We’re still a few weeks away from the shortest day of the year, but dog walking in the dark has once again become a reality for most of us. It’s easy to be overly confident, even blasé, but the reality is that pretty much all of the daytime issues that can arise on an average dog walk, are exacerbated by the cloak of darkness. If you are anything like me, walking in the dark makes you more jumpy and aware of personal safety (perceived ‘stranger danger’), but in reality this is a tiny risk. The more common occurrences, like your dog chasing a rabbit (cat/jogger/bike), getting injured or making a friendly approach to a less than friendly dog, are the things that can become really scary in the dark. Road safety is also paramount, as pedestrian casualties increase dramatically at this time of year.
On road or off?
Benefits of dog walking in the dark along a road
- Usually well lit, which increases visibility and may help you to feel safer
- Usually well populated, meaning help is at hand if you run into difficulty.
- No option for off lead walking (makes the decision for you)
- On lead walking gives you the opportunity to work with, train, interact with and bond with your dog. You can work on any lead related issues, such as pulling or reactivity.
- It may provide better exercise for you, as you are more likely to walk further at a faster pace when your dog is on the lead.
- You’ll know where your dog has gone to the toilet, so much easier to clean it up.
- You’ll both stay cleaner as many of our parks and fields are wet and muddy at this time of year.
Pitfalls of dog walking in the dark along a road
- Traffic! Always walk on pavements and as far as possible against the flow of oncoming traffic so that you can see it approaching. Don’t use flexi leads as if the lock fails your dog can easily run into the road.
- In less well lit areas, your visibility (and that of your dog) will be reduced, making you more vulnerable.
- You can’t let your dog off the lead. This may be a negative if you feel that this is an essential part of walking them, or if they are very troublesome on the lead.
- Some dogs will still need grass to go to the toilet, but this can often be found in patches around an estate.
Benefits of dog walking in the dark away from the road
- You have the choice to let your dog off the lead. This can provide a more energetic and interesting walk for a dog, especially one that is used to running free.
- You are away from traffic.
- Some areas may have less other dogs about which makes walking a very sensitive/reactive dog much easier.
Pitfalls of dog walking in the dark away from the road
- There may be very little light, which in turn could make you more anxious and jumpy. Your dog will sense your anxiety and may become more reactive as a result.
- It’s easier for either of you to have an accident.
- You are more likely to suddenly bump into other dog owners, which could cause issues with reactive dogs (yours or the stranger’s dog), dogs on flexi leads (probably a no-no in the dark) and nervous dogs.
- If you let your dog off it is easier for them to get lost, or run off into a problematic situation that you could have seen and avoided walking during daylight hours.
- They can defecate anywhere and you are less likely to see/find it to bag it and bin it.
- You may not easily be able to find help if a problem arises.
- You may both end up very dirty!
Ideas to help keep you and your dog safe and comfortable
- Be seen – wear something reflective or high visibility.
- Provide something reflective or that lights up for your dog. There are many suitable coats, collars, leads, light rings and light clips available on the market.
- If you walk around roads, use a soft flat lead and a well fitting harness for a comfortable, controlled walk. If pulling is an issue, consider a harness with a chest ring *and* a between-the-shoulders ring, along with a double-ended lead to clip onto both. This arrangement both physically controls pulling by keeping the dog’s body in parallel to yours, and also allows you to train towards calm, polite lead work.
- Always carry a torch and a mobile phone. A small LED torch can provide a really strong beam of light, whilst fitting easily into your pocket.
- Let someone know where you are going and roughly how long you will be.
- If you’re walking away from roads and intend to let your dog off, take some tasty treats to enhance recall, and establish this before letting your dog wander off.
- Make it social – arrange to walk with another local dog walker or a friend.