If your schedule requires you to walk your dog at the same time every day, the shorter days of winter may leave you in the dark during your usual morning or evening stroll.
Walking your dog at night brings extra considerations you don’t necessarily have during the day. However, with a little forethought and preparation, you can stay safe and feel confident while walking your dog at night.
Be Visible & Bring Light
The most important safety consideration when walking your dog at night is to wear reflective gear. That may mean wearing a reflective vest yourself or using a reflective harness, collar or leash for your pup.
In addition to your reflective gear, you should always bring a flashlight or even a head lamp. A head lamp may make you feel like a wannabe spelunker, but it has the advantage of leaving both your hands free to pick up dog poop, grab your lunging dog’s leash, or do anything else that may come up on the walk.
As the Veterinary Centers of America points out:
“Reflective gear is great, but only works if the vehicle’s headlights hit you; that is not much help if a vehicle backs down a driveway unexpectedly. Having a light of some kind for both you and your dog is the best way to be seen. You can find small, clip-on lights for yourself in sporting goods stores and many pet stores carry light up collars and clip-on lights for your pet’s collar.”
Maintain Control of Your Dog
Regardless of how obedient Fido is during the day, when you’re walking your dog at night it’s important to keep your pups on a leash no matter what.
For maximum control of your dog, it’s best to avoid retractable leashes or Flexi-leads. There are many safety concerns with these leashes even during the day, but at night they become almost invisible.
This greatly increases the risk of accident or injury. The thin cable of a retractable leash can easily get snagged on something, wrap around a pole, or get caught in the tires of a bicycle. That’s why professional dog trainer Kristina Lotz has strong feelings about using retractable leashes:
“They are dangerous. At night, even more so because the lead is just so hard to see! I don’t know how many times I have seen someone walking their dog around evening-time and I think the dog is off-leash; I have even slammed on my breaks as a dog approached the edge of a sidewalk, only to realize the owner is holding a flexi-lead handle. Ugh. He could have caused an accident. He could also trip passersby who don’t see the lead either. If you must use one, don’t use it at night!”
Although it’s important to leash your dog when walking at night, you shouldn’t rely entirely on your leash for control of your pooch. You ought to be able to direct your dog with your voice, too. Take the time to work on basic obedience skills every day so that your dog will sit, stay, come, and “leave it” when needed.
Finally, make sure to bring your dog’s absolute favorite treats to maximize your chances of being able to get Fido’s attention when you need it most!
Stay Aware of Your Surroundings
It’s best not to wear headphones or listen to music while walking your dog at night. You’ll want to make sure you can hear it if a car, person or animal approaches you. If you really must listen to your evening podcast, at least keep one earbud out, so you’re still aware of your surroundings.
In addition to listening for potential dangers, you should keep an eye out for them, too. Don’t assume that your pup knows where they’re going — dogs have better night vision than we do, but that doesn’t mean they can see perfectly in pitch darkness. An excited pup can easily underestimate the depth of a drop or height of a barrier, or even run into an almost-invisible hazard like barbed wire or an electric fence.
Keep your flashlight focused on the ground in front of you so that you can watch your step. You don’t want yourself or your best furiend to twist an ankle in a pothole, or step on a dangerous object such as metal or glass.
Finally, you need to stay aware of what’s around you so that you don’t let your dog eat or drink something suspicious. Street puddles and runoff may contain blue-green algae or harmful bacteria. In the winter, puddles could even contain deadly antifreeze. Even a small amount of this toxic chemical is fatal, so it’s worth being vigilant!
This is also why it’s important to wipe your pup’s paws after every walk. You never know what they might have stepped on or walked through, and you may not see the effects until later when your dog licks their feet.
Prepare for Other People or Dogs
Other people out for a nightly stroll, jog, or bike ride may not be paying attention as much as you are, and they may not be wearing reflective gear either. If one of these people appears out of nowhere while you are walking your dog at night, that can easily catch your pooch off-guard. Be prepared for your dog to flinch or bark suddenly if a stranger appears out of the dark.
This is especially true when passing a fellow dog-walker. Running into another dog on a walk can be stressful during the day, but it’s double stressful at night. Many dogs are more alert for threats at night, and if they can’t identify you or your dog fully, they may see you or Fido as a threat. Even if your pup is normally great with other dogs, nighttime isn’t the right moment to greet the neighbors.
Another strategy to reduce the chance of being surprised (or surprising others) is to try as much as possible to alert others to your presence. It’s helpful if others can hear you coming, for example. We’re not saying to creepily whistle in the night like a serial killer, but don’t bother to muffle the sound of your squeaky shoes or jangling keys!
Watch Out for Wildlife
You never know what surprises could appear in the night!
Evening, especially around dusk, is when you are most likely to encounter wildlife while on your walk. That may mean raccoons, opossums, rabbits, deer, turkeys, foxes, coyotes, skunks, porcupines, or any other common species that live in your area.
Most wildlife will flee when they see you and Fido approaching anyway, but the last thing you want is for your excited pup to pursue them and yank the leash out of your hands.
If you live in an area where poisonous or venomous animals are a concern — such as rattlesnakes, scorpions, venomous toads, and many others — keep light on the ground in front of you at all times so you or your dog don’t step on a nasty surprise. Don’t let your pup sniff around under bushes where you can’t see what may be hiding.
In addition to the larger wildlife, don’t forget about the usual outdoor dangers you may encounter on your walk. Mosquitos, ticks, and other insects are more active at night. Consider buying some dog-safe bug spray, and double check that your dog’s vaccinations are up to date. Many of the nastiest canine diseases can be spread by ticks and mosquitoes, such as Lyme’s disease or heartworm.
Once you get home, check your dog over carefully for hitchhiking insects and also for burrs, barbs or thorns they may have picked up.
Take Simple Safety Measures
Most of the people you may pass while you’re walking your dog at night will be fellow exercisers with no bad intentions, but it’s still smart to use a few common-sense safety measures.
When you’re planning your walk, make sure to stay in well-lit and familiar areas. Now is not the time to explore new routes or take “shortcuts” through dark alleys!
Stay on the sidewalk as much as you can and avoid wooded trails. If you do have to walk on the street, walk on the side facing towards oncoming traffic so you can see vehicles coming.
It’s always a smart idea to tell someone where you are going and for how long (“I’m walking the dog down to Willow Street, I should be back in about 30 minutes.”) so that a friend or family member knows to look for you if you’re not back on time.
Ensure your phone is fully charged before you leave so that you can call for help if needed, or use the flashlight or map functions. A “friend-finding” app or other GPS tracking measures on your phone can also be useful if you get lost in the dark.
Bring Emergency Supplies
We’re not saying you have to go full Bear Grylls survival mode, but bringing a few basic supplies you may need while walking your dog at night is a smart idea.
Water and extra flashlight batteries are two things you don’t want to be without when you need them. The pet health and wellness organization Great Pet Care also advises that all dog parents at least bring a few emergency supplies, just in case:
“Purchase a small first aid kit that contains antibacterial wipes, self-adhesive vet tape, blood stop powder, and hydrogen peroxide spray to treat minor scrapes or cuts that occur on your walk. There are some kits that are small enough to clip to your dog’s leash.
It’s also a good idea to program the phone number for the ASPCA Poison Control Center and the nearest 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic into your phone. If your dog accidentally ingests something on your walk or sustains a more serious injury, the experts on the other end of the line can provide advice for how to proceed.”
You may also want to consider bringing along warmer clothing for you and your dog. Temperatures can drop suddenly at night, or it may rain and leave you and your best furiend shivering. Yes, dogs do have fur, but that’s not much protection from wind chill. As the old adage says: If you’re cold, they’re cold!
If your warm coat isn’t reflective, bring a thin reflective vest you can wear on top of your coat so you still stay visible. For Fido, there are warm dog vests available that also have a reflective stripe. Make sure to check the fitting instructions carefully so you can keep your dog bundled without being too restricted, and snug without overheating.
Finally, always bring your ID and your pup’s ID when walking your dog at night, just in case. If you know walking in poorly-lit areas is unavoidable, then a small can of pepper spray for self-defense isn’t a bad idea either.
While it’s usually better to walk your dog during the day, sometimes a nighttime jaunt is unavoidable. If you think ahead and use common sense measures, there’s no reason to fear walking your dog at night.
With a flashlight, a warm coat and a pack of your dog’s absolute favorite treats, you and your best furiend can enjoy a stroll under the stars!