any recipes or ‘one size fits all’ plans in dog training. Watch your dog, figure out who they are and what they need. Think about balance and be sure you are working both their brains and bodies and teaching them how to be patient and calm when needed.