Social media has encouraged more and more people to hike and camp with their dogs.
That’s what I try to do on this blog too – inspire first-timers to get out and inspire those that already do to explore further.
I’m conflicted though because I know that every foot and paw out in nature is having an impact and it’s not a good one.
Even if everyone was as environmentally responsible as they could be – and I assure you, they are not – all these tiny impacts add up to some really big ones.
With this in mind, I’m ecstatic to see that official hiking-with-dog educational programs are starting to emerge.
More specifically, I’m talking about the BARK Ranger program.
What is a BARK Ranger?
The BARK Ranger program is designed for outdoor-loving dog owners and their pups.
The BARK Ranger program was initially launched in 2015 at Olympic National Park in Washington State.
It was so well received that, before long, the program became official in 2016 and began expanding to include National Parks and National Historic Sites across the country.
Participating parks may have a class or program that you can sign up to complete.
Each location has different requirements to get the title of BARK Ranger.
The requirements to earn the title of BARK Ranger differ from location to location depending on that area’s unique needs.
The name BARK Ranger is cute because it sounds like “Park” Ranger, but it also has meaning.
What Does BARK Ranger Stand For?
B-A-R-K stands for a set of etiquette guidelines to follow if you want to be a responsible dog owner while enjoying nature.
B – Bag your dog’s waste
While this may seem like common sense to many responsible dog owners, that’s not always the case.
In fact, there are many dog owners who still believe that because your dog’s waste is “natural”, it can be left to degrade in the environment like the waste left by local wildlife.
Unfortunately, there is more to it than that. Not all poop is the same when it comes to its impact on the ecosystem.
Studies show that the high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in your dog’s poop may do a lot of harm if it’s not picked up.
This is why it is so important to follow the Leave No Trace rules and pick up any waste, taking it with you to be disposed of properly.
A – Always wear a leash (6 feet max., and “don’t let your human leave you unattended”)
There are several reasons why leashes are required on many trails and in National Parks.
- Keeping your dog safe in dangerous terrains
- Risks associated with reactive dogs
- Space for dogs in training
- Respect for other hikers including those who are afraid of dogs
- Protecting the natural environment
R – Respect wildlife (don’t harass or harm wildlife by making noise or chasing them)
Your favorite National Park is home to a wide assortment of different wild animals.
You and your dog should respect each National Park habitat you visit.
We are just visitors and should be respectful of their habitat.
This means teaching your dog to avoid barking at or chasing wildlife as well as preventing your dog from disturbing their habitat unnecessarily with bad habits like digging.
K – Know where you can go (parking lots, campgrounds, picnic areas, roads, and designated trails)
Before visiting your local National Parks or Historic Sites, take the time to research which areas are dog friendly. This will differ from park to park.
In some National Parks, dogs can join you on all trails and campsites for the full experience. But there are some parks with restricted areas.
After identifying where your dog is allowed to go, respect these rules.
There are many ways you can still enjoy National Parks with your dog while following the pet rules.
What are the Benefits of Becoming a BARK Ranger?
Whether you are a new hiker just taking your dog out for the first time, or an experienced hiker in need of a quick refresher – this program gives you the chance to learn some important information about respecting nature while spending time outdoors.
It’s likely you’ll learn something new when you take the course.
Even if you believe you are an expert, there is likely something new that you can take from the course.
BARK Ranger tag and BARK Ranger bandana
One of the fun reasons to participate is the BARK Ranger tag.
Many of the National Parks offering the program now have their own custom tags with the name of the park on them.
This allows outdoor lovers to travel park to park, collecting the different tags that are available.
You can collect them all for the ultimate bragging rights!
There is also a National Park’s “Bark Ranger Bandana” available to purchase online or at your local parks.
It features a hiking checklist as well as survival information such as what to do if you get lost and how to identify a dangerous trail.
While the bandana shares the name of the BARK Ranger program, it doesn’t appear to be directly affiliated.
The opportunity to make a difference
One major reason to support the BARK Ranger program is the impact that it can have on our environment.
If you enjoy spending time outdoors, you are likely also someone who believes in the importance of protecting natural spaces so they continue to be there for generations to come.
The more effort that goes into sharing this information with other dog owners, the bigger its impact will be.
Being a BARK Ranger is a great way to educate and encourage others to do the same.
As a BARK Ranger, you can encourage others in the hiking community to take the pledge and learn from it as well.
Besides setting an example in regard to environmental stewardship, you are also demonstrating good trail etiquette with your dog.
How Can Your Dog Become a BARK Ranger?
Each park has its own requirements to earn the BARK Ranger title.
This could include a class or two focused on teaching the rules of B-A-R-K or a workbook.
In some parks, it’s a short one-on-one chat with a park ranger about the rules followed by taking a pledge to follow them.
After you have earned the title of BARK Ranger for your dog, you will have the opportunity to purchase the official “badge” or BARK Ranger tag for his collar.
Where Can Your Dog Become a BARK Ranger?
If you’re interested in getting involved and earning your dog’s BARK Ranger tag, you may wonder which National parks and historical sites have a BARK Ranger program.
It’s hard to find exactly which parks are participating and details of the program vary by park.
Some offer the program all the time while others seem to offer it for only a short time on special occasions per their events calendar.
It’s rumored that you and your dog can get certified at these parks and historical sites:
- Acadia National Park (Maine)
- Agate Fossil Beds National Monument (Nebraska)
- Biscayne National Park (Florida)
- Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)
- Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site (North Carolina)
- Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (Florida)
- Curecanti National Recreation Area (Colorado)
- De Soto National Memorial (Florida)
- Friendship Hill National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)
- Fort Matanzas National Monument (Florida)
- Fort Stanwix National Monument (New York)
- Gateway Arch National Park (Missouri)
- George Washington Birthplace National Monument (Virginia)
- Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)
- Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve (Colorado)
- Hampton National Historic Site (Maryland)
- Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia)
- Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park (Hawai’i)
- Hopewell Culture National Historical Park (Ohio)
- Indiana Dunes National Park (Indiana)
- Joshua Tree National Park (California)
- Lake Mead National Recreation Area (Arizona, Nevada)
- Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area (Washington)
- Little River Canyon National Preserve (Alabama)
- Mojave National Preserve (California)
- Montezuma Castle National Monument (Arizona)
- Natchez Trace Parkway (Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee)
- Olympic National Park (Washington)
- Pecos National Historical Park (New Mexico)
- Petersburg National Battlefield (Virginia)
- Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona)
- Redwood National Park (California)
- Russell Cave National Monument (Alabama)
- Sagamore Hill National Historic Site (New York)
- Salem Maritime National Historic Site (Massachusetts)
- Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site (Massachusetts)
- Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Michigan)
- Tuzigoot National Monument (Arizona)
- Valley Forge National Historical Park (Pennsylvania)
- Vicksburg National Military Park (Louisiana, Mississippi)
- Yosemite National Park (California)
- Zion National Park (Utah)
No BARK Ranger program in your area? Request one!
If you have a favorite National Park space that you don’t see on the list, reach out to your local ranger station.
The program continues to grow with new locations popping up all the time. It has even been picked up by several state parks and historical sites.
The more pet owners express interest in expanding the program to new locations, the more likely that you will see them in the near future!
For those that are unable to get to a participating park, you can learn the rules, and commit to adhering to them, on your own then purchase your dog a Bark Ranger Tag online.
Become a BARK Ranger Ambassador
If your dog has already earned their BARK Ranger certification, you are comitted to following the principles, and you’re ready to take you and your dog’s stewearship to the next level, why not volunteer to be a BARK Ranger ambassador?
BARK Ranger Ambassadors play an important role in our National Parks by providing visitors with the information necessary to enjoy their visit in a safe and responsible way.
Each of the volunteers is given training on how to approach visitors as well as how to effectively share the importance of the BARK rules for both the safety and well-being of visitors and the park itself.
For more information about becoming a BARK Ranger Ambassador, contact the ranger station for the park where you are interested in volunteering.
They will be able to give you more information about their needs and how to get involved.
We still have a long way to go in teaching dog owners how to hike respectfully – you can see it when visiting any local trail. But, this is a great start!
Remember, Becoming a BARK Ranger Doesn’t Give Your Dog More Access
Many people know that most National Parks only allow dogs in developed areas, including roads and campgrounds.
Unfortunately, contrary to popular belief, when your dog earns a BARK Ranger badge, it does not give permission to access all areas of the park.
It simply teaches you how to be a better steward while enjoying National Parks within the pet rule boundaries.