It’s safe and easy to walk your dog in bright sunshine. But alas, it can’t always be daytime.
In the fall and winter months, daylight hours get shorter and nights get longer. And even after daylight savings time kicks into gear, it has to get dark sometimes. There’s often no avoiding it: Sometimes you have to walk your dog at night.
And unless you have a service dog, you’re the one who has to see, hear, and be responsive to threats. That task becomes all the more demanding in the dark. And other people will have a harder time seeing you as well. At night, the threat level from joggers, cyclists, and drivers ticks up dramatically. As if that’s not enough, nocturnal predators pose a threat in many areas of the US.
But enough with the doom and gloom already. In all likelihood, no misfortunes will befall your pup during a pleasant evening walk...And that’s especially true if you take steps to ensure your dog’s safety. While you’re at it, you should keep yourself safe too.
This part may seem pretty obvious, but we’ll spell it out anyway: The evening is dangerous for your pup because, well, it’s dark. Which means…
It’s Harder to See Where You’re Going
At night, it’s far easier to miss threats and walk your dog into unsafe situations — say, into traffic, into a thorn bush, over a steep hill, or toward a wild animal that's crouching in the dark.
It’s Hard for Others to Spot You and Your Dog
This is arguably an even bigger problem. When a jogger can’t see you and your dog, that jogger might run straight into the both of you. A bicyclist might run over you. And a speeding driver, well…let’s not even go there.
You get the point. At night, fast-moving threats might not register your existence — and even if they do, they might miss the furry family member at the end of your leash.
Predators Are Out in Force
Depending on where in the US you live, you might have to worry about skunks, bats, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, or even bears. Yikes.
The Biggest Risks
Here’s what it comes down to: Dog owners need to compensate for low visibility, be careful as heck when it comes to traffic, and protect their pups from the critters that want to bite and scratch them.
Some areas, like big cities, might be so well lit at night that dog parents have nothing much to worry about. But in darker areas, you need to make sure that you and your pup can see — and just as importantly, be seen. Maximizing visibility in the dark comes down to two key factors: light and apparel.
The first part is simple: If it’s dark enough, use a flashlight! Or, better yet, free your hands and use a headlamp. (More on this later.)
Then there’s the way you dress: As any avid nighttime runner or cyclist can tell you, wearing bright clothing is crucial. This means you should never wear black or gray pants or shirts. Instead, try yellows, light greens, or even neons. If you really want to go all out, a reflective vest like this one probably won’t cost you too much money — and it can be well worth it.
And that’s just for humans. When it comes to your pet, you’ve got a ton of options for light-up and reflective gear, including harnesses, leashes, and much more. We’ll get to that soon.
No matter how many steps you’ve taken to make you and your four-legged friend more visible, traffic will not be kind to the two of you if you’re careless. Pick your walking route as wisely as possible. Keep a careful eye out for approaching cars or cyclists. And be ready to pull your pup out of the way at a moment’s notice.
Always choose a sidewalk or a well-worn path over the street if those options are available to you. But if you have to walk in the street, just make sure you never walk with oncoming traffic. If you walk against traffic, you’ll be able to see vehicles approaching and get out of the way quickly. And you’ll be able to pull your dog along with you.
Predators and Wild Animals
Some animals are large and aggressive enough to cause serious injuries. But here’s the thing: Your pup can face serious consequences even if their nocturnal assailant isn’t a bear or coyote. Smaller animals like raccoons, bats, and skunks can inflict serious cuts and scrapes, or at least startle your pup. The last thing you want is for your dog to jerk the leash out of your grip, or leap in front of a pair of oncoming headlights.
Even worse, small predators can expose your pup to infectious disease. Let’s put it this way: There have been dogs that survived bear attacks, but no dog has ever survived rabies. And even if your dog is inoculated (which they absolutely should be), no vaccine is 100% effective.
Your best bet is to simply avoid those places where nocturnal predators are likely to make an appearance, like heavily wooded areas. And if these areas simply can’t be avoided, make sure you keep a very tight grip on your dog’s leash at all times.
Oh, and if you happen to live in a part of the country where bears are endemic — like, say, the New York Catskills — you’d be well advised to carry bear spray. No, seriously.
We’ve touched on this already, but now we’ll shine a light on the best types of tools you can use to keep you and your pet visible (and make it easier for you to see) in poorly lit areas.
Consider buying some of the following:
This includes tools for both you and your dog. For instance, you can wear reflective vests, wristbands, or leg bands. As for your dog, a reflective leash, collar, harness, or even a reflective jacket or other reflective clothing can be extremely useful. You can also attach reflective tape to your dog’s existing leash or collar.
Just make sure it’s comfortable. For instance, if the temperature is low and your pup is bundled up, any reflective gear you put on their body must be big enough to fit over their jacket.
Like reflective gear, light-up items are a great way to make you and your pup more visible in the dark — particularly light-up shoes for you, and an LED leash or LED collar for your furry friend. Alternatively, you can attach lights to your dog’s current harness or collar.
In addition, glow-in-the-dark items can serve the same purposes. Glow-sticks, or necklaces and bracelets that use neon lights, will help keep you and your dog safe and visible.
This one is so you can see. And in very dark conditions, a headlamp might be your best bet. One of your hands is already occupied by a leash, and you’ll probably want to keep the other one free. You need at least one hand to pick up your dog’s poop, after all.
Pay Attention and Keep Your Dog Leashed
As fun as it is to talk about luminescent clothes and gadgetry, perhaps the most important thing you can do to keep your dog safe in the darkness is to simply be attentive and use common sense. Keep your eyes peeled at all times, watch the road, and look out for animals.
You should also plan your evening walk carefully. Some areas are bound to be safer and brighter than others, and you should pick a familiar route whenever possible.
And never let your pup wander off into poorly-lit areas. In fact, don’t let your dog wander off at all. The most powerful tool you have at your disposal is your dog’s leash — and that’s even before you jazz it up with lights and reflectors. If you keep your dog tethered to you, they can’t run into traffic or chase after a raccoon. And if headlights start barreling toward you, you’ll be able to yank them out of the way quickly.
Oh, one other thing: During nighttime walks, don’t block out external sounds, no matter how big a music lover you are. It’s never a good idea to wear headphones while you're walking your dog at night. And you should also try to stay off your cell phone whenever possible. Your ears should be just as attuned to your surroundings as your eyes — it will help you react to threats faster.
Get Your Dog Insured in Case Something Goes Wrong
No matter how careful you are, accidental injuries can happen at night, in the early morning, or even when the sun is out in force. Potential accidents are just an unfortunate hazard of pet-parenthood. At the end of the day, life is not without its dangers.
A pet health insurance policy will help reimburse you if your pet gets sick or injured. This means you’ll be able to make healthcare decisions based solely on your pet’s best interests — never your finances.