The National Park Service created the BARK Ranger Program as a way to help enable people and their canines to enjoy the outdoors together. Started in 2015, two of the flagship sites are Olympic National Park in Washington and Montezuma Castle National Monument in Arizona. Check your local NPS locations for information and potentially a certification opportunity. Milo and I will be going to Kalaloch Ranger Station of the Olympic National Park in August to get his Bark Ranger Badge! (Update: We got it!)
Bag your dog’s waste
Always use a leash
Know where you can go
Bagging your dog’s waste should be common sense. Just because it’s poo and it will degrade, doesn’t mean it belongs on the side of a trail. The first reason is because it will damage the local ecosystem as it breaks down. The second reason is because it is unsightly, smells, and takes away from the experiences of fellow hikers.
Another thing commonly seen is people who go through the trouble of bagging waste, but leaving it behind on the trail. Regardless of any intentions of picking it up on the way back, these poop-bag flowers are more often than not, forgotten and left behind. Consider bringing along an airtight Ziploc bag or a reusable poop container to help you pack it out. Our personal favorite for day hikes is the Doodoo Tube, which we got for $12 on Amazon. On overnight trips, Milo carries it in his pack until we stop long enough to bury it in biodegradable bags.
Always using a leash may seem like a nuisance to some. We want our dogs to be dogs and enjoy their romp in the wilderness. Nothing is more joyous than seeing their happy faced zoomies!
While most dog owners can completely relate to those sentiments, there is a time and place for off-leash play. Trails are often narrow and shared with other dogs who must be leashed for their own safety, whether that is because of dangerous terrain or health reasons, or because they are fear reactive, anxious, being rehabilitated, or in training. Children or adults who are afraid of dogs will also benefit from fellow hikers leashing their pets. If you see an off-leash dog approaching you in a required leashed area, advocate for your pet and remind the owner that their dog must abide by the rules for everyone’s enjoyment. In all National Parks, official guidelines state that pets must be on a leash no longer than 6 ft. in length and should never be left unattended.
For us, we tend to go to the Olympic National Forest since it is dog friendly. Regardless of use, however, Milo is always leashed at the trailhead and more often than not, he stays leashed. I can decide later on if he is able to go off leash or not, but that is only because we’ve done extensive recall training with his remote e-collar. Regardless of your dog’s breed, always be vigilant. For better or worse, large dogs (especially “bully” breeds) have a reputation of being aggressive. If Milo ever got into a scuffle, the blame will likely fall on us even if he wasn’t the aggressor. At any sign of humans or other dogs, I signal Milo on his e-collar, call him back to a leashed position, and pull off to the side to let them pass. More often than not, he’s not allowed to greet unknown dogs on the trail. It was really tough to get to this point, but it’s a great bonding/training opportunity and also allows Milo to have his freedom in a controlled way. As a responsible owner, advocating for him means that I want Milo to be a good representative of his breed(s) wherever he goes.
Respecting wildlife comes with responsible ownership. Animals of the wilderness are typically not used to seeing other domesticated animals in their home. Predators such as bears, cougars, coyotes may see off-leash pets as prey animals while large herbivores such as mountain goats and elk have been known to injure pets as well. This places both pet and owner in danger, so do not allow your dogs to approach, bark at, chase, or intimidate wildlife.
Knowing where you can go means checking beforehand whether your intended hike or natural area is pet friendly – are they allowed on the trails? beaches? campsites? only on paved areas? National Park Paws, National Park websites, and ranger stations are all valuable sources of information for planning your pet-friendly trips in nationally protected lands.
I guest write for NPPs and they have been extremely helpful for planning our day and overnight trips. As much as we love dogs, they have a mind of their own and their actions can harm delicate ecosystems whether we intend it or not. As a general rule, dogs are not allowed into National Parks, but the National Forests and other wilderness areas are open to them.
Congratulations! If you are reading this, you and your dog are on your way to becoming excellent BARK rangers!