Going on adventures with your dog is rewarding for both human and dog. For us, they can be a great motivator to exercise and enjoy nature. They also provide a constant hiking companion. You’re never lonely with your dog on the trail. Additionally, dogs can provide a sense of security.
For the dog, it provides them with a job. Hiking keeps life interesting for them with new sights and smells to explore. It provides them the necessary exercise to stay fit and healthy. Plus, a tired dog is a good dog. After a nice, long hike, they are hopefully too tired to sneak into the cookie jar when you leave the room.
Along with the rewards of hiking with your dog comes an extra set of responsibilities. As nature lovers, we should all strive to be good hiking citizens and follow Leave No Trace principles. This also means helping our dogs do the same. Below are the ways the Leave No Trace principles can be directly applied to your pup:
Plan ahead and prepare
Know the rules and regulations of the trails you will be visiting. Are dogs allowed? Is the terrain appropriate for you and your dog? Is it hunting season, in which case your dog might need some blaze orange to wear?
Are leashes required? If leashes aren’t required, does your dog respond well to voice commands, or should you still consider using one? If your dog responds well to voice commands, honestly assess whether they will listen in a distracting environment with lots of new sights and smells as well as they do in your backyard.
Do you have enough food and water for your dog? What about gear to keep them warm in cold temperatures, or cool in warm temperatures? They need to be just as prepared for conditions as you are.
Travel and camp on durable surfaces
Like humans, dogs should also adhere to this rule by staying on the trail. Not only can they damage the surrounding terrain, but they can also disturb wildlife, digs holes and disrupt vegetation, or find themselves in a dangerous situation like getting too close to a cliff’s edge. If voice control doesn’t accomplish this then a leash is necessary.
Dogs should always be leashed in alpine zones. Like people, they can damage the rare alpine flora with their footsteps. Even if you think your dog would never step outside of the designated trail, be a good example and leash them in these fragile areas.
When camping, store your dog’s food with your own to prevent wildlife from getting it.
Dispose of waste properly
As with human waste, you should deposit dog waste into catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. Above treeline, be prepared to pack it out. Keep dogs leashed and away from water sources to protect water quality.
Leave what you find
It is good practice to perform a tick check after hiking, but it is also a good opportunity to remove any other insects and plant material that your dog could be transporting around. And for the enterprising dog that finds sticks or antlers in the woods, please leave them in the woods!
Minimize campfire impacts
This principle is not really applicable to dogs, but remember to keep them safe around campfires.
Interactions with dogs can be stressful for wildlife especially during times of mating, nesting, raising young, or during winter. It can also be dangerous for both you and your dog should an animal become aggressive. In order to avoid this, dogs should be under voice or leash control at all times. No one wants to end their day at the vet to remove porcupine quills from their dog’s mouth!
Be considerate of other visitors
Some people may have allergies to dogs, or have an inherent fear of them, so not everyone appreciates a dog begging or running up to them; especially when they are dirty, wet, and slobbery from being in the woods.
Yield to others when passing on the trail. Always leash dogs at other people’s request, at overnight sites, and in large crowds. If you come across another leashed dog, it’s a good idea to ask the owner if your dog should also be leashed when passing them.
Also make sure to keep your dog from barking too much and disturbing others’ nature experience.
When the Leave No Trace principles are ignored, more restrictions may need to be placed. If you want to continue to adventure with your canine companions, remember to respect the land and other visitors. By helping your dog follow these simple guidelines, it will not only ensure continued access to these places with our dogs, but also help protect our wild spaces.