It seems there has been a reoccurring theme lately in many of the Facebook hiking groups I am a member in- dog poop. Many well intentioned hikers just do not understand the importance of Leave No Trace- especially when it comes to their furry best friend’s feces. Since I hike a ton with my dog, I have researched the reasons why Leave No Trace is ultra-important, especially when it comes to bagging and carrying out my pooch’s poop. Here are the main arguments I see amongst hikers, time and time again, along with what is the recommended course of action by LNT advocates, biologists, and multiple studies.
I always pick up my dog’s poop at the park but not when I am in the woods. Wild animals poop in the woods, so my dog should be able to poop in the woods too.
At first, this does seem like logical reasoning to why it should be ok to leave your dog’s feces in the woods. I can’t tell you how many piles of coyote crap I have stepped in- it’s all over on some trails I hike frequently. The main reason this logic is flawed is that wild animal feces ≠ domestic animal feces. Think about what that coyote eats vs. what your dog eats. According to www.westminstercollege.edu, a coyote’s varied diet includes scavenging the large kills of other animals, insects, fruits, berries, and prickly pear cactus. Coyotes preferred diet includes deer, elk, rabbits mice squirrels, pocket gophers, beavers, ground nesting birds, amphibians, lizards, snails and fish. It’s a diet high of naturally occurring protein and calcium and is 100% biodegradable. In fact, some studies have shown that the fertile scat of some wild animals is actually a benefit to the eco-system. Researches in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park recently performed a study on samples of bear scat mixed with soil containing Chokecherry seeds in their park’s greenhouse. It turns out, they found the seeds are more likely to germinate after passing through the bear’s system than just dropping off the plant. The seeds have a thick coating that the bear’s digestive system helps to break down making it easier for the plant to germinate.
Now think about what your dog eats. If you’re conscious and feed your dog a high quality food, it contains many ingredients including added nutrients and preservatives. If you feed your dog a lower quality food, it contains much more than that. I googled Purina Dog Chow ingredients just to see and this is what I found:
Ingredients: Whole grain corn, meat and bone meal, corn gluten meal, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols, soybean meal, chicken by-product meal, egg and chicken flavor, whole grain wheat, animal digest, salt, calcium carbonate, potassium chloride, l-lysine monohydrochloride, mono and dicalcium phosphate, choline chloride, zinc sulfate, yellow 6, vitamin E supplement, ferrous sulfate, yellow 5, red 40, manganese sulfate, niacin, blue 2, vitamin A supplement, copper sulfate, calcium pantothenate, garlic oil, pyridoxine hydrochloride, vitamin B12 supplement, thiamine mononitrate, vitamin D3 supplement, riboflavin supplement, calcium iodate, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of vitamin K activity), folic acid, biotin, sodium selenite
Not very natural to say the least. All these added nutrients, fillers, chemicals, and preservatives go right into the delicate environment. Added nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, create unstable environments that cause algae blooms and feed invasive plants and weeds.
What’s one poop from my dog? It’s not even that big.
According to Leave No Trace Organization, across the US, 83 million pet dogs produce 10.6 million tons (that's 21,200,000,000 pounds) of poop every year. That’s a lot of poop! Imagine if everyone that is hiking with their dog left their dog’s mess. Plus an average dog poop takes about a year to decompose. So as you can see, it can pile up fast and stick around for a long time.
People complain about my dog’s poop when horse’s poop so much more and they don’t have to clean it up.
Again this comes down to diet and internal processing. Horse manure contains grass and grain fibers, minerals, shed cells, fats, water, sand or grit depending on the type of soil the hay or grass was growing in. About 3/4 of the total weight of manure is water. The chemical constituents of horse manure are not toxic to humans. Horse guts do not contain significant levels of the two waterborne pathogens of greatest concern to human health risk, Cryptosporidium or Giardia, neither do they contain significant amounts of the bacteria E. coli or Salmonella. In fact, many people use horse poop as compost for their gardens. Dog poop is nothing like horse poop. Did you know that in one gram of dog poop there are 23 million fecal coliform bacteria, which are known to cause cramps, diarrhea, intestinal illness, and serious kidney disorders in humans? Imagine all those piles of poop when it rains, washing all that bacteria into our agriculture fields, water sources, and oceans.
I do bag my dog’s poop in biodegradable bags. It will degrade so it’s ok to leave it.
No one wants to look at your decomposing dog poop bag for the next year (at least). This includes even if you’re just leaving the bag and plan on picking it up on your way back down. Most likely, you may forget it or someone else will feel the need to pick it up for you. It goes against the ethics of hiking and put everyone who hikes with their dog in danger of having dog friendly trails change to no dogs due to all the litter.
Again, this goes back to the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace:
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Dispose of Waste Properly
Leave What You Find
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Poop stinks and I don’t want to carry it in my backpack all day!
When I see comments like this my blood literally starts to boil. This is irresponsible dog ownership, a complete disregard to fellow hikers and the environment, and pure laziness. It’s a privilege to be able to take your dog on a hike and it is your responsibility to ensure you bag and pack out their poop every time.
So what can you do as a hiker with your dog to ensure you’re doing to right thing with your dog’s poop?
- Always follow Leave No Trace Principles- this applies to every aspect of your hikes, with or without your dog.
- Always carry extra bags with you. Make sure to buy odor proof bags and double bag it. This seems to work so that won’t have to smell it all day from your backpack. Dispose of in a proper trash receptacle at the end of your hike. If there is no trash receptacle at the trailhead, take it with you. Do not leave the full bag on the trail with the intention of picking it up on your way out. You must carry it with you.
- Consider getting a “pack” for your dog to wear while hiking. My dog carries his own pack and I bag his poop and put it in his pack to carry out. There are many different dog packs available for purchase in multiple styles and sizes.
- Emergencies do happen and if you get stuck with poop and no bag, you can bury it in a 6-8" deep hole at least 200 feet (70 big steps) away from any water sources.
Once you get into the habit of picking it up every time, it really becomes just that- a habit. So please do your part and pick up your pup's poop every time! I also believe in contributing to picking up the bags left by "other" hikers. I know it's not mine, but I figure if everyone that is conscious of the damage that dog poop can do to the environment only grabs one bag that was left each time they hike, it would contribute greatly to keeping the trails clean. Plus you'll earn good karma points!