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TreeTops Training

Creating a more pleasurable walk experience for both canine, and caregiver, through the mapping of decompression zones

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Treetops Adventure

You stand on a ledge, 50 feet up a sea of trees, a body harness securely fastened, with a loved one supportively beckoning you to follow them across two lengths of rope hovering over the ground below.

Heights have never been your thing but to appease your family, you’re braving a TreeTops adventure in the forest.

From the moment your car pulled up, you knew this would be a challenge. The safety brief starts the flutters, the guide strapping you in makes the height a real trigger. Then anxiety blurs your vision whilst your limbs adjust to the strange new paths before you.

After easing you in with a low rope practice, it’s time to climb.

Adrenaline pumps through your heart with every stride until you make it to the sanctuary of the first tree ledge. A moment of calm and gathering yourself before embarking on the next rope path.

The breeze questions your balance, birds knock your breath as they whizz by unafraid of the air below them. Distant screams and squeals hit a nerve and hurl you off your feet, and you’re shaking even though your mind knows you have a safety line.

After nearly an hour of vein-popping adrenaline, your whole being starts to slow. Finding your feet on the rope is testing on your tired eyes. Focus is not your friend.

You look up to see the end is in sight, and as you do, the urge to reach it takes over. With a last surge of energy and a mighty whoosh, you fly down the zipline to the comfort of the ground. You made it.

 

Why is this relevant to dogs?

In the human analogy above, the height is the key fear trigger, with smaller environmental triggers becoming an issue in a heightened stress state. The ledges are a moment of relax where those triggers are reduced. A short opportunity for decompression.

When we think about dog walks with fearful/anxious dogs, we can most certainly apply a TreeTops method of adding sanctuary to walks. A dog that is in a heightened state is going to become explosive quickly, especially without any opportunities to decompress. This can also be said for a dog that is not necessarily anxious, but perhaps finds the world around him completely overstimulating.

Its easy to get weighed down and frustrated when our (otherwise happy) family dog struggles with environmental aspects of a walk. As a care giver, it pays immensely to step back and look at the walk experience from the dog’s perspective.

Do our dogs have spaces that act as the tree ledges do, to enable moments of calm and gathering, or are we expecting them to manage nearly an hour of adrenaline-fuelled rope walking without any retreat?

Whether you live with a canine that is nervous to leave home, or one that is darting wide-eyed out the door, take a moment to think about their experience. Making a mental map of your neighbourhood (or walking it without your dog) to find spaces that can provide quiet and calm, is the first objective.

What do I look for in a decompression zone?

Small grassy areas/verges

Woodlands

Fields

Cemeteries

Flower gardens/meadows

Lakesides/riversides/Streams

A friendly neighbour’s garden

A car park

Your car

 

These spaces would ideally promote sniffing, exploring, playing, and any natural behaviours of a dog that they find relaxing. They would also be areas of removed or reduced exposure to triggers of stress/fear/over arousal for YOUR dog specifically.

 

Once we have a mental map of the neighbourhood that we’re planning to walk in, we can start introducing ledges for decompression, one at a time. If you’re a dog parent that finds walks particularly stressful, these ledges are useful for you also. Explore the environment with your dog. Take time to play with them, sit, relax, cuddle, search for interesting things, observe.

 

We have a firm belief that trigger stacking can be alleviated and confidence can be developed when a dog has opportunities to ‘have a moment’. The more ‘moments’ they have on the ledges, the calmer the walk experience can be – for everyone.

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