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Dog on leash at Foothill Regional Park

How to pack out your pet’s poop

By Regional Parks staff

Your dog is going to poop. When you’re out on the trail with your pooch, it’s almost guaranteed to happen at some point.

Across our more than 50 dog-friendly regional parks and beaches in Sonoma County, we provide free pet waste bags at many trailheads and encourage you to take a few – just in case.

Dog waste bag dispenser

We all intend to be responsible pet owners, yet our parks are often dotted with brightly colored bags full of dog waste. They litter the sides of trails, create an eyesore and emit pungent odors.

There’s often no malice behind leaving full poop bags on the ground: A lot of us have our hands full while walking our furry friends, so we decide to leave the bags and grab them on our way back. And then, as we’re talking with friends, thinking about getting to work… we forget.

In places where dog poop bags are commonly abandoned, these left-behind bags can create a new social norm, inadvertently indicating that it’s OK to leave dog poop bags on the ground. A new dog owner or someone new to the area might see the bags and infer that this is a common and accepted practice. In other words: Bags beget more bags. And bags that are touted to be “biodegradable” can lead people to think that it’s okay to leave them on the ground when, in reality, it can still take years for those bags to break down.

Research by Marin County Parks has shown that one pile of poop – even unbagged – can take up to a year to fully decompose, depending on conditions.

Isn’t it worse to throw bagged poop in a landfill, rather than letting it decompose on the ground?

There’s no perfect solution here, but the bottom line is that dog poop isn’t the same as wildlife poop. Your dog doesn’t eat what wildlife eat, even on a very “natural” diet. Research shows that the type of nutrients typically found in domesticated dog waste pollutes streams and water sources. In particular, excess nitrogen from dog poop can spread nitrogen-loving invasive weeds at the expense of native plants.

When we consider the cumulative impact of all the dogs visiting a trail on a particular day – it’s never just one dog pooping in the woods – that can add up to a lot of extra parasites, bacteria and other pollutants being introduced into natural habitats daily. 

Park visitor carrying a dog waste bag at Taylor Mountain Regional Park

Pack it out – all the way to a trash can

You could say it’s our “doody” to pick up after our pets on the trail and properly dispose of the bags.

But what if you’re one of those pet owners who struggles with the reality of toting a full poop bag for the duration of your hike. How can we remember to carry those dog doo bags with us, all the way to a trash can?

Make your dog do it!

The wild world of the internet offers many handy (and creative) dog waste holder ideas, and our friends at Leave No Trace suggest these three easy solutions:

  • Dog poop backpack
  • Poop bag carrier made from a climbing chalk bag
  • Poop bag carrier made from an old peanut butter jar and duct tape

There is no dog poop fairy

There is no dog poop fairy, so please make sure, however you do it, you don’t leave it behind to be someone else’s mess.

Find out more ways to practice Leave No Trace in your regional parks.

Published April 2023