No matter how long we walk our dogs in the parking lot or around the trail head before starting off on a hike, they will inevitably poop just far enough away from the start (and therefore trash can) that it’s exactly too far to pick it up and jog back to toss out.
So what do we do?
While leaving it bagged on the side of the trail is commonplace in some regions, and admittedly we do it often when we’re trail running, it’s ugly and not exactly welcome among all trail users.
Just like your dog shat at the point of no return, it’s inevitable that you’ll forget about that green bag on your way back until you reach the parking lot. So then you just have to run back and get it when you get to your car.
Because that’s what always happens.
Further, when others see this practice, they do it themselves, leading to an increasing number of forgotten dog bags decorating our trails, giving dog owners a bad reputation. There’s no dog doo fairy that comes around to pick up the poop.
In my beloved Forest Park in Portland, Oregon, Portland Park Rangers counted the number of abandoned poops and bags left along a ¾ mile stretch of Lief Erickson, a popular hiking and running route, and tallied 52 poops!
Stuffing a bag of steaming poo into our packs isn’t ideal either. It’s squishy and gross. And if you forget about it…let’s just not go there.
Leaving the poop behind is not an option.
So, what are we to do?
Why Do We Have to Pick up Dog Poop?
When wild animals eat and poop in the woods, they are consuming food that comes from that environment. When it’s time to make a dookie, they’re then returning those resources and nutrients back to the same ecosystem.
Most dogs, however, eat dog food. Kibble is enriched with nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous, which can create an unstable ecosystem over time.
Consequences include algae blooms in lakes and rivers, which can lead to the growth of invasive weeds, which can affect native plant and fish species.
Moreover, just like human poop, dog poop contains bacteria and parasites. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a single gram of pet waste contains an average of 23 million fecal coliform bacteria. This bacteria can spread diseases, pollute soil, and contaminate the water we drink.
Now, consider this: Across the US, dogs produce 10.6 MILLION TONS of waste annually.
In 2018, Leave No Trace conducted a study on dog waste in Boulder, Colorado’s Open Space and Mountain Parks (OPMP). Of the 150 miles of public trails over 45,000 acres, 90% are open to dogs. An estimated 30 TONS of pet waste is left behind on those trails annually.
What to Do with Dog Poop on the Trail
Getting back to the question at hand. What are the alternatives to hauling shit around for miles or days on the trail?
Use a Stink-Free Container
Bring along a secure hard-sided container that attaches to your pack, like a PooVault. The PooVault is a good idea if you’re out on a long day hike. It holds enough for one poo for a small to medium-sized dog.
Alternatively, a Turdlebag is a great option for trail runners, day hikers, or overnight backpacking trips. The odor-resistant bag attaches to the leash or a backpack, or can fit in most dog packs. They’ve been tested on dogs that weigh up to 90 lbs and use a roll up design to adjust for volume.
If you’re on a multi-day trek, your dog is a champion pooper, or they just make large emissions, a Nalgene bottle works wonderfully and stores several days’ worth of bagged poo. Just make sure to label it so you don’t mistake it for a drinking vessel!
Make Your Dog Carry It
If your dog wears a pack when you hike, then tuck the bag into a side pocket for your pup to carry.
Depending on the size of the pack your dog wears and their weight capacity, they can likely carry a couple days’ worth of their own waste.
It shouldn’t bother them.
I mean, they eat the stuff, right?
Send it Down the Hatch
Many popular backpacking routes include composting toilets at camp areas. This is a perfectly acceptable way of disposing of your pup’s poo.
Exercise generally makes them want to go, so before you head out for the day, walk them around a bit to try and get things moving.
When they drop a deuce, bag it, twist the top to keep out the smell, and carry it to the composting toilet. Dump it in and say sayonara.
If you are backpacking in a wilderness area that recommends burying human waste, then it is an acceptable disposal method for your dog. Simply use a trowel to dig a cathole (er, doghole, thank you very much) and toss the poop inside.
The cathole, should measure six to eight inches deep and four to six across. Make sure that the hole is at least 200 feet from a water source and is covered well to avoid encounters with other wildlife or humans.
Keep in mind that dog poop bags should be packed out since they do not decompose (I’ll get into that in a moment), so don’t toss the whole kit and kapoodle (see what I did there?) into the cathole.
If you are in hiking in the snow or another sensitive area, then always pack it out. Poop left in the snow will just freeze and reappear in the spring —otherwise it can remain for decades if the snow is permanent or be carried to the nearest water source during snowmelt.
How to Dispose of Dog Poop the Green Way
Now that you’ve shepherded your dog’s excrement several miles across wooded lands, it’s time to dispose of it.
I cringe every single time that I pull a plastic bag from my poop bag dispenser. Not because of the smell or that I am my dog’s personal waste caddy, but because I think about all that plastic I’m creating.
Let’s take Laila as an example. She poops an average of four times per day. Since we live in a city, we have no choice but to bag her poop and toss it in the trash. Now, four times 365 = 1,460 green poop bags in the trash annually.
I can feel my personal carbon emissions calculator steaming right now.
So, how can the environmentally conscious lighten their footprint?
Biodegradable Dog Poop Bags
Before you go out and buy biodegradable bags, thinking you’re doing a solid for the planet, know this first: You can’t just toss them in the regular municipal waste.
Most landfill conditions actually prevent organic material from decomposing, and besides, the leftover feces will only make its way into the water stream.
Ok, so how about composting it?
Hold up! Most municipal compost programs discourage or do not allow pet waste.
Here are a few solutions, if you have a home and/or a yard:
Depending on where you live, you can compost the dog poop in a waste digester, like the Doggie Dooley. It’s easy to make your own as well with a few simple tools. This allows you to toss the poop down in biodegradable bags or as is, using a pooper scooper.
Just note that this compost should not be used for edible plants. Save it for the decorative flowers only.
If you use biodegradable bags, look for ones that meet ASTM international biodegradation standards.
The following brands pass the test:
- Earth Rated Compostable bags (note that only the white ones are fully compostable)
- Flush Puppies Doodie bags
- My AlphaPet Compostable bags
And if you live in an apartment in a city like we do, then what does one do about dog waste disposal?
Reuse plastic bags. Newspaper sleeves, grocery bags, and fruit bags from the grocery store are all great alternatives to buying new bags.
Newspapers or advertisements are also options if you’re close to a trash can.
Flush your dog poop down the toilet. In many cities, dog poop can be flushed away. Be sure to check with the municipality before taking part, as older sewage systems may not be able to handle the waste.
For some added confusion, only biodegradable waste bags may be flushed, but not compostable. Compost requires the heat from a compost pile to break down the content. Flush Puppies mentioned above are a good choice.
And, if you live in the UK—Malvern Hills to be precise—you have the option of depositing your dog’s turds into the dog poo-powered street lamp.
- Hiking with Dogs Trail Etiquette Manifesto
- The Ultimate Guide to Running with a Dog
- 9 Tips for Introducing your Nervous Dog to New Dogs and People