Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our December/January issue. Subscribe to Dogster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.
Once the clocks fall forward and the kickoff to winter officially begins, most 9-to-5 jobbers leave for the workplace in the dark and come home after the sun has set. There’s little hope of catching a few rays during the week for outdoor play with your pup. Night isn’t quite the new day, but the moonlight hours aren’t just for quick potty breaks.
Here are some suggestions to make nighttime outdoor play fun and safe.
The first rule of nighttime dog activities is safety. LED collars, pendants, and leashes help make you and your dog visible to cars, bicycles, and other people’s dogs who may not play well with others.
Battery-operated flashlight-type collars are even brighter and act as a headlight for your dog so he can see the ground in front of him. Lighted collars also help you locate your dog during off-leash play (in a safe area where there’s no traffic, of course).
If your dog is a dark color or black, it’s especially important that he’s ornamented like a blinking Christmas tree.
Fetch relies on your dog being able to see the ball or toy being thrown. Fortunately, dogs see better in the dark than their owners, but when it’s pitch-black, Fido will need a little help.
There are all kinds of glow-in-the-dark and LED-lighted balls and flying discs on the market that make fetch in the twilight easier. Darlene Arden, certified animal behavior consultant and host of the Petxpert podcasts in Framingham, Massachusetts, suggested that dogs can play fetch in the dusky hours using their sense of smell, too. Simply apply a small amount of cologne, aftershave, or another scent to the ball, and your dog should be able to find it. This may take some practice, though.
The dog park isn’t just for early-rising coffee drinkers and their sun-up pups. Plenty of people take an excursion to their local dog park after dark. Check the posted hours either at the park or on the park’s website. City dwellers are often privileged with 24-hour dog parks. If your dog park isn’t open late, you can always petition to have the hours changed.
If your dog is your jogging partner, nighttime is the right time to raise both of your heart rates. Andrea Servadio, co-founder of Fitdog Sports Club in Santa Monica, California, said that dogs don’t fare well in the heat, so jogging or running at night in cooler weather provides a good temperature for exercising dogs.
Use reflective gear for both you and your dog. An LED dog collar or leash is also a great option. At night, it’s best to find a safe jogging path rather than running on the side of the road, and opt for light-colored clothing.
If you’re going to do any kind of off-leash play in the dark, especially in an unfenced area, such as a park, a trail, and the beach, your dog must have a solid recall command. That means that he will come back to you when called 100 percent of the time.
If you can’t rely on him to return when you ask, a good option is to use a long lead: a 15- or 20-foot lightweight training leash. Even if you let go of the lead and allow it to drag, you can catch your dog more easily if he runs after a night creature like a raccoon, opossum, or cat.
Do not use a retractable leash at night. The cord becomes invisible in the dark and can get wrapped around your dog, yourself, someone else, or something in the terrain.
Use the buddy system. A neighbor or a friend with a dog would probably love a standing doggie date. It will be more fun for the dogs, and you’ll have the added reassurance of safety in numbers if you’re playing in a public area or walking on a public road.
After-dark play is only fun if you get back home intact. If you have even the slightest concern, carry your cell phone, pepper spray or a Taser, a whistle, and a small flashlight for your walk to and from your play area.
Tell someone where you’re going. Wear running shoes. Do not play music in headphones or earbuds — being alert after dark is important. You not only have to keep yourself safe, you’re responsible for your dog as well.
Read more by Nikki Moustaki:
About the author: Nikki Moustaki is a dog trainer, dog rescuer, and pet expert. She splits her time between New York City and Miami Beach, Florida, and is the author of the memoir The Bird Market of Paris. Visit her on Twitter at @nikkimoustaki and at nikkimoustaki.com.