For many, many years I was that person—up by 5 a.m. to go long-distance running with at least one dog, often two, and occasionally three. Staying visible to passing motorists in the predawn darkness was a concern, and reflective dog collars were my solution. The collars reflect light from car headlights, streetlights, and other light sources, making dogs visible to drivers on the road. Buckling one around your dog’s neck is really a no-brainer.
As the parent of an active boy, I found predawn running essential: I was in training to keep up with him, but the window between 5 and 6 a.m. was my only chance to squeeze a run into our impossibly busy schedule. I also lived in the South, where there is a four-letter word called heat in all but the coldest months on the calendar. Summer can spell misery—sometimes the hour before dawn is the only time to engage in vigorous exercise outdoors and stay (relatively) cool.
Old habits die hard: I live in New England now, but still run before sunrise in the summer months, and I still run with my dog. A personalized reflective dog collar is requisite equipment for this scenario: It helps you keep your dog in your sights, and helps keep him visible to drivers. And the contact information embroidered on it facilitates a faster reunion if your dog manages to escape while you’re running.
Running in the Dark with Your Dog: Sharing the Road Safely
Are there cars on the road at 5 a.m.? There is less traffic than at other times—a compelling reason to get out at that hour—but the short answer is, you bet. Typical encounters in my fairly dense mid-town Southern neighborhood included food and uniform delivery trucks, all manner of construction vehicles, city services vehicles, regular folk headed to work, and my favorite: police cruisers.
Whatever your running habits, it’s on you to be seen, and not the other way around. A reflective collar and leash are essential safety gear for your dog when you’re running or walking in darkness or low-light conditions. Choose a reflective dog harness if your dog tends to pull.
When it comes to visibility and safety, more is better. Your own running gear should include reflective strips on your clothing or a reflective vest. A flashing light affixed to your dog’s collar and one on your own back—even a headlamp if you’re running in an area without street lamps—make you still more visible to passing motorists.
Other things to remember once you’ve leashed him up and laced up your sneaks:
- By all means, make sure he is wearing a reflective collar, and that your own shoes and clothing bear some kind of reflective material. These are no-nonsense safety measures if you plan to run at the side of the road in the darkness.
- Stick to known routes where you’re familiar with the landscape; you don’t need “invisible” obstacles tripping you up.
- Keep your head up and your eyes peeled: it is your job to make sure oncoming traffic sees you, and not the other way around.
- Unless you are using a sidewalk, always run against traffic: see and be seen. When you run with traffic you put yourself at risk of being hit from behind.
- Always use a short leash (never a retractable one), and keep your dog running the straight and narrow. You’re hard enough to see as it is—don’t give him enough slack (or freedom) to dart into oncoming traffic.
- No music. Ever. You need exactly no distractions when you run in the dark. And anyway, your companion deserves your undivided attention—he digs you and is thrilled to share in this ritual with you.
The Benefits of Running with Your Dog—Day or Night
There are so many superlative reasons to run with your dog. Your dog will be your best-ever workout buddy. He will never cancel, nor will he accept excuses from you for skipping a run; he may even bring you the leash. And how can you possibly say no to an enthusiastically wagging tail? My Shiloh Shepherd routinely placed his gigantic head softly on the bed near mine early in the morning, with his entire back end wagging; it was clear, polite communication. And the satisfaction of knowing I had done something nice for myself and for him, that he’d be content for the rest of the day (a tired dog is a good dog), was a huge reward. Even if my run was the only thing that went right all day, I at least felt prepared for the challenges ahead.
There is also a peace like no other in the early morning, where quiet is broken only by the sound of your own breathing, and your dog’s. Many times I’ve observed wildlife, even in the city: entire families of foxes, deer, the occasional coyote, all of them seeking cover who-knows-where by the light of day. We often return to the house at the end of our run against a gathering and intense pink on the eastern horizon, a quiet symphony of birds just stirring in the trees. With your companion animal at your side, his shiny reflective collar and other dog accessories keeping him clearly visible, early mornings truly belong to you.