As the clocks go back next Sunday (28th October) at the end of British Summer Time, millions of dog owners in the UK will be walking their dogs in the dark when they come home from work. Road casualty statistics show that there is an 18 per cent rise during the winter months in the number of pedestrians killed or seriously injured in road accidents: it's darker, wetter and windier out there.
Road traffic accidents - RTA's - are the most common cause of serious injury to pet dogs. While it's true that many accidents happen when dogs are out on their own, a surprising number happen to dogs that are accompanied by their owners. And even more surprisingly, dogs can even be hit by cars while on the leash. I remember one case, where an owner was walking on a narrow footpath, with their dog on one of those extendable leashes. It was a dark evening, with poor visibility. Cars were swooshing by at speed. A cat darted out of some bushes beside the road, and the terrier leapt after it without thinking, straight into traffic. The oncoming car braked heavily, but couldn't avoid hitting the dog. The unfortunate owner was left shocked, with a badly injured dog at the end of his leash.
It's important to take steps to ensure that you - and your dog - are as safe as possible during those evening walks in the winter. The UK's biggest dog charity, Dogs Trust, has put together some useful tips to help.
- Keep control of your dog and don’t let him off lead unless you are in a safe area which is well lit
- Wear high visibility clothing such as jackets, vests or reflective strips on your clothes so you can be easily seen by motorists
- A reflective collar and lead or a high visibility coat or flashing collar will also increase your dog’s visibility in the dark
- Work out a winter dog walking route which, in urban areas, includes both wide pavements and bright street lighting
- If there is no pavement, walk against the flow of the traffic and keep your dog on the side farthest from the road
- Carry a torch which will help you be seen and also enable to you see to pick up your dog’s mess. Or, consider a head torch so your hands are free
- Walking in groups can be safer than on your own
- If possible, take your dog in the car to a place where you can walk away from the roadside. Many parks and sports fields have lighting but always check that dogs are allowed first
- Make sure your dog is well trained and responsive to commands. For helpful tips on training, visit www.dogstrust.org.uk