There are plenty of stories out there about kids being afraid of the dark. After all, that’s when the Boogeyman, ghosts, and other monsters emerge! But what about our furry, four-legged friends? Are dogs afraid of the dark, too? Turns out, the answer can be ‘yes.’ Though a fear of the dark isn’t super-common in dogs, it does sometimes occur.
Why Are Dogs Afraid of the Dark?
When encountering dark backyards, late-night walks, or a shadowy room, some dogs can get anxious. They might avoid areas (sometimes hurting themselves trying to escape them in the dark), salivate, restlessly pace, relieve themselves or whimper and bark.
This anxiety is probably not because they can’t see in the dark. In fact, your dog’s night vision is better than yours, unless your dog has a vision problem (and that’s worth checking out with your vet.) Rather, your dog’s seeming fear of the dark is likely more about being on high alert as their heightened sense of smell and keen hearing kick in. The world at night might seem full of hidden threats and dangers in the form of strange smells, sounds, and movements.
It’s also possible that dogs who seem scared of the dark actually suffer from separation anxiety. This is a fairly common occurrence, when dogs who fear being separated from their humans become distraught and destructive when left alone.
That Darn Good Doggie Vision
When it comes to low-light situations, dogs have much better vision than we do. This is because dogs have a special structure in the back of their eyes called the tapetum, which reflects more light into the retina, making their sight excellent even in dim situations.
So for dogs, the smallest night light, streetlight, or even the moon can help illuminate the darkness. However, anywhere that’s absolutely pitch-dark (such as an interior room with no light source) would limit a dog’s vision significantly. In these cases, dogs are as vulnerable as we are since there’s no light for their tapetum to amplify.
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Helping Dogs Overcome Their Fear of the Dark
Worried that your pup might be afraid of the dark? Before jumping to conclusions, it’s wise to make sure nothing else is going on with their vision.
Especially if the fear seems to have come out of nowhere, you’ll want to check that other health issues aren’t affecting their vision or mental well-being. From cataract formation to glaucoma, some issues are serious conditions that need to be addressed by a medical professional
If you’ve taken Fido to the vet and ruled out any health problems, there are a few other steps you can take. One of the best things to do? Train them to realize that the dark isn’t actually scary. Expose them gradually to the darkness (with plenty of treats and praise provided) and help them slowly acclimate.
It is possible to teach any dog new tricks—or to help them get over a frustrating phobia. Before you take them outside at night, try hanging out with them in dim lighting indoors. Play, give them snacks, scratch their belly—make it a fun place to be and they’ll eventually stop being so scared.
To sum it up, here are some things that you can do if you think your dog is afraid of the dark:
- Give them treats if they react well to the dark—it’s amazing how powerful positive reinforcement can be.
- Let there be light! Whether that means a night light in the evening, or illuminating lamps when you’re leaving them alone, try to make your dog as comfortable as possible.
- Take them to the vet. Then you can rule out any health issues that may be affecting their vision.
Remember, as silly as it may seem for a dog to be afraid of the dark, we want our furry best friends to be happy, healthy and safe. That means properly addressing their fears and anxieties. After all, they take care of us and depend on us to take care of them—especially when it comes to the Boogeyman.