Camping Dogs Can Make Great National Park Ambassadors


Bark Rangers is a great program for camping dogs. Photo by Sgt. Taylor White

Camping Dogs Can Make Great National Park Ambassadors

If your camping dog needs a job, the National Park Service is hiring. Well, not actually hiring, but rather they’re recruiting well-behaved canines to become ambassadors of good behavior in America’s public lands. 

It’s no secret that the National Park System discourages pets in the parks, and for good reasons. RVing dogs and other pets are out of their element in these wild and beautiful destinations. A park’s rugged hiking trails can lacerate paw pads, and wild animals can harm a nosy dog without warning.

A program for camping dogs and their humans 

Park authorities know that people love camping with pets, and bringing them on vacation is more popular than ever. Unfortunately, not all people with pets know the safest and smartest ways to take their camping dogs into the outdoors.

Dangerous dog encounters in national parks happen all too often, like this one that occurred in 2019. In this video, a small, off-leash dog tries to wrangle Yellow Yellowstone bison peacefully grazing in a meadow.

Bark Rangers lead the pack in good behavior

To lower the risk of dog and wildlife incidents, National Park System employees in Washington’s Olympic National Park kicked off the first Bark Ranger Program in 2015. Since then the public awareness program for camping dogs has spread to other parks across America.

The Bark Ranger Program is a fun, free program that encourages camping dogs and their people to get to know the park they are visiting. Volunteers learn about pet etiquette and safety in the park’s fragile ecosystems in order to protect it. In return, the dog becomes an official Bark Ranger.

“The main purpose of the Bark Volunteer-In-Parks program is to make contacts with visitors and their pets to help everyone have an enjoyable visit,” explains the National Park Service. “The goal is to increase awareness of positive pet behaviors and reduce the number of non-compliant dog incidents.”

Take the BARK Pledge to become an ambassador 

Once you arrive at a participating Bark Ranger park, you’ll discover that a bark is about so much more than just a yappy, happy dog. Those four letters take on a whole new meaning:

Bag your dog’s waste (and pack it out!). Pet waste pollutes entire ecosystems. According to the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, “Across the US, 83 million pet dogs produce 10.6 million tons (that’s 21,200,000,000 pounds) of poop every year, each pound adding excess nutrients to the ecosystem if the waste isn’t disposed of properly.”

Always use a leash. Unleashed dogs are easy targets for protective wildlife, like the Yellowstone bison pictured above. Keep your leash under 6-feet long for the most protection from accidents.

Respect wildlife. Dogs disturb sensitive habitat where wild animals call home. Small animals may become so scared they don’t emerge from their dens. Plus, if your pet is injured in a wildlife attack, help could be hours away.

Know where you can go. Dogs are usually allowed in campgrounds and many paved trails, but most parks don’t allow pets off-road in the outback. And please, never leave your dog unattended in a car or RV to avoid heatstroke.

Collect Bark Ranger Badges and other swag

camping dogs BARK Ranger Program

The BARK Ranger lesson at Acadia National Park.

Each national park offers a Bark Ranger curriculum that’s unique to that location. Once you and your RV camping dog complete the series of fun lessons and say the pledge, you both become designated ambassadors for good canine behavior in the park.

“As a B.A.R.K. Ranger, I promise to Bag my pet’s waste, Always leash my pet, Respect wildlife, and Know where we can go.”

As a bonus, your pup can even earn a snazzy Bark Ranger merit badge and other swag that’s different at each participating park. Complete a Bark Ranger at different parks around the country and start a collection of merit badges!

Many national parks participate in the Bark Ranger Program. Reach out to the visitor center at your next national park destination to learn more. You can also find more information on their website.

Find national park campgrounds & more

You’ll need a place to stay when scouting out national parks for the Bark Ranger Program. A quick search on Campground Reviews will help you find all the campgrounds within the national parks as well as RV parks and other campgrounds nearby. You can also easily plan your route with RV Trip Wizard and get RV-safe directions with the RV LIFE App.

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