For those of us who hike with dogs, it is important to still follow leave no trace trail etiquette. And a big part of leave no trace is finding a way to pick up after your dog. No one enjoys walking on trails littered with dog waste. And dog waste degrades slowly, so don’t leave it behind to impact the environment.
So how do you pick up after your dog responsibly, while impacting the enjoyment of your own hike as little as possible? We scoured the internet looking for creative suggestions. Then, we coupled these ideas with our own experiences to provide these seven creative ways to deal with your dog’s poop while hiking.
- Find an air-tight container to house bagged fecal material, aka The Dedicated Hard-Sided Container
- Make your dog carry it
- Add a dryer sheet to a ziplock bag to mask the smell
- Pin it to your dog’s leash
- Bury it
- Train your dog to go before you hike
- Purchase a fancy poop holder
Whatever option you choose, just make sure that you have a plan in place before you and your dog hit the trail. Picking up after your dog reduces the opportunity for parasite transmission, prevents other hikers from accidentally treading through fecal material, and keeps the trail visually appealing. If only one dog traveled an individual trail, dog waste might not have a big impact. But when hundreds of dogs traverse a specific trail every year, that dog waste can add up.
Additionally, by picking up after our dogs, we are helping keep the trails open for our four-legged friends. Dog waste on trails is one of the main complaints that non-dog people have about sharing the trails with dogs. Don’t give other people any ammunition to argue for banning dogs from hiking trails.
1. The Dedicated Hard-Sided Container with Lid
I forget where I first saw this idea, but a wide-mouthed water bottle can make an excellent portable dog waste receptacle. Just make sure everyone in your house knows that this water bottle is not for drinking water.
Simply bag your dog’s poop as you normally would, then slide it into your wide-mouthed water bottle. You can then screw the lid back on. The water bottle can be placed in your backpack, hung from a carabiner, or held.
The water bottle will effectively contain most of the smell and also prevent the bags from being squished or torn if stowed inside your pack.
If you don’t want to use a water bottle, consider repurposing other wide-mouthed containers. An old, cleaned out peanut butter jar, screw top nuts container, or other plastic containers you would otherwise through away/recycle can work great. And then, if you need to dispose of the entire container in between hiking seasons, the container is recyclable.
I personally like shapes that fit in the water bottle holder of my backpack for easy access, but if you don’t mind the container inside your pack, then even a margarine tube would work.
2. Make Your Dog Carry It
To get the smell a little further away from your nose, consider having your dog carry his or her own fecal material. There are many cute backpacking harnesses available to choose from. You can either place the bagged fecal material straight into the backpack or you can place a container/bag into the backpack that you then place the poop into. Personally, I like to have dog waste double bagged before placing inside a backpack, whether it is mine or the dog’s.
However, you decided to contain the fecal material, this option leaves your hands free. And if your dog is already used to wearing a backpack, he should have no objection to carrying his own poop while hiking.
3. Ziplock with a Dryer Sheet
For most of us, the most objectable part of picking up our dog’s poop while hiking is having to hike with the smell for the remainder of the hike. In the winter the fecal material freezes quickly and emits minimal odor. But in the summer, watch out.
In warmer temperatures, consider bringing a ziplock bag pre-loaded with a dryer sheet to absorb the smell. Then after the poop is bagged and that bag is placed inside the ziplock bag, you can place the entire set-up into an outer backpack pocket. (You are probably wearing a backpack anyway in the warmer months, as it is hard to carry enough water without one).
If you liked the idea of a hard-sided container, as discussed in our first suggestion, you can easily place a dryer sheet into a wide-mouthed water bottle. This will limit the odor when you unscrew the lid for disposal or to add another doggy bag.
4. Pin It to Your Dog’s Leash
Not all leashes have a good spot to tie or pin a dog waste bag too, but placing a clothespin in the middle of your leash can help you secure a bag. By securing the bag to the middle of the leash, neither you or your dog need to be discomforted by carrying the bag alone. You can share that task.
Don’t want to stick a clothespin through your leash? Consider purchasing an s-carabiner clip and using it as demonstrated in this YouTube video.
5. Bury It
If you are on a short day hike, this might not be the easiest or most appropriate option. However, if you are hiking for long miles or multiple days, it can be the most practical approach. Carrying your dog’s poop adds weight to your pack, especially if you are hiking long enough that there will be multiple specimens provided.
On these trips, you can follow the same guidelines set in place for human fecal material. Dig a hole at least 6 inches deep and 200 feet away from water and the trail. Then place your dogs un-bagged fecal material in this hole, and fill the hole back in.
6. Train Your Dog to Poop Before You Hike
Training your dog to defecate on command can sound like a big task, but it is actually a pretty easy command for many dogs to learn.
Most of our dogs are on a rough schedule, just like we as people are. For example, Glia normally defecates when I let her out during my lunch break and then again once or twice on our evening walk. If I were to follow her outside at lunch and use a command to associate with defecation, I could also use that word as she goes on our evening walk. Afterwards, I would praise her and give a food reward afterward. Slowly Glia would begin to make an association between the word/command and doing her business. (Tip: Make this a different word than you use to ask your dog to urinate or go #1).
Once your dog seems to understand the association, start asking her to go before she starts sniffing and posturing, but make your request at a time of day when your dog normally has to go and you know they haven’t gone yet.
Eventually, your dog should make an attempt every time you ask. Then, when you are at the trailhead and standing near a trash receptacle, you can ask your dog to defecate before your hike.
Or you can do what I do and just walk a small loop around the parking lot before starting our hike. Glia will often go within the first 5 minutes of a hike, so if we meander near the trash bin for 5 minutes before heading off on the trail, I can often avoid carrying her poop.
Of course, just because your dog defecates before your start your hike does not mean that you shouldn’t still be carrying a doggy waste bag with on your hike just in case. You never know when they will need to go again.
7. Purchase a Fancy Poop Holder
We haven’t tried any of these purchasable poop holders, but they certainly are intriguing.
Have you ever heard of a Turdle Bag? I hadn’t before I started researching for this blog post. But this bag is designed to hold your full doggy waste bags to disguise some of the unpleasantness. I still wouldn’t recommend placing your filled bag near food though…
This post by School For The Dogs, offers even more stylish dog poop disguising options. My personal favorites in this list are the Civic Doody and the PoopPac. Check out the YouTubes videos for both of these products.
The Importance of Picking Up After Your Dog on Trail
So there you have it, 7 different ways to deal with your dog’s poop while hiking. If you have read through this post so far, you may also be wondering why you can’t just leave your dog’s fecal material on the side of the trail.
Did you know that the average dog passes about 0.75 pounds of stool per day? And that’s the average dog. If you have a large dog, the amount of waste he or she produces will be significantly higher. And while your dog does not defecate near a trail every day, you can bet that at least one dog defecates on a dog-friendly trail each day.
While not the most scientific study (not double blind or controlled), Pet Poo Skidoo watched one of their own dog’s piles for 9 weeks before the poo had decomposed enough to not be visible. By their math, that means that the average dog will deposit 47.25 pounds of poop in a 9-week timeframe.
Imagine running into nearly 50 pounds of dog poop every time you hit the trail. Not only is it unsightly, but it is also a health hazard for people and dogs alike.
There are many types of intestinal parasites that are transmitted when infected poo comes into contact with another dog’s mouth. And if your dog is anything like mine, she sniffs every pile of poop left near the trail. And not only is she just sniffing. She also often snacks on the fresh grass on the side of the trail. These are both opportunities for her to pick up parasites from another dog.
And while adult humans are less likely to come in direct contact with fecal material on the trail, did you know that we can also contract these parasites? In fact, for us humans, hookworms can crawl through our skin and roundworm infestations can cause blindness. Just google cutaneous larval migrans if you like looking at gross medical images.
And if a water source is nearby, that water source can also be contaminated. Organisms like giardia love to spread through contaminated water.
Dog waste does not fertilize the surrounding foliage. And when you think about the hazards it poses to other hikers and their dogs, it just makes sense to pick up after your dog.
What about leaving a bag by the side of the trail to pick up later?
Okay, so you are convinced that you should pick up after your dog and follow leave no trace principles. But what if you don’t like the options above? What if you just want to bag the poop and leave it on the side of the trail to pick up on your way back?
Personally, I don’t recommend it. People often forget. I have tried this method before with mixed results. Once I couldn’t find it later in the day. I finally found it and picked it up on a hike 2 days later. The bag was visible when I came around the trail at a different angle. That means that my full dog waste bag sat on the side of the trail for over 72 hours. That’s a lot of hikers who had to look at that dog waste bag as they hiked past.
However, this option is much better than just leaving your dog’s poop on the trail. So whatever method you choose to deal with your dog’s poop while hiking, just make sure you have a plan. Help us keep our trails clean and open for use by our four-legged companions.
What do you use to bury dog poop? When Glia and I head out for an overnight hiking trip, we back a small plastic trowel. This allows me to dig a nice 6-inch deep hole in which to bury her waste.
What can I feed my dog to minimize how much they need to poop on the trail, but still make sure they are getting enough calories? There are a lot of good dog foods out there, but the general rule of thumb to reduce the volume of stool is to pick a low-fiber diet. Dogs, like us, need some fiber to avoid constipation. However, a diet high in protein and low in fiber might be the right option for your dog to take with on the trail. But when it comes to your dog’s nutrition, we always recommend checking with your dog’s veterinarian prior to changing his diet.
You mentioned dog backpacks in your post, do you have a favorite brand? I do! Groundbird Gear makes custom dog harnesses and trekking packs. But if Groundbird Gear is a little out of your price range, consider looking into Ruffwear backpacks.
Is hiking good for dogs? Yes! In fact, we devoted an entire blog post to this topic.
How far can a dog hike? The average dog can easily hike for 2-5 miles, but take into consideration your dog’s size, breed, and overall condition. For more information, click here to read about things to consider and how to condition your dog for longer hikes.