Although there aren’t as many daylight hours in the winter, you’re still likely to have to walk your dog in the dark no matter the time of year. Whether it’s early in the morning or later in the evening, dark and low light conditions mean it can be hard for you and your dog to see and for others to see you. Here are some safety tips for walking your dog in the dark:
1. Make Sure You and Your Dog Can See
Your dog may have better night vision than you, but you both still need to be able to see where you’re going. Both you and your dog need to be able to see the walkway and the area in front of you in order to effectively avoid obstacles and debris. You may live in an area with well-lit sidewalks, but even streetlamps have their downfalls, so you want to be prepared.
A flashlight is generally easy to find and can help illuminate your path. But, carrying a flashlight and your dog’s leash plus cleanup bags and anything else you need can be a hassle. It can be hard to juggle everything you need. If bringing along a flashlight is too much to carry, you do have other options.
LED headlamps provide light and don’t take up any space in your hands. You can also invest in a retractable leash that has a flashlight built-in. But, retractable leashes aren’t a good fit for every dog. You can also explore dog collars and leashes with built-in LED lights or lights specifically designed for people running at night. These lights are built to be wearable and lightweight.
2. Ensure You and Your Dog are Highly Visible
Another big danger when you are walking your dog at night is the low visibility for others. Without reflectors or extra precautions on your part, it’s hard for others to see you and your dog in the dark. You can wear light-colored clothing and also wear reflective clothing, like vests, shoes, armbands, and more to make sure other people can see you. You can also outfit your dog with a reflective collar or harness, leash, and dog vest or dog jacket to make sure they are also highly visible.
This ensures drivers, other people, and even nighttime animals can clearly see you and your dog and avoid you. It’s also a signal to other people who are out at night that you are not a threat. This helps you and your dog avoid uncomfortable situations and is also a courtesy to other people who are walking or biking.
3. Keep Your Dog Leashed
Even if your dog has mastered all the basic commands and is perfect when they are off-leash, you want to make sure you keep your dog leashed during nighttime or early morning walks in the dark. The most well-trained and well-behaved dogs can get scared or surprised or race away unpredictably. Outfitting your dog with LED accessories and making sure they have ID on them can help you find them in the dark, but keeping them leashed can help reduce the risk of them running away or getting lost in the first place.
4. Stick to More Familiar Routes
Nighttime walks and walks in the dark are generally not the best time to explore new areas. When you’re out with your dog in low visibility, it’s usually a good idea to stick to routes that are familiar to you and that you know tend to be safe.
You’re more likely to be familiar with the terrain and general area of routes you know, which can reduce the risk of injury and of getting lost. It’s also a good idea to stick to paved walkways and cleared pathways that are well-lit and keep the off-road exploration for daylight.
5. Position Your Dog Away From Cars
Cars can be a danger to everyone in the dark. Walking against the flow of traffic ensures you can see when cars are coming and adjust your position as needed. Additionally, you want to position your dog away from cars.
You are likely to be more visible to drivers than your dog, so it makes sense for you to walk on the side closer to the road and to put yourself between the road and your dog. This keeps them away from the curb, away from cars, and reduces the risk of your dog darting into traffic or attempting to chase cars.
6. Dress for the Conditions
Walks in the dark can be unpredictable and sometimes cold. Make sure both you and your dog are dressed for the conditions. Even a quick walk in the snow and cold can become dangerous if you and your dog are not protected or dressed appropriately. If the temperatures have dropped or are dropping, bundle up accordingly with sweaters and jackets – and that goes for your dog too.
Don’t Forget to Protect Your Dog’s Paws
Just as you want to wear sensible shoes to protect your feet, you also want to protect your dog’s paws. This is especially important during the winter when cold weather can cause your pup’s paw pads to get dry and crack. Plus, there are some chemicals used during the winter that can be harmful to your dog. Many ice melts contain chemicals that can be dangerous if ingested, which could occur if your dog simply licks their paws after a walk. Although you can use a dog-safe ice melt around your own house, you often don’t know what’s being used everywhere else. On top of that, patches of ice can be slippery and rough patches of snow and ice can even scrape or cut your dog’s paw pads.
Outfitting your dog with a good pair of dog boots can protect their paws when out on walks and also provides more traction on potentially slippery surfaces. You can also wipe off and clean your dog’s paws when you bring them inside after a walk to ensure there is no residue left on their paw pads that could be potentially harmful to them. This also gives you a chance to inspect their paws and in between their toes to make sure there are no wounds on their paw pads or debris stuck in their fur. Plus, you can buy or make a DIY paw balm to help keep your pooch’s precious paw pads moisturized.
7. Stay Alert and Aware
After covering the basics, the best thing you can do to keep you and your dog safe during walks in the dark is to stay alert and be aware of your surroundings. Make sure you have your phone with you in case of an emergency and pay attention to what’s going on around you.
If there are cars or bikes nearby when you are crossing the street, make sure they have seen you before you start crossing. Verbally greet other people who are out and about at the same time as you. Not only does this let others know that you are not a threat, but it also helps to reassure your dog.
These safety tips for walking your dog in the dark will help keep both of you safe while out for a walk.