Research Your Route
Every habitat is different and home to unique wildlife, weather conditions, and terrain. Before you venture out, be sure to check the park’s website or office for news, tips, and trail closures.
Depending on the time of year, many trails close in effort to not disturb nesting birds that are borderline extinct, newborn animals that are easily distracted by human activity, or other region-specific conditions such as mud or fallen rocks. Although it is disappointing to detour your plans, attempting to access an off-limits trail could not only lead to trouble with the park system, but pose a safety threat to you, the wildlife, and your dog.
Once you have determined your route, familiarize yourself with the types of plants and animals that are commonly found in the area. For example, flowers such as azalea or black walnuts that fell from a tree could lead to illness if your dog ingests them, according to PetMD. If you’re exploring a region home to notoriously dangerous species such as grizzly bears and rattlesnakes, be sure to do your research in advance to know what to do if you and your dog encounter an unwanted animal.
Once you know what to look out for, it’s recommended to keep your dog on a leash the whole time. This will help you restrain your pup if they come close to a wild animal or hazardous plant, plus helps prevent plants and small animals from being trampled or destroyed.
Clean Up After Your Dog
What happens when nature calls while you’re out in nature? Clean it up! Many pet parents believe dog waste is natural and even serves as a fertilizer, however, picking up after your dog is one of the most important ways to help the environment.
Aside from releasing unwanted smells and creating extra obstacles to step around, dog waste can negatively affect our natural resources when not picked up. Because dogs eat more protein, their waste is highly acidic and contains pathogens, which are especially harmful if they wind up in lakes, streams, ponds and other water sources, according to Erie.gov. When this happens, the waste decomposes, causing excessive growth of algae and smelly, murky water that’s unsafe for humans, our pets, and wildlife to enjoy.
Always come prepared with a dog waste bag or plastic shopping bag. According to the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, many areas even provide dog waste bags on-site. Be sure to dispose of the bag in trash cans—never in the dirt or grass, no matter how far off the beaten path it may be!
Keep Nature How You Found It
From flowers and ferns to skulls and antlers, you may think you just found a cool souvenir or new fetch stick to take home—but think twice before you or your dog leave with something that’s not yours!
Discovering natural objects is one of the most interesting and fun parts of a hike, and we ought to give all hikers the same opportunity! Not to mention, they could be an important part of an animal’s diet or living space, whether it’s a stick a bird can use to build their nest, or a pretty autumn leaf a deer can snack on.
Staying on the trail is another easy way to help keep nature how you found it. Aside from the risk of getting lost, straying leads to stepping on plants, insects, or small animals. Even taking a brief detour to avoid mud can accidentally widen the trail and disturb nearby ecosystems.
Carry In, Carry Out
Perhaps one of the most obvious steps you can take to preserve Mother Nature is to clean up after yourself!
Keeping you and your dog hydrated and nourished is key during any physical activity. And while you may be tempted to stop at the convenience store before heading out to the park, plastic bottles can take 400 years to naturally decompose, according to Forbes. Instead, take a container you can use again and again, such as a stainless steel, plastic, or collapsible silicone bottle. Don’t forget a handy collapsible bowl for your dog, too!
When snack time inevitably rolls around, always be sure to place trash—including wrappers and uneaten food—in a dedicated garbage bag that you can haul out. This includes droppings such as pretzels or dog treats that slipped out of your hand, plus “organic trash” such as orange rinds, apple cores, nut shells, and banana peels. While you may assume it will decompose, a banana peel can take up to two years to biodegrade, according to The Guardian! That leaves ample time for animals to discover a snack they should not eat—and that includes other hikers’ dogs.
Additionally, leaving behind snacks is an invitation to attract wildlife that future hikers would rather avoid, such as bears and wolves.
Whether you’re heading out for a brief nature walk or going on a day-long hike, keeping these ways to preserve nature in mind will help you and your dog contribute to maintaining our environment and the species that call it home.