How a 20 minute daily walk cured my dog's anxiety
1. Study after study has proven exercise is an antidote for anxiety, stress and depression
So many reasons people don't take their dog for a daily walk. From not enough time, to my dog pulls on the leash so hard I just don't want to do it.
When it comes down to it, getting out to exercise takes a commitment.
If it's not enough time, these days I can tell you how to find it. Shut off your phone. Or at the very least block apps like Facebook and Instagram in the morning. The time you spend scrolling can be spent on a 20 minute walk with your dog.
If you dog pulls, is anxious or reactive, even better reason to start this practice. It may not look like you think it should to start out with. You may not be able to cover the distance you think you should. You may have to slow down to speed up, but teaching a dog to walk with you, even a dog with behavior issues can be done when you drop the expectation that your dog should just know how to do it correctly and go with demonstration over explanation.
2. My dog started feeling seen for doing things right
No, don't do that. Get off the couch. Drop that. Leave it. Get down. Quiet. Stop that. Stop pulling. Get out of there. Get off the counter. No, no, no.
That's what our dogs hear from us more than anything else. All the negative.
Sort of like watching the news, you don't come away feeling good. It's all negative. It leaves you anxious.
When I started walking with my dog and spending the time to show him how to walk with me, he started getting rewards for doing the right thing. In food. In praise. In a look. With a smile. Hearing my voice intonation. He got a lot more yeses.
I found myself saying out loud like; You're my best boy. I love you my good boy. Best boy ever. You're just a pure bred good boy. That's energy is felt entirely different than all the no's that had been going on.
He was seen for doing the right thing.
3. We did mini sessions of recall and he gained a ton more freedom
While out on our walks I didn't require him to stick to my side the entire time. I'd let him range out in front of me. At first it was on a 6 food lead. I'd call him back before he got to the end of the leash.
Then we started doing it with a 15 foot leash. He'd range out. I'd call him back. Reward. Again, he was getting yeses for doing the right thing.
It's progressed to dropping that leash and and ecollar and letting him range hundreds of feet before calling him back. Reward.
He's done it so much that it's a habit now. He's sees a person or dog up ahead, he comes back to me. Reward. He feels seen again for doing the right thing. Another yes.
When you do things right it feels good. When you feel good, anxiety is no longer present.
4. One to one time
Attention. It's hard to get undivided attention these days. On our walks I put the phone away, except to take some stellar pictures of him posing at sunset, sitting on a "park it" or capturing those moments of him having such a good time in the outdoors, just me and him.
5. Stacking practice
Because he was more focused on moving with me, he got some freedom to range out, sniff and be a dog. The walk became more and more fun. I call it stacking because the walk done day after day after day, got easier and easier and we added the short recall session in the midst of it. That ended up leading to more off leash time along with our leash walks.
6. I was no longer trying to control him and his bad habits
I'd stopped telling him no and just tying to hang on to him when he pulled. It became fun for both of us. He lost his anxiety because I stopped basically bitching at him about doing the wrong thing and started showing him how to do the right thing over and over.
7. He smiles more
Yep, it's true. He smile more. When you have anxiety, you don't smile. Your body is tight and rigid. You don't breath. Smiling generates happy emotions. The 20 minute daily walk practice gave him the ability to smile.... and that makes me smile more.
8. He brought me a toy tonight and started a game with me
That's the moment I knew he's letting go of his anxiety. We've both been working on it. I had to lead him out of anxiety though by working through my own anxiety. I started stacking my practice too. The walk got me to up my exercise activity. I started lifting weights. I've been meditating every single day. He does that with me too.
As the anxiety has fallen away for me, things are more fun. I play more.
It happened for him too. He was wound pretty tight. Sure he'll loved to play fetch when I take to a park to do it. But he didn't initiate play on his own at home much.
He's losing his anxiety all the time and it started with a commitment to a 20 minute walk every day 3 months ago. 90 days.
9. Calming the Chaos
It's a choice. Stay where you are in anxiety or do something different. If you want to calm the chaos too I can help. You can find me here: Dog Life Unleashed