Walking or running at night with a dog can be challenging, but is sometimes necessary with our busy daily schedules. After a long day at work or school, by the time you get home it may be dark out before you get the chance to take your dog out for their daily walk. Sometimes people even prefer to take their dog walking during the late evening or early in the morning. Cooler temperatures or simply the quiet and peacefulness found at that time can make walking at night more comfortable and even relaxing.
I take my dog, Winston, on almost all of my runs and family walks.
Winston is a big chocolate lab that loves to get out of the house for a run or walk at any time, day or night. This dog has a sixth sense about when I will be heading out the door either for our usual early morning run or even our relaxed family walk around the neighborhood on the weekends. Seriously, Winston knows a little too much about my wardrobe because when I come downstairs in the morning in my running clothes, he gets super excited: tail starts wagging fiercely, there is some anxious whining and pacing all around the house. On my rest days when I come down in sweats or jeans he has a disappointed look, ears lowered and his tail droops between his legs, knowing he isn't getting a run in that morning.
On weekends, our dog has learned over the years what the word "walk" means and as soon as any family member utters the word, Winston starts his frantic routine, becoming a total pest until he is on his leash and out the door. This has really gotten annoying so we have had to resort to spelling it (W-A-L-K) when announcing to the family to get ready to go.
Anyway, that is my personal experience with Winston. Not every one of our walks or runs are in the dark, but I often do take him out early in the morning, before the sun comes up; and before we head out the door, there are special considerations to take into account, and it basically comes down to being prepared and staying aware.
Light for Dog Walking at Night
Running or walking at night is clearly more challenging with a dog, and if I am not taking Winston with me, it is usually because of a night run or walk in difficult conditions (heavy rain for example). Either way, when hitting the road or trail with your dog at night the most critical piece of gear is a light. These lights for walking dog at night can be any number of products, from Knuckle Lights, a general flashlight, a headlamp or many other option available that will light up your path so you and your dog can see in front of you. I wrote an article recently about how to choose an appropriate light for walking or running at night.
There are many hazards in low visibility conditions that are simply not a concern in daylight.
Having a light that will illuminate your path will help you avoid those cracks in the sidewalk, uneven curbs, and numerous other tripping hazards.
Also, there are a surprising number of critters that are nocturnal--raccoons, opossums, etc. These animals can not only be scary for you personally, but can be distracting to your dog. A light will allow you to see what may be lurking near a tree and hopefully cause it scamper off into the brush.
Lights also make it possible for traffic, including motorists, other pedestrians and bicyclists to see you and your dog, making you both visible to others. This is critical to avoid the most serious of the potential hazards of walking a dog in the dark.
The stinky, but unique benefit of Knuckle Lights for dog walking at night
Being the founder of Knuckle Lights, I am admittedly biased in my opinion of the product for any time you need an LED light for outdoor activities. As an alternative to a dog walking flashlight, the most distinct advantage is the ease of picking up dog poop in the dark. Since the lights strap to the front of your hands, they are not only in the ideal position to see what you need to pick up, but since they are hands free, you can easily open the plastic bag and clean up quickly.
Other Gear for Walking Your Dog at Night
After considering the options for a dog safety light to see and be seen, there are a ton of other gear available that also work really well to help keep you and your pup stay safe while walking in the dark. There are lighted dog collars, LED and reflective leashes, clip on lights for a dog leash or LED collar, reflective vests for both you and your dog.
Some of this gear is actually a lot of fun to use and looks really cool as well as making your dog more visible in the dark.
An LED dog collar costs about the same as a regular dog collar
Investing in a rechargeable one will save you money on batteries in the long run. You can get just about any color for the collar, so get one that fits you and your dogs personality. Another interesting benefit to an LED collar is that it will make it easier for you to find your dog if he or she happens to get away from you in the dark.
There are small LED lights that can be attached to your dogs collar, and simple spot lights that will shine a beam of light in front of them, some as strong as standard flashlights.
For a leash, one of the easiest and cost effective options is to simply purchase a
roll of reflective tape and add it to your current dogs leash. There are some very innovative LED leash products available for sale at your local pet store or Amazon. The LED dog leash also makes it easy to track your dogs movement in the dark, you can easily notice if they move side to side or away from you.
Additionally, there is a huge variety of reflective gear and clothing
If you are in dark clothing, you are basically invisible in the dark. So bright clothing is important but having something reflective is even better. For you as the dog owner, there are regular old safety vests that work well, or something a little more deluxe. One of the best is the Tracer360 illuminated safety vest will help you be seen by traffic. There is also reflective vests or harnesses for your dog that provide direct visibility to them as well.
Even with all of these options, don't forget that lights for walking at night (again, Knuckle Lights are great for dog walking!) are critical, regardless of how reflective or outfitted you and your dog may be. You must have control over your own field of vision and be able to control the direction of the light.
Some Practical Advice for Walking or Running at Night with Dogs
There are some obvious drawbacks to walking or running with your dog in the dark. The inherent danger of being out in low light situations, from tripping hazards caused by a lack of visibility to vehicle and bike traffic not being able to see you, to the vulnerability from potential evildoers--although having a dog with you is great deterrent to those that might be looking to do you harm.
A sobering statistic is that nearly three-quarters of pedestrian fatalities and injuries caused by traffic is during the morning, dusk or at night (https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov)
Don't be a statistic. Take lights and other reflective gear with you on every walk in the dark to keep yourself and your dog safe. Dogs will have little fear and go where you lead them so your responsibility goes beyond your own safety.
Dogs bring a certain risk as they don't understand or adhere to traffic laws and patterns and are typically less cautious than their walking partner, at any time of day or night. If you get hit by a car, it is likely your dog will be injured as well.
I have to be particularly careful with my dog Winston because he has a bad habit of trying to lead in front of me during our walks and runs. He has most of our running and walking routes memorized now, and when we reach a point when we typically cross the street, he will try to dart out, oblivious to any potential car or bicycle that may be going by at that moment. I keep the leash close, so I pull him back quickly, but I know that he has startled a few drivers that thought a dog was jumping in front of their car. I realize some dog owners will be dismayed that I allow my dog to lead, but Winston is unique to say the least. My family adopted him after he was a year old, and was not trained properly as a puppy. All my efforts to train him while walking and running have been futile. He is trained in all other aspects--he will sit, lay down, is kennel trained and more, but a switch is flipped when he goes outside for a walk and his doggy self control is out the window.
Figuring out a route that is well lit and with low traffic will also help keep you and your dog safe in the dark
If you can keep on streets with sidewalks that have street lights that illuminate your path, it will help you and your dog to be seen by traffic. Dogs do not need the light to stay safe from trip hazards, but people definitely do. Well lit sidewalks will reduce the chance of tripping over a curb or uneven sidewalk. You should still carry a light to increase your visibility to traffic as well as illuminate those areas on your route that have less lighting--even the best lit route will have dark spots.
If there is no sidewalk and you're forced to walk on the roadway, be sure you are going against traffic. Walking towards traffic may seem illogical, however it allows you to see what is oncoming from a distance and have the time to react. And since you are carrying a light (your are, right?!?), you can easily shine directly at the oncoming traffic so that they are warned early of your presence.
Be aware of the sounds of movements around you, so that you are not surprised by vehicles, other walkers, runners or cyclists, and even those nighttime critters
Listening to music with headphones is not a good idea while out in the dark, as they will interfere with your awareness. There are a few innovative options to be able to listen to music without headphones or ear buds. Aftershokz provide really cool bone conduction headphones and Road Noise has a unique safety vest that has speakers on the shoulders, not in your ears.
This probably goes without mentioning, but bringing your cell phone on your night walk with your dog is very important. Having the ability to call or text in an emergency is vital. Most phones now have flashlight apps as well, so you can reduce the amount of gear you have to carry by using that light--just be careful not to drop you phone of course.
The most critical piece of advice is to simply stay aware during your night walks or runs with your dog. Between the dangers from traffic, hidden obstacles, wild animals, roaming cats and other dogs, the threat and dangers for you and your dog are much higher during nighttime walks. Using lights and other safety gear and having an awareness of your surroundings, greatly reduces these risks.
Thanks for reading. Stay safe, be seen, and Own The Night!