Did you know that dogs possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to just about six million in ours?
Keeping this in mind might help make sense of why it seems like your dog is so "distracted" by wanting to smell anything and everything in a new environment. We as humans might scan the horizon and reach out to touch things; dogs are much busier soaking in as much information as possible through their ultra-sensitive noses.
The good news for us: this means allowing our dogs to sniff and take in scents in new environments and while out on walks is an extremely enriching and satisfying (read: tiring!) activity for your dog.
A "decompression walk" is a fairly commonplace term in the dog training community (I first heard the term coined by Sarah Stremming of The Cognitive Canine), but it is less prevalent in the pet dog world.
A decompression walk means a walk where you go to a natural location (think wooded trail, beach front, grassy fields, etc) and either allow your dog off leash time, or time walking with you wearing a long line where they are free to move around naturally - smelling, running, exploring, and just generally "being a dog."
These types of walks are at least 75% of the exercise walks my personal dogs and foster dogs get. Decompression walks fulfill their need to "dog" in a way very few other things can, and it results in dogs who are more relaxed and satiated because their most basic needs have been met; in other words, with regular decompression walks incorporated into their week, the dogs are more relaxed, willing to settle and sleep in the house while I get other things done, and are less likely to display "nuisance" or undesirable behaviors.
Things to Note:
1.) You DO need to choose your locations for decompression walks carefully, and you DO need to have a reliable recall (dog comes running to you when called) in order to safely practice off leash decompression time with your dog.
The process of teaching this as a reliable skill is more complex than I can delve into in a social media post, but if you need help and guidance in this area, consider reaching out to a professional trainer. The right trainer will be able to help you build coming back to you as a rock solid skill for your dog. Having a reliable off leash recall (and using it carefully and with common sense) can open the door to so many adventures and opportunities for you and your dog!
2.) There are definitely circumstances (for example: leash laws, concerns about encountering wildlife, a dog who hasn't yet achieved a reliable recall, etc) where it may make sense to use a long line while going for a decompression walk instead of allowing full off leash freedom. And that is okay!
If I am using a long line for a decompression walk, I prefer to use a 10 -15' line made of Biothane material. If you are not familiar with Biothane, it is a polyester webbing with a TPU or PVC coating that makes it more durable, waterproof, and easy to clean. It is becoming quite popular as a material for dog collars, leashes, and long lines, and you should be able to easily find one to purchase if you search for "Biothane long line" on Google or Etsy.
3.) If you are having trouble finding or thinking of locations near you to give decompression walks a try with your dog, I have the following suggestions:
I have lived in urban environments in several different major cities with my dogs over the past thirteen years, and with a little creativity we have always been able to come up with at least several different locations for great decompression walks within reasonable driving distance.
If you live in the Saint Petersburg/ Pinellas County area that Spotted Success serves, feel free to reach out for some recommendations on my favorite local "decompression walk locations."
Sniffing on Neighborhood Walks:
I mentioned above that roughly 75% of my dogs' are the "decompression" style of walks described above - this is on purpose and by design!
Unfortunately, your typical urban or suburban neighborhood can really encourage and actually teach your dog to be on edge and reactive towards other dogs. Think about it - on your typical neighborhood walk, how many times do you pass a house with a dog barking at the window, a yard with a dog barking at the fence, or another dog being walked on leash who is barking/pulling/ whining/ scrambling in the general direction of you and your dog? Depending on the neighborhood, sometimes it feels like walking through a "not so fun house" (i.e. you never know what is going to jump out at you next!).
Of course it is possible (and highly recommended!) to teach your dog life skills to navigate neighborhood walks successfully (loose leash walking, checking in with handler, responsive to basic cues, ability to walk past distractions calmly). However, if being barked at every 50 feet becomes the "norm" for your dog during walks and they don't have other opportunities to decompress in more natural way (as described above), you may find yourself dealing with reactive, fearful, overly-exuberant, or even aggressive behavior displays from your dog during neighborhood leash walks.
That being said, the reality is that in day-to-day life, many of us have to "settle" for a more urban neighborhood walk on days where we don't have the time or resources to get our dogs out for a longer or more fulfilling decompression-style walk. The good news is that you can still incorporate allowing your dog to sniff, explore, and use their nose during these neighborhood walks to maximize the mental enrichment they receive during the walk (read: help meet your dog's needs to tire them out!).
On neighborhood walks with my own dogs and with clients' dogs, I prefer to differentiate between two cues for the dogs:
1.) A "Let's Walk" cue
This means we are focused on loose leash walking with the dog checking in with the handler and without impulsively pulling and lunging towards interesting smells and distractions. I teach and use this cue when walking from "point A to point B" on sidewalk paths or similar.
2.) A "Go Sniff" cue
Used often throughout the walk, this cue tells the dog they are able to go to the end of their leash and sniff/ explore a tree/ patch of grass/ bush/etc to their heart's content.
The process of teaching these cues ("Let's Walk" versus "Go Sniff") reliably again falls a bit outside the scope of a social media post, but taught well, these skills can really make walks with your dog enjoyable, relaxing, and fulfilling for both you and your dog. Again, if you need help in this area with your own dog, feel free to reach out if you need guidance on how to find a trainer or behavior consultant in your area.
In conclusion - let them sniff!
I strongly encourage you to incorporate decompression-style walks and sniff breaks during neighborhood walks into your dog's regular exercise routine. Consistently implemented, doing so will help fulfill your dog's behavioral needs more fully, which will in turn leave you with a dog who is satisfied, more relaxed, and less likely to practice undesirable behaviors (the goal of ALL the different types of enrichment we provide for our dogs).
I'll see you on the trails!