What Are "Decompression" Activities for Dogs, and Why Are They Important?

Updated: Sep 24, 2021

"Decompression"- this term is being utilized more and more as owners look for ways to destress their canine companions. But what are decompression activities, and what are their benefits?


Today's post will cover the following:

  • What is Decompression?

  • Recognizing Signs of Stress

  • Decompression Activities You Can Do At Home


What is Decompression?

Decompression
[ dee-kuhm-presh-uhn ]
noun
The act or process of releasing from pressure.
A state of relief from pressure; a return to normalcy after a stressful period or situation.

Essentially, engaging in decompression activities allows your dogs to get back to a calm, balanced state of mind. A form of decompression commonly recognized is the "decompression period" professionals recommend to owners when they bring home a new dog. However, new arrivals are not the only canines to benefit from decompression periods and games.


After all, consider Decompression as a way to give your dog a "sigh of relief"; a way to relax, to obtain a good headspace, and be at ease. That sounds good for just about everyone, right? We think so!


Aside from decompression periods, there are also a wide variety of enrichment games that are considered decompression worthy for our pets. These activities lower stress levels, release serotonin into your dog's brain, and according to scientists: improve the overall animal welfare of pet dogs.


Recognizing Signs of Stress


A key to knowing when a decompression activity may be beneficial for your pet is recognizing signs of stress. Malcom Weir (DVM, MSc, MPH) states that some common signs of stress in dogs include:

  • Pacing

  • Shaking

  • Whining/Barking

  • Yawning, Drooling, or Licking

  • Panting

  • Changes in eyes and ears (i.e. "whale eye").

  • Changes in body posture (like tail tucking)

Image from Animigo, "10 Signs Your Dog Might Be Stressed"

Identifying these signs of stress can help you asses when and if a decompression activity would be beneficial for your dog. An example of this is seeing your dog's initial stress signs on a walk, and opting to do a quick decompression "food scatter" to lower your dog's arousal.


Decompression Activities


Decompression or "Sniffy" Walks

Decompression walks, Sniffy Walks, Sniffaris - whatever you might call them, they're fantastic. A decompression walk is essentially a walk where your dog has freedom of movement to explore their environment. Usually done in a safe, low-traffic space - decompression walks can be done off leash (in off leash safe areas), or via a long lead attached to a harness. For more on what a decompression walk might look like, click here.



Scatter Feeding

You may see the video below and think, "This is easy... a little too easy!". I'm here to tell you that this activity is low effort for maximum reward. Simply take a portion of your dogs meals (or treats), scatter them in your home or yard, and allow your dog's foraging instincts to take over.


The reason scatter feeding can be so enjoyable, you might ask? Scatter Feeding weaves into the Contrafreeloading concept, which reveals that dogs love (and often prefer) the act of "working" for their food. Scatter feeding can also be used on walks to redirect fearful, reactive, or stress-related behaviors.


Sarah from Sarah Lowell Dog Training states that when it comes to fearful or nervous dogs,

"Using “scatter” with desensitization and counter-conditioning, I’ve been able to reduce the fear and get these types of dogs more comfortable meeting new people."

Here's an example of a quick scatter in our yard:


Snuffle/Foraging Activities

While Scatter Feeding technically falls under this category, there are so many other ways to incorporate snuffle and foraging activities into your dog's decompression routine. Some suggestions:


Licking Enrichment

Another option when it comes to calming enrichment, is enrichment that involves the act of licking. The act of licking can help calm most canines, and as a result - licking enrichment options have taken off in the current market. Lick Mats are one of the most commonly used licking enrichment types. Don't have a Lick Mat? No sweat! A great way to DIY this at home is to use muffin tins.


Overview

To close, decompression activities offer a sense of stress-relieving outlets for our furry friends. By offering these activities at the opportune moments, it allows our dogs to come back to a neutral headspace where they can be content and at ease.

 

SOURCES & FURTHER READING

The Importance of Decompression When Bringing Home a New Dog

Effects of environmental enrichment on the behavior of shelter dogs

Decompression and Why It’s Important to Your New Dog

Dog Decompression Walks

Canine Body Language

Signs Your Dog is Stressed and How to Relieve It

10 Signs Your Dog Might Be Stressed

The Magic Power of the Food Scatter

 

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