Some animals are nocturnal by nature, that is, they are most active at night, such as opossums and raccoons. Other animal like humans, are diurnal by nature, that is, they are most active during the day. Like the wolf ancestors that they descended from, dogs are neither nocturnal nor diurnal, but crepuscular.
Crepuscular animals are most active in twilight, which is the periods of the day around dusk and dawn. Also like wolves, to accommodate their lower light preference, they have even evolved a special reflective region of the retina that enhances vision in a lower light setting. This is why the eyes of wolves and dogs can seem to glow in low light when just small amounts of light reflect off the eyes.
Dogs can be incredibly adaptable and can seem to conform to human preferences in many aspects of life, including the periods when we tend to be most active. And while it is a dog’s general preference to be the most active in during the twilight periods of the day, it is not necessarily bad for the dog to be active alongside their humans when we generally choose to be the most active. However, it is wise to always be cognizant of the dog’s innate preference for a crepuscular existence and at least try to meet them part of the way.
From a training perspective, a dog is going to be the most alert, mentally acute, and receptive to learning during the twilight periods of the day. Therefore, you should aim to plan training sessions around dawn or dusk. This will enable your dog to get the most out of training sessions and optimally learn.
While for many of us, dawn is a bit on the early side to get up and walk our dogs and play with them, but you should not too much time elapse from dawn to start engaging with your dog. By their nature, they crave to be most active when the sun is lower, so a good compromise is to be certain let them out and engage with them no later than 60 to 90 minutes after dawn. While it will be brighter than sunrise, the sun will still be lower in the sky and your dog will far more relish play than he would with the sun much higher in the sky and brighter later in the day.
On the flip side, don’t try to keep your dog active late into the evening, as the dog’s mind and body are seeking rest and winding down the farther they get from dusk. At the same time, it is good policy to let them out to potty late enough that they will not have to go in the middle of the night, so a good rule of thumb is to have their final walk and potty outside 60 to 90 minutes after dusk.
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms. He is the author of his top selling memoir The Man In The White Coat: A Veterinarian’s Tail Of Love. In addition to this writing this blog, Dr. Welton also hosts the popular Space Coast Pet Podcast. He is the CEO and chief attending veterinary of Premier Veterinary Care in Viera, FL.