According to the organization Leave No Trace (LNT), “9 out of 10 people in the outdoors are uninformed about their impacts.” From how and where to step, to respecting wildlife around you, their website has lots of tips for reducing damage to trails and the environment you enjoy.
These guidelines also apply to our four-legged hiking buddies. Keeping your dog on a leash and cleaning up their waste are just two ways to help all users have a pleasant experience on the trails (and to help protect our water quality).
“Have you ever wondered why it is alright for bears and other wildlife to poo in the woods but not acceptable for our dogs? A bears diet consists mainly of natural plants and berries, while our pet’s waste is considered unnatural. Dog food is derived from processed foods which we wouldn’t typically find in nature. According to the CDC, or Center for Disease Control one days worth of dog waste can contain several billion fecal bacteria along with Giardia, hookworm, and tapeworms. If our pet waste reaches waterways, it can be harmful to other animals, wildlife, and even humans.”
“The simple act of picking up our pet waste can make a positive impact in the appearance and health of our water quality and natural environment.”
Of course, bagging your dog’s waste can also cause a problem if it’s not disposed of properly. LGLC staff and volunteers commonly find used bags tossed into the woods, or just on the side of the trail, left by hikers who didn’t want to carry it around. Not only is this an eye-sore, the plastic presents a serious environmental concern as well. This post by Long Haul Trekkers lists several options for carrying and disposing of dog waste.
If you don’t want to carry around a bag of dog waste, you could also bury it just as you would human waste (6-8-inches deep and away from any water sources and trails).
In the end, we all want to enjoy hiking in a clean and safe environment, without worrying about loose dogs running at us, stepping in dog waste, or seeing plastic baggies left in leaves or hanging from branches. And dog owners want to be able to share the hiking experience with their dogs. By having a simple respect for others and the environment, we can work together to keep our trails safe and water clean.