Walking with a dog in the dark can present a number of challenges for many dog owners. You may not be able to see well in the dark; this can make you take a hard step off a curb or trip on a rise in the sidewalk. Finding your dog’s poop at night (so you can pick it up and dispose of it properly) is also a problem.
Although definitely in the minority, some people walk their dogs off-leash at night. I’ve met a number of people at night who were walking off-leash dogs on the wide trail that tops the river levee that parallels my town’s main street. If I wasn’t a dog person, I would probably be unnerved by the fast approach of a strange dog in the dark. And as it is, if the dogs were mine, I’d be worried that one of them would wander off or get lost if I couldn’t keep sight of them.
The most potentially dangerous and most common problem with nighttime dog walking, though, is that other people – people driving cars, especially – can’t readily see you or your dog. Whether you are crossing a street, or just walking across a driveway “safely” on the sidewalk, if a driver can’t see you, you are at risk of being hit.
Products for Every Problem – But None for All Problems
We rounded up a wide array of products that are intended to make nighttime dog-walking brighter. However, we found that most of them addressed only one of the various night visibility issues.
For example, we found a number of collars, leashes, harnesses, bandannas, and vests that sported varying amounts of reflective material – the stuff that seems to shine brightly back at the source of the light. These products are matchless for helping a driver see you and your dog in his headlights, but they can’t help you see in the dark or help you or other lightless pedestrians see your dog.
We also found a lot of products that light up – including collars and leashes that twinkle, glow, and/or flash, and battery-operated lights that can be hung on a dog’s collar or harness. Many of these shine very impressively (and festively!) in the dark – but we found that their light is lost in the comparative glare of car headlights, making them suitable for some applications but not for safety from drivers.
For these reasons, you’ll want to choose a product that best suits your needs; we’ll describe what each product can and cannot do. If walking at night in the rain is your dog’s favorite thing to do, and the battery-powered light-up products tickle your fancy, consider the product’s ability to withstand moisture. We tested the products only once in the rain, and it was a light, brief shower. We’ve quoted the makers’ claims regarding the water-resistance of their products, but did not put these claims to a serious test. If no claim of “waterproof” or “water-resistant” is made for a battery-powered product, we wouldn’t use the product in even a light rain, due to the risk of shocking the dog. For the same reason, never leave a battery-powered product on or within reach of an unattended dog.
Most of the products we reviewed were not made in the U.S. The only exceptions are products made by Glow Dog, Ultra Paws, and Sellwood Dog Supply.
Many of these companies sell directly to consumers as well as through retailers, so you might find their products in pet supply stores but can also purchase them from the maker. In a few cases, products we tested are not sold directly by their makers. The smart companies will direct you to an online or local retailer where you can buy their products. If this was the case, we included the maker’s contact information below.
Rarely, however, the maker neither sells the product directly nor provides consumers with the name of local or even online retailers where the products can be bought. Instead, they suggest that you “ask your local retailer for these products.” This was the case with one company whose products we liked: CMI Pets, maker of PetStrobe and Mini PetStrobe (pendant lights that hang from a dog collar).
We are loathe to include a glowing (sorry!) review of a product unless we can direct you to a specific place where the products can be purchased.
For this reason, you won’t see the products named above in our review, even though they had certain attributes we liked. For example, the PetStrobe lights made by CMI Pets, which contain four LEDs, can flash in different colors and at two different speeds (or just stay on) and are waterproof to boot. We can’t include them in this review since we can’t tell people where to buy them! Oh well, the metal clips were tiny and difficult to open and close anyway.
We tested about another half-dozen nighttime visibility products that didn’t meet our satisfaction; the wouldn’t have even earned one paw on our rating scale (on page 12). One light-up collar we rejected was weighted down with a cucumber-sized battery pack. One could plug the collar into a charger to recharge this large battery, which is a cool feature, but you’d have to overlook the fact that a dog wearing such a device could get a sore neck from the weight of the thing!
We rejected other products that contained blinking lights. Some turned off spontaneously, due to a faulty design or workmanship. Another contained batteries that could not be replaced. See the charts on page 15 and 16 for more details, including price and purchasing information, about each product we reviewed.
Every dog owner who helped us test this product asked if they could keep it after our trial was completed. There really isn’t any better testament to a product’s ease of use and usefulness. What we like: The PupLight hangs from a specially designed clip that helps hold the light away from the dog’s coat (in case of an especially shaggy dog) and allows the owner to change the angle of the beam of light to his or her preference. The clip can be strapped to the wide, adjustable, elastic collar provided by the manufacturer or to a regular flat collar. All of our testers liked using the light on the collar provided, so they could quickly pull it off over the dog’s head to use as a flashlight when needed, without turning the dog loose.
We really like the fact that the PupLight uses AAA batteries, so we can use environmentally friendly rechargeables. Single-use batteries are a major source of toxins in landfills and waste disposal incinerators.
In terms of sheer attractiveness at night, this product takes the cake. RuffWear used two strips of “electroluminescent wire” – one going down the length of each side of the coat – powered by two AAA batteries (and RuffWear encourages owners to use rechargeables, which we appreciate). The flexible wire is cool to the touch but glows with a light similar to that produced by neon, in a pretty shade of blue. Please note that the light does not provide the brightest light of the products here. The wire is stitched in place over a narrow strip of Scotchlite reflective material.
What we like: The vest makes it easy to see the dog in pitch black and in headlights. It can be set to blink on and off or stay lighted. If you remove the battery pack from its pocket in the back of the vest, you can hand-wash and line-dry the vest.
What we don’t like: It’s pricey compared to other products here. We wish the lighted and reflective strips were wider, for even greater visibility.
Visiglo makes three different types of battery-powered light-up collars and leashes. “Sport” models feature “pulsating electro-luminescence” – similar to the neon-looking strip of light used in RuffWear’s Lighted Lab Coat, but, um . . . pulsating. “Fashion” models are not quite as bright, but feature a flashing “electro-luminescent animation” with bones or pawprints. Brightest of all are the “LED” models – which utilize “cascading light-emitting diodes” – extremely small but extremely bright flashing lights.
What we like: If we were looking to make our dogs as stylish as possible in a low-light situation, or as highly visible as possible in a super-dark environment, we’d use Visiglo products. They are bright and frenetic. The lights in the “Sport” and “LED” models are visible from either side of the flat leashes (the lights on the “Fashion” models are visible from only one side of the leash). Each type of model is available in several colors and patterns.
What we don’t like: As someone who suffers migraine headaches, which are often aggravated by bright light, I could barely stand to test these products in an extremely dark environment; they are just too bright and frenetic, especially the models that use LED lights. In fact, their packages warn that they are not appropriate for use by people who suffer from photosensitive epilepsy! It seemed to me that the leashes even put off some of our more sensitive test dogs (the light of their own collars doesn’t shine right in their eyes, of course). They are less offensive in low-light (rather than pitch-black) situations. A “constant light” mode is not available.
As a minor point, I’m not crazy about the type of metal snaps used on the leashes, and I found the plastic clips used on the collars to be rather unwieldy. (This last feature is a necessary evil, since the snap also houses the collar’s batteries and on/off button. But it’s not like these products are meant to be any dog’s everyday collar or leash.) Finally, the Sport and Fashion models make tiny beeping noises when turned on – which went unnoticed by all but our most sensitive and noise-phobic test dog.
Dog e Lites makes a wide range of products featuring twinkling LED lights. Again, though these lights are tiny, they can be seen from a great distance in the dark, though their shine can be lost in low-light situations. Fortunately, Dog e Lites also includes a strip of reflective material on each collar, leash, and harness, to provide visibility in the glare of car headlights.
What we like: We especially liked the step-in harness, which has reflective material on each strap, and lights across the front. We put this harness on a black dog to illustrate how much more visible it makes him at night.
What we don’t like: The lights and reflective material appear on only one side of the leash, which is also a little narrow, making it less comfortable in the hand.
The Beacon is the first of several pendant-style lights, meant for hanging on a dog’s collar or harness, that we tested. This type of light is meant to help the dog be seen, but doesn’t do anything to help a dog owner see where she is going.
The Beacon is a very sturdy, compact, bright light. It contains four LED lights inside a red plastic lens, and is made to fasten in any number of ways to a dog or dog handler. It comes equipped with a ring (for hanging like an ID tag on a dog’s collar ring) and a plastic clip, which can be used to clip the light onto the dog’s collar, harness, leash, or coat – or to his owner’s pocket or bait bag. The light can blink slowly or fast, or burn steadily.
We gave this pendant-style light a slightly lower rating for a couple reasons. First, it’s more difficult to turn on and off; you have to press the button really hard sometimes to get it to work. This made us think, several times, that the batteries were dead. Also its metal clip is difficult to open and close.
On the plus side, it is available in red or white; we like the white light. When pressed into service as a miniature flashlight, it helps an owner see better than the red light. With its rounded shape, we suspect that this light is also more comfortable for the dog to wear, as it bobs against his chest as he moves. The light can blink or burn steadily.
We tested five different Glow Dog reflective products: a vest (they call it a “jacket,” but it really provides only reflection, not warmth), a six-foot leash, a collar, a bandanna, and what Glow Dog calls a “Bunchie” – kind of a dog-neck-sized scrunchie. Each of these products is made with fabrics that have been completely covered with a “patented retro-reflective technology” the maker calls “Illuminite.” When a light shines on this material, the entire surface reflects brightly. All of the products show up extremely well, but the jacket provides an entire dog-shaped reflective silhouette that is instantly recognizable to a driver.
Once again, we found that our testers did not want to return these products – a great testimonial.
What we like: Glow Dog products are made with nice, light-weight but strong materials. They are available in several colors; all reflect at night in a bright white color. The maker also offers dozens of products for human use; see illuminite.com.
What we don’t like: There isn’t much to say here, except to note that the Glow Dog collar is for visibility only; it lacks a ring to clip a leash onto.
Ultra Paws offers two perfectly nice reflective safety products for dogs: a lightweight vest and a medium-weight, fleece-lined coat. Each has two ¾-inch-wide strips of reflective material sewn to each side of the garment. The products provide more reflective material than many competitors we saw advertised, but not nearly as much as Glow Dog’s products.
We purposely photographed these products on a black dog to show how much more visible a dog is when wearing a reflective product when walking near cars at night.
There is nothing fancy about this reflective collar (see photo below), which is made by Sellwood Dog Supply as part of its made-in-the-USA Gold Paw Series. But there is nothing shoddy about it, either! And, in contrast to Glow Dog’s collar, it is made with a sturdy ring to fasten a leash to. It’s a well-made, attractive collar that reflects well at night, and could work well as a dog’s everyday collar, too.