Taking your dog tramping: Everything you need to know

Department of Conservation —  24/05/2019

This is a guest blog by Ashlyn Oswalt. Ashlyn is an American expat who’s been living in New Zealand for a year. She’s a keen tramper and enjoys taking her pup Trapper on walks with her. She’s shared her top tips for people who are thinking of taking their doggos on a tramp.


Trapper enjoying his walk near the Rakaia River. 📷: Ashlyn Oswalt


Lace up your tramping boots and grab the dog lead, because we’re exploring how to safely take your pup on public conservation land! Dogs are becoming a popular tramping companion, so we need to practice responsible dog ownership on the track to help protect the unique landscape and biodiversity of New Zealand, all while enjoying a tramp with man’s (and woman’s!) best friend.

Follow these five simple tips for a great start:

Always check DOC’s status on dogs before embarking on a track.

Some tracks are dog friendly on leash, some are dog friendly with a DOC permit, and some are simply not suitable for dogs. Respect these rules as they are often in place to protect native birds in the area, fragile terrain, or other important reasons that need be observed. Use the DOC website to filter dog friendly walks and talk to your local Visitor Centre about suitable tracks.


Trapper being a good boy on his lead. 📷: Ashlyn Oswalt



Trapper heading along the Mt Isobel Track. 📷: Ashlyn Oswalt

Bring a lead.

The most effective way to control your dog 100% of the time on a track is to keep your dog on a lead. If your dog is running ahead of you and out of sight, it can be impossible to tell if they’ve picked up a scent of a native bird, are digging into a nest, have gone number two, or are harassing others on the track. Conserving nature is a number one priority, but it’s also important to consider the enjoyment of others on the track. Some dogs are great off lead, some dogs are not. Some dogs are reactive to other dogs approaching them, and some humans don’t love being approached by dogs. A great way to keep everyone safe and out of harm’s way is by keeping your dog on a lead for the duration of the hike. If you’re adamant that your dog can be controlled off leash and the track allows it, pack a lead in case you need to regain control of your dog quickly and effectively.

Pack it up, pack it out.

It’s inevitable that dogs will need to go number two while on the track, and equally inevitable that you should pick it up. It can be incredibly disheartening to see dog feces on a track for sanitary reasons, but this introduction of a non-native species in a fragile ecosystem can also have negative effects on native wildlife. Pack biodegradable bags and pick up after your pooch.


Trapper in Wanaka! 📷: Ashlyn Oswalt

Plan and prepare.

Be sure to pack enough water for your dog and a collapsible bowl to drink out of, as relying on freshwater streams can be dangerous, especially in the hotter, drier months. If your dog is prone to overheating or the weather is particularly hot, pack a bandana that can be dipped in cool water and run through fur when the panting escalates. For longer walks, bring some treats as energy boosters as well.


Trapper enjoys the Mt Isobel Track. 📷: Ashlyn Oswalt

Pick tracks for your dog’s ability.

It can be easy to forget that your dog’s level of fitness may not be as great as you’d like it to be. If your pooch is more accustomed to sitting on the couch than running 5km, start off with a low kilometre walk with little incline. Take frequent breaks and work up to the more challenging and strenuous tramps. Soon, you and your pooch will be track experts in no time!

By following these simple steps, you and your dog can enjoy a great time in the outdoors, all while respecting DOC’s hard work and conserving New Zealand’s beauty for more to enjoy.

Find out more:
Where can I take my dog?
Dogs and wildlife: being a responsible dog owner

6 responses to Taking your dog tramping: Everything you need to know

    Celia Butler 17/06/2019 at 10:45 am

    What is DOC doing having this article about dogs on their web page? I am appalled. Seems like there is a serious lack of direction. Confidence in DOC to effectively protect biodiversity ebbs away, as they behave like a commercial tourist company and are now enabling dogs, one of the great predators of our precious flightless birds into our precious areas, leaving volunteers to deal with dog owners. Come on DOC, get back on track.

    Paulina Wittwer 14/06/2019 at 11:26 am

    Don’t do it

    Joy Steicke 27/05/2019 at 2:54 pm

    I agree 100% with you Martin, give dog owners and inch and they will take a foot.
    I should know, I worked as an Honorary ranger one hour North of Dunedin for 10 years in the 90’s, with a colony of Yellow Eyed penguins.
    Yes, there are many responsible dog owners out there, who could be trusted to keep their
    dogs on a lead, but there are many who will flout any sign they pass, when it comes to their pet and yes, a shame for the responsible owners, but dogs should not be allowed anywhere in DOC country.
    I was sick of the lies I was always told when I booked dog owners in the Reserve I was responsible for.
    Just one example that I vividly remember was a family who visitors had reported for having their dog in a strictly dog prohibited area. The dog had chased off 40+ seals that
    had been sun baking on the rocks in the reserve. The visitors were very angry, as they had been photographing them when it happened.
    They were a family of 2 adults, 2 children aged around 6 and 8.
    When I was booking them, the father was so apologetic, saying that they had not seen the signs, (they had passed two by this time) and that they were very sorry. Next minute, one of the children piped up and said, quote “but daddy, we told you that dogs were not allowed”. I chose to ignore this information, just putting it in my report.
    I could give dozens and dozens of similar incidences.
    I am shocked that it appears that maybe the laws are being weakened in NZ Conservation areas.

    Please DOC, do not go there, it will be disaster!

      Martin Nicholls 27/05/2019 at 3:58 pm

      Thanks for your supportive comments, Joy.

      As I understand it, yellow-eyed penguins are especially sensitive to disturbance so I can imagine how a dog could cause disaster in the midst of one of their nesting areas.

      I can also testify to problems with dog owners here in New Plymouth along the Coastal Walkway where there are blue penguins. Owners have been observed deliberately letting their dogs go to harass penguins and probably killing them. One person’s actions were posted on social media and it ended up in the Daily News. He showed himself to be completely unrepetent and, to people like that, we need much more stringent deterents.

      It stands to reason that such dreadful people would also take their dogs into conservation areas, notably those areas of highest biodiversity values, so, sadly, I say no way to dogs and I do not have the naïve acceptance that EVERYone would do the right thing by their dogs. It takes only one or two to create havoc, as was the case with that infamous German shepherd that ran amok in Waitangi Forest in the 90s, killing around 500 brown kiwi over a two-week period and leaving their carcases left uneaten. This changed my views on dogs forever and it told me in stark terms what a single dog could do to our wildlife.


    I whole-heartedly agree.

    Martin Nicholls 24/05/2019 at 12:46 pm

    Wow, I’m first up and I expect a lot of negative replies! I have a dog (a fox terrier-Jack Russell cross – a real no-no in conservation areas unless he can be strictly trained to sniff out rats and stoats and deal to them). Toby has a pathological hatred of hedgehogs and quickly dispatches them. However, he will never be taken into conservation areas because, although he is fantastic on his section at scaring off cats, he is too keen to sniff out birds that venture onto the ground.

    However, I’m no way in favour of dogs being allowed in sensitive conservation areas and never in ecosancturaries, national parks, ecological areas, scientific reserves (for flora and fauna) and nature reserves. I’m concerned that DOC is subtly altering public expectations concerning dogs and normalising their presence with its push to tourism at the expense of its core role in protecting and enhancing indigenous biodiversity. It is catering for those new New Zealanders from overseas who have a different set of expectations around mammals that can cause such devastation to an avifauna and reptile species that have evolved no defenses against predation.

    I am especially against dogs in areas where there are nesting falcon or kea present, and I and concerned about dogs in areas where there are toutouwai, kakaruai, rock wren, weka or any of the kiwi species.

    Sure, the advice regarding dogs on lead at all times is good as far as it stands, but all it takes is for just one or two people to show negligent management of their dogs and indigenous species are put at risk. I’ll give some examples I have seen over the last two years.

    In Egmont National Park (on a walk up the track to the Pouakai Hut from the Mangorei road end) I saw three people in one day running with their dogs (none on a lead). On the walk up to the Tahurangi TV site, again I saw two dogs not on leads poking around the subalpine leatherwoods and dracophyllums. Both were the aforementioned no-no – fox terriers. The first site was above the timberline and in an area where I heard fernbirds. The dog present up there was a Staffordshire bull terrier, another no-no.

    At the Rotokare Scenic Reserve (a fenced ecosanctuary) I saw two freedom campers (allowed at this site). Both had campervans and both included small dogs (King Charles spaniel and Schnauzer). On the other hand, I saw a women with her fox terrier on the lake walk. It was off its lead and I was about to tell her off when I learned it was a DOC rat dog investigating reports of a Norway rat near the lake edge.

    So, all up I’m sceptical that all people will do the right thing and respect the purpose of conservation areas by keeping their dogs on leads. I’m especially concerned about the decision to allow dogs into Westland National Park where rowi and southern tokoweka are present. Sometimes DOC need to remember what their primary purpose actually is.