By Judge Sullivan
Night runs can be fun and exciting if done safely. Running your pups at night adds some additional challenges to overcome. Limited visibility- both you seeing and being seen by others, decreased reaction times, and the abundance of night time critters are just some of the challenges. Before taking on the night- you and your team should be pretty proficient at running during the day. A well behaved team in the day light will be easier to control at night. Here are some things to consider when setting out on your night run.
First and foremost- you and your team need to see and be seen. Wear reflective clothing like safety vest, jackets with reflective stripping, or even reflective Velcro bands around your ankles or wrist. In addition to making sure others can see you, make sure they can see your pup as well. Reflective see-me jackets and flashing lights on or around the collar/harness helps insure others can see your pup. Also, by lighting up your pup, in the unfortunate circumstance that your pup does become loose, you can see where they are at. Reflective tow lines, neck lines, harnesses, and collars are all great choices that aid in your quest to be visible. Make sure your tow vehicle is well lit. A good high powered white forward facing bike light is essential. This helps oncoming traffic identify you and also allows you to see what your pups are doing out in front of you. It is a good idea to have two mounted if you can. Use the second one as a back up in the event that you damage your main light, run it out of battery power, or it mysteriously quits working. Have a red flasher/strobe on the back of your tow vehicle so others coming up from behind can identify you as well.
Equally as important to the "Night Time Running Lights" on your tow vehicle is to wear a headlamp. This serves as an additional layer of protection to insure that you have forward facing light and is invaluable as a hands free light when you encounter a problem on the trail. A headlamp can aid you if you have an injury, mechanical problem, or digging through your pack. Carry a "just in case" flashlight in your pack as a back up to your headlamp. This can also serve as a back up for forward facing light- and is easy to lash to the front of your vehicle. Check your lighting operation frequently and especially before you get to the trailhead- make sure they are performing. A back up flashlight in your pack that may have been exposed to a little bit of moisture can quickly corrode the batteries leaving it useless to you when needed the most. With these layers of light and some routine maintenance- you should never be left in the dark. After the safety lighting comes the "fun" lights or accent lights. These are ones that you can mount to your tow vehicle in various forms like spoke lights, rope lights wrapped around your frame, valve stem lights on your tire/tube, and so forth to give some flair to your run. As a bonus- these also make you more visible.
Some advantages of running in the dark are the cooler temperatures. It's usually cooler at night and your pup may run better and longer with more excitement. Also, there are less people and dogs out at night as distractions and your encounter with others significantly reduces. You can also use the moon to your advantage to provide additional lighting. Running under a full moon and clear skies makes for a great back drop on your night run.
Some disadvantages are the "critters" come out at night. There are many nocturnal animals which wait for the sun to go down to come out and feed and/or move under the cover of darkness. Hanging on tight at all times is recommended as you never know when a critter is going to cross your path or jump out from a bush. Your pup will probably react very quickly with adrenaline to this type of distraction and if not hanging on tightly- your tow vehicle can easily be pulled out from underneath you. Another disadvantage is that it is harder to see what your pups are doing out in front of you- at certain times. Even with a great forward facing light attached to your tow vehicle, when you and your pups take a corner, your pups may be to the side while for a split second or two your light is facing straight ahead. For this brief time you may find that your pups are a bit harder to see and more caution is required.
It is always a good idea to night run with a partnering team. Safety in numbers.
As long as you prepare properly, use a bit of caution, and enjoy the dark- night runs can add some fun and variety to your routine.