How To Eco-Consciously Hike & Camp With Your Dog
How To Eco-Consciously Hike & Camp With Your Dog
Summer is almost here, which means the hiking and camping season is about to be in full swing! Whether you're summiting the peak of your local mountain or going on a weeklong camping trip in the canopied forests a few hours away, being outdoors is so much better when your furry best friend is right beside you.
No matter what type of outdoor adventure you choose, it's essential to make sure you've sufficiently planned your trip, so it's fun for your dog, easy for you, and gentle on the environment.
Before you venture out onto the trails or set up camp, make sure you and your pup are well prepared for your outing. As a dog owner, having the knowledge and understanding of your pup’s impact can help you minimize your dog's environmental pawprint while still reaping the benefits that come from being in nature.
To make sure your outdoor adventure is low impact, we're giving you five ways to eco-consciously hike and camp with your dog.
Research Your Destination
We can't stress enough how important it is to research your destination ahead of time! Especially when it comes to natural areas that do or do not allow four-legged friends. Unfortunately, not all campgrounds, parks, or outdoor spaces welcome dogs.
For example, to preserve the natural landscape, many US National Parks have a general rule of allowing dogs to go "anywhere a car can go," which translates to only allowing dogs on roadways, parking lots, and picnic areas or campgrounds (depending on the National Park).
National Monuments vary wildly from allowing dogs on trails to completely banning four-legged pups on trails. If dogs are allowed, they might be required to be on a leash. This is as much for you, your dog, other dogs, and hikers' safety as it is for the natural habitat you're walking through.
No, outdoor spaces are not discriminating against your dog, but they are trying to preserve the ecology of vulnerable habitats they are meant to protect. So please be mindful of rules in nature conservation areas because they are probably there for a reason.
Bring Appropriate (and Eco-friendly) Gear
If you're an avid hiker or outdoor adventurer, you probably already have all the essential gear necessary for a safe and successful excursion into nature. You might even have go-to equipment that you grab for your outings, but does your dog have the right gear, too?
Plenty of outdoor gear options makes reducing your pup's carbon pawprint easy. From plastic-free water bowls and reusable water dispensers to ethically sourced leashes or collars to travel dog beds made from recycled materials –you always have a more eco-friendly choice for your dog's gear.
If you're interested in learning more, we have an extensive blog post on environmentally friendly outdoor dog gear (plus our favorite eco brands).
Be Mindful Of The WIldlife
You might be camping for a long weekend or even a week, but for the local wildlife, this area is their home forever. Be conscious of how you treat it and them while visiting their habitat.
Depending on your dog's breed, the prey instinct could be nonexistent or incredibly powerful. A study by the University of New South Wales showed that "dog caused a 41% reduction in the numbers of individual birds detected and a 35% reduction in species richness compared with untreated controls – while disturbance from humans walking alone was typically less than half that of dogs."
Beware what your dog does and closely monitor their "excursions" into the vegetation. If you can, put effort into training (or retraining) your dog to avoid chasing wildlife. Even the maiming of the smallest animals can significantly impact the local environment.
Tip: Instead of letting your dog chase the wildlife, bring along one of their favorite toys to keep your dog's attention span on you rather than the wildlife.
Be Mindful Of The Impact On Nature & Vegetation
Beautiful outdoor areas naturally attract people who want to spend time there, and understandably, those same people want to bring their pups along for the adventure.
Unfortunately, dogs and conservation objectives don't always mesh and can cause physical damage to both wildlife (as mentioned in the point above) and vegetation in these natural areas.
One of the biggest impacts your dog can have on the surrounding nature and vegetation is directly related to whether they are on or off-leash.
A dog that's off-leash can cover more ground than one on a leash, making a greater impact on the local vegetation and wildlife surrounding the trail you're hiking. Trampling seedlings and other plants might not seem harmful on the surface, but the lasting impact this can have on the vegetation could be significant.
Tip: Instead of letting your dog roam through the brush and vegetation surrounding the trail you're hiking, keep them on a leash, or if they respond well to verbal cues, keep them on the trail next to you if possible.
Leave No Mess Behind
Going off the previous point, the mess your dog leaves while walking, hiking, or camping is a hazard. Like any walk they go in (in the city or in nature), dogs need to relieve themselves periodically throughout the day. If the day consists of a hike or an overnight camping excursion, there's a good chance they'll be doing their business at some point.
While we advocate for picking up your dog's waste wherever you are, it's imperative that, as a dog owner, you be vigilant in picking up their waste when you're camping or hiking in the great outdoors. The mess our dogs leave behind in nature can have an unrealized impact on the local habitat.
Dog poop is a huge source of bacteria pollution in our watersheds. Our pup's waste is actually considered a very harmful pollutant alongside oil, herbicides, insecticides, and other deadly contaminants by the Environmental Protection Agency.
According to a study from Ghent University, the levels of nitrogen and phosphorous found in dog poop are very high compared to the natural nutrient levels of most nature reserves. According to the British charity Plantlife, nitrogen pollution is "one of the greatest threats to our wild plants, lichens, and fungi."
"Most ecosystems are naturally low nutrient environments and overfertilization reduces biodiversity" by allowing more aggressive plants that thrive on nitrogen and phosphorous to drive out other natural plants and the wildlife that depend on them.
The key takeaway is never to leave your dog's poop out in the wild. If you want to take your dog's waste one step further, opt for a biodegradable plastic waste bag, or flushable bag, or consider composting your dog's poop once you get back home from your trip! We have an entire post dedicated to uncovering the truth about dog waste bags and which one is best for the planet.
As dog owners, the more we educate ourselves about our dog's environmental pawprint and how they can damage the ecology of vulnerable habitats, the more we can take action to help save the outdoor spaces we enjoy. Is there anything we missed from this list? What are other ways we can camp or hike with our dog’s in a way that’s environmentally friendly?