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The 7 Leave No Trace Principles: How to Put Them into Action When Out with your Pet

By Lea Jaratz

dog camping in tent

If you spend any time in nature, you’ve likely heard at least a few of the principles for Leave No Trace. The Center for Outdoor Ethics established its 7 principals in an effort to curb pollution as well as preserve wildlife and outdoor spaces for the good of all of its inhabitants. Occasionally, we forget that our dogs are not native to these outdoor spaces, and can do permanent damage to wildlife and its surroundings.


It is our duty to protect mother nature when we venture out with our dogs. Here are a few ways that you can practice Leave No Trace principles with your pet.

1. Plan Ahead & Prepare

You can ensure the safety of you and your pet while preserving resources by planning ahead.

  • Make sure you know the regulations and pet policies of the area.
  • Know the weather and conditions of the area where you’ll be traveling, and make sure that you and your companions are up to the challenges of the terrain.
  • Think ahead about what you need (and don’t need) so that you don’t leave excess waste behind.
  • Bring suitable food, water, supplies, and first aid, as well as outerwear if your dog needs it.

If you’re planning to take your dog hiking or camping, we have some tips that can help you plan for a fun and successful adventure.

2. Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces

Keeping your dog leashed and on durable trails prevents irreparable harm to the landscape.

  • Dogs should not be permitted to run wild off trail. By keeping them to the trail, you’re preventing them from damaging the flora, leaving messes, and contributing to soil erosion.
  • Stick to durable terrains, such as gravel or rock paths when possible. Avoid walking on vegetation and keep your dog close too.
  • Don’t let dogs dig in the dirt or disturb the waterways.

3. Dispose of Waste Properly

The third principal applies to everything from food waste to broken supplies. But pet parents, let’s talk about poop: Simply because dog poop is organic doesn’t mean it should be left behind in the woods. Pet waste contains coliform bacteria, e-coli, salmonella, giardia, and worms. Waste can easily run into groundwater and can feed algae blooms in lakes and ponds.

  • When possible, dispose of your dog’s poop safely, by removing it from the area & putting it into a trash receptacle.
  • Don’t put poop into lakes or streams. They’re not a toilet.
  • When necessary, put the dog poop into a cat hole or latrine to be buried.

4. Leave What You Find

Taking a couple of sticks or flowers from a site may seem harmless. But if we all did it, it would have a significant impact. Don’t permit your dog to leave scarring on the natural landscape.

  • Sticks, animals, vegetation should be left unmarked and undisturbed whenever possible.
  • Allowing your dog to take sticks or wood from place to place may transmit invasive species.

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

A wise bear once said, “only you can prevent forest fires”. It’s up to us to use caution when using things like lanterns or open flames to ensure that your dog can’t knock it down and spread the flame. Something as incidental as a dog jumping up to snag a hot dog can cause something flammable to be knocked into the brush.

6. Respect Wildlife 

It may be fascinating to see your dog demonstrate their natural instincts to chase or hunt, but it’s highly dangerous to wild animals, as well as to you and your pet.

  • Be sure to keep dog food sealed and away from wild animals.
  • Do not permit your dog to chase, bark at, or otherwise disturb wildlife.
  • Be aware that your dog may be injured by animals reacting aggressively due to illness, fear, or the instinctive need to protect their mates or young.
  • If you find a wild animal in need of care, do not intervene yourself. Notify a ranger.
  • Make sure your dog is fully vaccinated per the recommendations for your area.

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

As much as you love your dog, not every trail visitor came to spend time with a pet. Practice good canine citizenship in nature.

  • Don’t permit excessive barking, whining, or other noises that may be a nuisance.
  • If other people are passing you on a trail, it’s your responsibility to restrain your dog so they don’t disturb others, forcing them to go off the trail.

If you’re taking steps to follow the 7 Principles of Leave no Trace yourself, it won’t be much more trouble, if any, to manage your dog under the same protocol. Showing respect for nature shows respect for all of the people and animals that inhabit it.

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