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 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 back gardens, late-night walks, or a shadowy room, some dogs get anxious. They might avoid these areas, and even hurt themselves trying to escape them in the dark. Signs of dog anxiety include:
- Restless pacing
- Toilet accidents
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 can 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.
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 have their eyesight checked. From cataract formation to glaucoma, canine vision problems are serious conditions that need to be addressed by a medical professional.
If you’ve taken your dog 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 realise that the dark isn’t actually scary.
- Expose your dog gradually to the darkness with plenty of treats and praise
- Take it a few minutes at a time
- Respond to your dog’s cues; let them go at their own pace
It is possible to teach any dog new tricks—or to help them get over a frustrating phobia. If night walks are a source of stress, take it slowly. Before you take your dog 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.
Once they seem ready, head outside. Again, high-value treats and patience will be your best friends in this process.
To help your dog with nighttime anxiety, consider moving their crate or bed into a designated dog-safe area of your bedroom if they don’t already join you there. If this isn’t desirable or possible, add a night light to their usual sleeping space, along with plenty of comforts.
If your dog suffers from true separation anxiety, you may need extra support from a trainer or canine behaviourist. You can read more about canine separation anxiety here.
Light-Up Collars and Leads for Comfort and Safety
In addition to adding a simple night light in your dog’s sleeping area, using LED and reflective dog products may reduce your dog’s anxiety when walking at night. They also improve visibility in case your dog slips away. Many pet parents report loving them on camping trips—and others have noted they work well for indoor-outdoor cats.
A light-up lead or collar isn’t likely to eliminate your dog’s fear of the dark, but it can be a helpful tool in conjunction with training.
Well-rated for durability, waterproof, and affordable, this clip-on light not only makes it easy to see where your dog is but gives them a personal light source that goes where they go.
Ruffwear is known for their high-quality outdoor gear for dogs, and The Beacon is no exception. Like the SportDOG, you simply clip it onto your dog’s collar.
A well-rated, affordable option that gets high marks from pet parents
While more expensive, this well-reviewed light-up vest makes your dog quite visible at night! Note that it’s a vest more than a harness, despite its name.
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.
As silly as it may seem for a dog to be afraid of the dark, we want our furry 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.