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4 Reasons Why You Should Pick Up Dog Poop While Hiking

A woman cleans up her dog's poop

There’s nothing like the thrill of setting off on a new adventure with your furry sidekick. Whether you’re conquering mountains in Colorado or running on the beach in Florida, having our canine companions with us makes hiking even better.

Yet, as we embark on these exhilarating expeditions, there’s an often-overlooked responsibility that comes with the territory. 

Yes, we’re talking about the need to pick up dog poop. It may not be the most glamorous aspect of pet ownership, but it’s a crucial part of being a considerate hiker and preserving the beautiful landscapes we so love to explore. 

In this article, we’ll dive into why it’s so essential to bag that poop and how doing so can have far-reaching benefits for our environment and wildlife. So, stick around as we navigate this less-trodden path of responsible pet ownership in the great outdoors.

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1. Dog Poop Can Degrade Water Systems

Every time it rains, a small but significant journey begins. Rainwater, as it cascades down our landscapes, collects various pollutants along the way. Among these is an often overlooked culprit: dog poop. 

Left on hiking trails and in parks, this waste gets swept up by the rain and carried off to a local water source, such as streams, rivers, and lakes. It can even get carried into waterways that eventually become our drinking water! Yikes!

But what happens next? Well, the poop doesn’t just disappear. Instead, it decomposes and releases harmful substances into the water. This process has far-reaching implications for both the quality of our water and the health of our ecosystems.

High Bacteria Numbers: A Threat to Recreation

One of the most immediate impacts of dog waste in our waterways is the spike in bacteria levels. Dog poop is teeming with bacteria—some of which can be harmful to humans and wildlife. 

When this waste washes into our water systems, those bacteria multiply, contaminating water. If the contamination is too high, swimming and fishing areas will close until the bacteria levels recede. 

Parks with waterways may also become no-dog zones due to high concentrations of dog waste. For example, the Palmer Lake Reservoir Trail was a popular hike in Palmer Lake, Colorado. It was dog-friendly when it first opened, but it had to ban dogs due to poor water quality because folks weren’t picking up their dogs’ waste.

So, if you love taking your dogs on hiking trails, it’s imperative to pick up their business, regardless of location on or off the trail.

2. Dog Poop Contributes To Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs)

Dog poop is rich in nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous. While these nutrients are vital for plant growth, too much can be detrimental, especially if the soil already has high levels. Excess nutrients can overwhelm plants and even inhibit their growth. 

But the impact doesn’t stop there.

When washed into water bodies, these nutrients contribute to the excessive growth of aquatic plants, particularly harmful algal blooms (HABs). These blooms can cover the water’s surface, blocking sunlight and disrupting the aquatic ecosystem. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirms that nitrogen and phosphorous fuel these aquatic plants the most. As the algae die and decay, they consume oxygen in the water, leading to oxygen-poor conditions that can harm fish and other aquatic animals.

HABs are a common problem in coastal areas and the states surrounding the Great Lakes. In addition to harming the fish, HABs can be toxic to dogs that drink the water where HABs are present. It’s a vicious circle that can easily be stopped with the simple act of picking up your dog’s poo.

3. Your Dog’s Poop Can Harm Wildlife

As we stroll down the trail with our four-legged friends, it’s easy to forget that we’re not the only ones who call these beautiful landscapes home. Among the rustling leaves and chirping birds, many wildlife species also share these spaces with us. 

And believe it or not, our decision to pick up dog poop—or not—can have a significant impact on their well-being.

Dog Poop Affects Wild Canine Species

Our pets’ waste can harbor a range of harmful diseases, some of which can infect wild members of the canine family. Wolves, coyotes, foxes—they’re all susceptible. 

For instance, in the 1980s, the wolf population in Isle Royale National Park took a devastating hit due to parvovirus, a disease that can be passed through dog waste. The population plummeted from 50 individuals down to just 14, a stark reminder of the potential havoc that can be wreaked when domesticated dogs’ diseases enter the wild.

Similarly, the Channel Islands National Park doesn’t allow pets for a specific reason: protecting the island fox. This creature has evolved into a separate subspecies over time, making it particularly vulnerable to diseases that could be introduced through pet waste. The decision to exclude pets from the park is a proactive measure to ensure the survival of this unique species.

If you’re hiking in wolf territory, you can read about what to do if you see a wolf while hiking here. Similarly, we have a guide on what to do if you also see a coyote on a hike!

Parks, Trails, And Open Spaces Are Vulnerable

Now, let’s bring it closer to home. We all have favorite spots to take our pets—the local park, a nearby open space, perhaps a particular hiking trail, or even the grass in your yard. 

These areas often see a high concentration of pet owners, which unfortunately means they can also become hotspots for accumulated pet waste. 

Over time, this buildup creates an unhealthy environment for local wildlife, exposing them to the risk of disease and potentially disrupting delicate ecosystems. Plus, the threat of taking a step into dog poo is always a possibility!

So next time you’re out and about with your faithful companion, large or small, remember this: when you pick up dog poop, you’re doing more than just keeping our trails clean. You’re playing a crucial role in safeguarding the health and diversity of our local wildlife. 

And that’s something to feel good about as we continue to share and explore these fantastic natural spaces with our pets.

4. One Pile Matters

Current statistics regarding the number of pet dogs in the United States vary depending on where you look. However, somewhere between 75 million and 95 million pet dogs exist in the U.S.

The University of Washington tells us that dogs produce about 0.5 pounds of poo per day, depending on their size. Doing the math, we’re looking at around 37.5 million pounds of dog-doo-doo produced in the U.S. Per year, conservatively.

So, while many think that leaving one pile of dog poo isn’t a big deal, when millions of people believe that, it adds up! It’s essential to pick up dog poop every time and especially on hiking trails.

What About Wildlife Droppings?

So, what’s the big deal about dog poo when there are millions of wild animals doing their business all over the place?

The difference lies in the distribution and content of the droppings. Wildlife typically runs, waddles, or gallops over many acres of territory daily, dispersing their business in different areas. 

On the other hand, most dog owners walk their dogs on a similar path or in a similar area each day. If your dog walks the same path for ten years, the amount of dog poo adds up and is concentrated in that small area.

Dog pee can have a similar effect. If a dog is allowed to pee in the same exact spot every day, you’ll notice the grass or bush start to turn yellow.

Robyn cleaning up her dog's poop while hiking. Pick up dog poop!

Busting Myths: The Truth About Biodegradable and Compostable Poop Bags

Let’s tackle a myth that’s been doing the rounds among us pet parents. It’s about those biodegradable and compostable dog poop bags that we’ve all come to love. The ones that promise to take care of our pets’ business while being kind to Mother Nature. 

While our efforts to reduce plastic pollution are admirable, there’s a big gap between how these bags are used by pet owners and how they’re supposed to be used.

Myth 1: Biodegradable Bags Just…Disappear?

Picture this: you’re on your favorite trail with your furry friend. They do their business; you scoop it up in your trusty biodegradable bag and leave it behind, secure in the knowledge that nature will take its course and the bag will degrade over time.

It doesn’t work that way. 

Contrary to popular belief, biodegradable bags don’t just vanish into thin air—or soil, for that matter. They need specific conditions to break down, including high temperatures and the presence of microorganisms. 

And our hiking trails aren’t exactly equipped with these natural ‘bag-degrading’ facilities. Leaving the bag on the trail means it’ll likely stick around a lot longer than you think, even decades.

Myth 2: Compostable Bags Break Down in the Environment, Right?

Now, what about compostable bags? While compostable bags are designed to decompose in composting systems, they also need certain conditions. We’re talking about high heat, moisture, and specific bacteria. 

These conditions are typically found in industrial composting facilities, not your average backyard compost pile or our beloved outdoor trails.

The Bottom Line

Jarrod and Gatsby on the shore of St. Mary's Lake

So, what’s the bottom line? Even if you’re using biodegradable or compostable bags, you must dispose of them properly—in a trash can. Leaving them in the great outdoors, even with the best of intentions, only contributes to litter and doesn’t do our environment any favors.

Remember, every adventure we share with our pets is an opportunity to respect and protect the natural world we love so much. So let’s keep those trails clean and carry out what we carry in.

The Upside of Scooping: Doing Your Part To Keep Trails Dog-Friendly

Now that we know why it’s crucial to pick up dog poop, let’s talk about some of the tools you can use to responsibly pick up your dog’s waste while hiking (or anywhere!).

Tools of the Trade: Poop Bags and More

First things first: let’s talk about tools. When it comes to picking up after your pet, you’ve got options:

  • Dog Poop Bags: Doggie bags are available in many shapes, sizes, and even colors. These bags are your first line of defense. Opt for biodegradable or compostable types—they’re kinder to the environment. You can even use a plastic bag if you’re in a pinch. We love the Earth Rated Dog Poop Bag Holder with Dog Poop Bags!
  • Pooper Scoopers: Have you ever wondered how to pick up dog poop without touching it? These handy tools allow you to scoop the poop without getting too… intimate. They’re great for folks who find the bag-and-scoop method too close for comfort. Check out the Frisco Spring Action Foldable Dog Pooper Scooper.
  • Doggie Backpacks: Yes, they exist, and they’re fabulous! Your dog carries its own waste in a special compartment. Just remember to empty it once you’re back in civilization! The Front Range™ Day Pack is worn by your dog and can hold full poo bags so you can keep your hands free.

Disposal Done Right

Now that you’ve scooped the poop, what next? Disposing of it properly is crucial. That means finding a garbage can or bin—not your backyard compost pile.

And here’s a pro tip: always plan where you’ll dispose of the waste before you hit the trails. Many parks and trails have garbage bins at the trailhead, some of which are bear-proof. If the trail has no garbage can, you still have options:

  • Place the doggie bag in a trunk or truck bed and return home with it for proper disposal.
  • Drive to the nearest gas station or convenience store and throw it in their trash cans.

Trail-Savvy Tips for Dog Waste Disposal

When you’re out adventuring, it’s all about being prepared. Here are some practical tips for handling dog waste on the go:

  • Pack It In, Pack It Out: Just as you would with your own trash, always carry out what you bring in—including dog poop bags. Leave no trace, friends!
  • Double-Bag It: To avoid any unpleasant accidents, consider double-bagging the poop. It’s extra security for you and your backpack.
  • Use a Dedicated Compartment or Pouch: If your bag has multiple compartments or you have a poop pouch, use it to separate the waste from your other items. We clip our dog poo bags to the outside of our backpacks to keep it separate from everything else in our pack.
  • Let Your Dog Carry It: Some harnesses are built with pouches and compartments so your dog can carry their own food and waste (in separate compartments, of course!).
  • Hand Sanitizer is Your Friend: After handling dog waste, sanitizing your hands is a must. Keep a small bottle handy in your pack.

Some trails even provide free dog poop bags at the trailhead, which can be a lifesaver when you forget to bring one!

Mineral Springs Wooden Bridge

How To Pick up Dog Poop…

Wondering how to pick up dog poop? If it’s your first time having to pick up your dog’s waste, here are some quick tips:

  • How to pick up dog poop with a bag: Open the bag and place your hand inside the bag. Use your hand to grab the dog poop (so that the bag is between your hand and the poo). Once you have all the poo in your hand, turn the bag inside out so that it encloses the poop within the bag. Tie the top and throw it in a trash can.
  • How to pick up dog poop diarrhea: This one’s tricky. When your dog’s stool is runny, it can be challenging to pick up. Use multiple bags to get as much as you can. Washing it away will only help speed up the process of releasing harmful bacteria. Still, it may be helpful with diarrhea since it will spread the waste out.
  • Dog poop pick-up service: If you’re unable to pick up the dog waste in your yard (or you don’t have time), there are dog poop services that will come to your house and pick up the pet waste for you. A simple internet search will lead you to a service near you.

Wrapping Up: The Trail Ahead

We’ve ventured into the nitty-gritty of poop scooping, debunked some myths, and discovered just how impactful our role can be in protecting our trails and their wild inhabitants. 

It’s clear that our actions—yes, even concerning pet waste removal—can make a real difference!

If you have found a clever way to carry out your dog’s poop on a hike, let us know in the comments below! It’s something no hiker wants to carry around the entire trek, so any tips are welcome!

Our trails are a gift, and it’s up to us to take care of them. So here’s to many more miles under our boots and paws, filled with fun, discovery, and responsible pet ownership. Keep exploring, keep caring, and most importantly, keep scooping that poop!

For more tips on hiking with dogs, check out our hiking blog!

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