A dog walker’s safety tips for the dark

safety tips

Like all dogs, these cute little pups could always use some safety tips; photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Most of us have, at one time or another, found our bored pup using our favorite shoe as his new chew toy. We have also (on the unfortunate occasion) found him attempting to get our attention by way of gnawing on the corner of our beloved (and recently purchased) settee.

safety tips

Marisa Sturm of PreFurred Pet Care; photo courtesy of PreFurred Pet Care

An active pet is a happy pet, and happy pets make for happy owners, so it behooves us to properly exercise our furry friends. Fortunately, dog walks rank high on the canine list of favorite things to do.

Dog walks can pose difficulties in the winter, however. When I get home from work to walk my dog, for example, it’s already dark out. I bumble and fumble along, virtually invisible to my neighbors as they speed by. The groping is constant, my flashlight ineffectual, and my curious companion noses her way into everything: dark corners, bushes, under the brambles, led there by the scent of who knows what. Well, enough is enough! In search of some illumination, I tracked down a professional. Marisa Sturm, who co-owns PreFurred Pet Care in Long Beach, California, offers her best safety tips for the dark, and favorite ways to keep our indoor pets otherwise occupied.

I find it hard to hold a leash and flashlight and at the same time pick up my dog’s “business”—all while trying to be visible to my neighbors in their passing cars. What products do you recommend to make all of this easier?
It is hard to do all that stuff, and even more difficult if you have multiple dogs! There are some great retractable leashes on the market that have a flashlight built right into them. There are also little lights that you can clip onto yourself or your dog’s collar. Orvis makes a good one. I usually learn about new products based on what my clients have. I recently stayed with a dog who had the best leash made by Hurtta. It has reflectors for nighttime safety as well as a padded neoprene hand grip—it’s a pretty great leash! Hurtta also makes reflective harnesses, but really any brand would be good.

Our dark street is unlit, and fairly wooded, making it easy to surprise woodland “friends” in the underbrush. Any safety suggestions for dealing with the unexpected creatures that come out at night?
I live and work in a pretty urban area of Long Beach, California, and don’t come across too many wild animals, but coyotes and skunks do surface on occasion, so it’s always good to be prepared. Walking with pepper spray or even a mini air horn can come in handy in these situations.

safety tips

Headlamps illuminate your path and are hands-free; image courtesy of LED Lenser

Got any tips for those of us who like to take our dogs with us on our evening run?
Being familiar with your surroundings is key to staying safe in the dark—stick to your usual route after the sun sets. I find that a sturdy headlamp can be very useful for runners. They illuminate your path, catch the attention of passing cars, and they’re hands-free so you can keep a good grip on your dog’s leash. LED Lenser has a line of high-performance headlamps that stand up to the job.

Between shorter days and bad weather, our dogs (like us) haven’t been spending much time outside. Got any tips on keeping an active pet happy indoors?
Indoor doggy day camps are a fun place to send your dog for an afternoon and where they play lots of games. Here in Long Beach, there’s a great one called GoFetch. If your pet is trainable, there are indoor games you can teach your dog(s) to play. I have a trio of dogs that I visit weekly, and if rain dampers our day, I play a game of “find it” with the most rambunctious one of the bunch. “Find it” is a game his owners made up and trained him to play. They have their dog stay in one part of the house, while they hide his toy in another part of the house. Once hidden, they say the command “find it,” at which point he searches high and low, until he finds it. It’s pretty cute, and I swear he could play it all day!

safety tips

A sweater or coat can help shield a pet’s undercarriage; photo courtesy of Hurta

Rain and snow are imminent. What is your best advice for winterizing our pets?
The best accessory for a winter pet is to have a stack full of dry towels ready for muddy, wet paws. FURminator makes a dog towel specifically designed for wet pets. If your dog is game, put them in a sweater or coat, which can help shield their undercarriage from the worst of it. Besides, they always look cute in them, right?

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