How to Ethically Adventure with Dogs

Three of the most common mistakes dog owners make when bringing their pet on an adventure 

Words and photos by Jenn McAmis

One of the best parts of having a four-legged adventure companion is the opportunity to bring them out on the trail with you. Few things make me happier than watching my dog prance through an alpine meadow.

However, there’s way more to adventuring with dogs than one might consider – even if you’ve been doing it for years. As with other adventure ethics before the leave no trace movement grew strong, the most sustainable canine adventure standards haven’t always been of highest priority.

But times are changing.

I’ve been adventuring with dogs for over 5 years. I’ll fully admit that when I started, my dog ran free, I didn’t pack out her poop, and she definitely didn’t have a puffy. However, the more I learned, the more I began to recognize a need for better outdoor ethics for my favorite adventure companion.

I challenge you to read through this list of best practices for adventuring with dogs and see where you can improve. Was it more fun to hike when I wasn’t constantly focused on leash management? Absolutely. Is it worth the extra effort to know that I’m not creating more problems for future adventurers? You’d better believe it.

Do I really need to keep my dog on a leash?

Yes! It really does matter. Just because you don’t find your dog’s presence intimidating, doesn’t mean strangers around you feel the same way. Being considerate of others’ right to enjoy the outdoors includes keeping your dog from drowning out nature sounds with his bark and not allowing him to run up to someone without their consent.

Humans aren’t the only ones affected by your dog’s unencumbered enjoyment of nature. Wild animals can become scared and feel too threatened to access water and food sources. There have also been many cases of dogs killing animals such as big horned sheep (1). Keeping dogs constrained helps reduce their impact on other animals.

Let’s not forget – dogs aren’t checking for rattlesnakes hiding along the trail. They can’t identify which berries might be poisonous. A tick nest looks just as exciting as any other bush to run through. Keeping a dog on a leash protects them as well.

For the sake of other people, animals, and your dog herself, use a leash.

Is picking up dog poop really a big deal?

Yes! We’ve all heard the many different excuses for not cleaning up after one’s dog. “Poop is biodegradable!”Other animals poop in nature.” However, those poor excuses drastically miss the point.

Dog poop left in nature runs down into water sources. Because domesticated dogs are eating a diet not local to the region, their feces are high in elements the area can’t handle. Adding elements, particularly the nitrogen found in poop, to water kills the plants and fish that live there (2). Furthermore, parasites such as roundworms, E.Coli, Salmonella, and hookworms are often left behind even when the poop washes away and can remain in the soil ready to infect other humans and animals for years (3).

Even if your dog was eating a local diet without any parasites or chemicals in their system, most of the land across the United States can only handle the waste of 2 dogs per square mile. Deserts and dryer ecosystems can process even less.  Any more refuse than that is more than the land can absorb and process.

Make the responsible choice and pack out your dog poop.

If it is indeed not an option to pack it out, treat the feces as you would that of a human and bury it at least 6 inches underground and far away from water and trails.

Do dogs need adventure gear?

Yes! Like humans, dogs need the appropriate gear for adventures. I’ll fully admit to previously making fun of dogs with jackets. They have fur to keep warm. It’s a dog. While there might be some truth to that logic, it doesn’t work out as well for the dog or environment as one might think.  

Keeping your dog comfortable protects fragile ecosystems. When dogs get hot, cold or are unable to find a cozy spot to lie down, they’ll dig a hole. The soil just below the surface is often colder in the summer and warmer in the winter. Digging also helps dogs move rocks out of the way to perfect their hangout spot (4).

While it’s great that dogs can help take care of themselves, this isn’t so stellar for the environment. Digging can kill certain plants or fungi. It disrupts fragile ecosystems of insects and microorganisms.

Find your dog a jacket to keep warm and bring an extra pad for her to lie on when you aren’t moving to prevent digging and protect plants.  

Being a pet parent – like any parent – isn’t easy. However, we have to follow through with what we signed up for to keep our beautiful spaces available and healthy for all the adventures to come.






Read more from Jenn McAmis on her blog.

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