Are Dogs Afraid of the Dark?

Fear is natural among dogs as they are capable of complex emotions. They worry about predators and threats that can put both of you in danger.

But being vigilant is more difficult in low-light environments. Dogs can’t gather enough information with their senses, so they might become afraid.

Are dogs afraid of the dark? Yes, but it happens rarely, and is usually caused by something other than the dark.

Learn about how much dogs can see in the dark and find the reasons why your dog might be scared at night. 

You can take a closer look at signs that your dog is afraid of the dark, determine the underlying reason for your dog’s sudden fear, and find out how to help them conquer it.

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Dogs afraid of the dark

Are Dogs Afraid of the Dark?

Rarely. It’s not common for dogs to be afraid of the dark, especially because their night vision is sharper than ours.

Their eyes have more light-sensitive cells than ours.

But dogs can be afraid of the dark, although it’s usually not an isolated issue. Their fear of the dark may just be a sign or symptom of an even bigger problem. 

Your veterinarian won’t diagnose your dog with “nyctophobia”. There is no such thing in the doggie world. 

Your dog’s fear of the dark may be because of separation anxiety or eyesight deterioration. It can also be a result of trauma from puppyhood that has led to other behavioral problems.  

But it’s never because they feel threatened or more vulnerable in the dark. And no, they are not afraid of ghosts. 

Dogs also have a powerful sense of smell, which makes them alert and knowledgeable of their surroundings despite the low-light scenario.

There is currently a lack of evidence related to dogs and their fear of the dark. However, dogs with high separation anxiety may be more susceptible to this rare case. 

These breeds include:

  • Yorkshire Terrier
  • Chihuahuas
  • Greyhounds
  • Bichon Frise
  • Border Collie
  • German Shepherd.

If you’re planning to get a dog in your poorly lit house, choose a dog breed with low separation anxiety

Can Dogs See in the Dark?

No. They do have sharper night vision than humans, but dogs cannot see in full darkness. 

In short, no dog can see if it is completely dark. However, they only need a small amount of light to be able to perceive shapes and forms.

Dogs do not see well in terms of color. They only recognize blue and yellow, but they are good with light.

They have more light-sensitive cells than us and these are called rod cells. They compensate for your dog’s lack of cone cells or the cells that detect color.

Their numerous rod cells in the retina mean they can detect images better in low-light scenarios. The retina is also close to the lens, making their vision much brighter.

Dogs also have a tapetum lucidum, which reflects light into their retina to aid vision. This membrane is located at the back of their eye.

For our furry friends, a small night light, streetlight, or even just the moon is enough for them to see in the darkness. 

Signs Your Dog is Afraid of the Dark

While it is not common, dogs can become scared of the dark. Some signs to look for include the following:

  • They are tucking their tail between their hind legs when the lights are already off.
  • Your dog is trying to sit still and refuse to move in the dark place.
  • They whimper, whine, or pant at night or when you turn off the lights.
  • They are scratching at your door if they are outside your room.
  • Your dog hides somewhere unusual or somewhere with less poor lighting.
  • They are more startled by outside noises during the night and the day.
  • They get unusually upset when you come home.
  • Your dog gets scared by noises in no-light or low-light situations.

If your puppy shows any signs of fear in the dark, then you have to do something to help them. You can leave a nightlight on or train them to stop being scared.

If you have a puppy, they may show these signs not because they are scared, but because they don’t want to be alone.

Leaving your puppy alone may cause an early onset of separation anxiety.

Why Are Dogs Afraid of the Dark?

Here are some possible reasons why your dog is afraid of the dark.

Canine History

As dogs grew closer to humans and left the wild, they began feeling safer. In the wild, they were vulnerable to predators and hunters. 

The safer your dog feels now, the more anxious they can get in stressful situations.

Because they do not live in packs with other dogs anymore, they try their best to avoid scary situations. 

They rely on us for safety. And when we are out of their sight, they develop fear and anxiety. They feel uneasy despite seeing just fine in the dark.

Sometimes, they are not afraid at all. They just get more alert as their heightened sense of smell and hearing make up for their lack of vision. 

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety may be the cause of your dog’s fear of the dark.

Some signs of separation anxiety in dogs include:

  • digging
  • urinating and defecating
  • barking and howling
  • escaping
  • chewing
  • cowering.

Separation anxiety is most likely to occur if your dog has moved to a new environment, lost a loved one, or suffered from abandonment.

It is also likely to happen when you’ve given them so much attention that they can’t stand being alone anymore. 

You may not be visible to your dog in the dark, which explains why they are showing signs of fear of the dark. It triggers past experiences like being alone for a long time. 

Remember that your dog’s fear of the dark is not because of unjustified worrying of being alone or being in an unfamiliar place.

It’s because they have associated darkness with traumatic experiences in the past like being left alone for a long time or their sad moments in the shelter. 

Aside from separation anxiety, they may also associate the dark with being attacked by other animals in low-light situations or terrifying fireworks during a nighttime walk.

Health Conditions

Several health conditions can also explain your dog’s uneasiness in the dark. 

A medical problem is more likely the reason if your dog shows the same behavior when there’s light and if they are showing other signs of pain, such as:

  • limping
  • mobility problems
  • excessive grooming
  • changes in personality
  • restlessness
  • changes in eating, drinking, and sleeping habits
  • excessive drooling
  • changes in eyes
  • vomiting
  • shaking
  • irregular bowel movements
  • excessive shedding.

Aside from physical pain, cognitive disorders may also result in your dog’s disorientedness which makes things worse in the dark.

Bad Vision

Dogs can see better in the dark than humans. If they suddenly feel afraid of the dark when they were not like this before, it could be because their vision has worsened.

They don’t see as well in the dark as they used to. In low-light or no-light situations, their eyesight is less predictable.

This is more likely to be the reason for your dog’s fear if they are always bumping into things, falling, or getting hurt in the dark.

This can put your dog in danger. Make sure to get your dog’s eye checked and leave a light on for them to avoid injuries. 

Some common vision problems in dogs include:

  • Glaucoma
  • Epiphora
  • Corneal ulcers
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Dry eye
  • Cataracts
  • Uveitis
  • Cherry eye
  • Keratitis
  • Tumor/Cancer.

Some of these eye problems are benign and temporary, while others last a lifetime and are degenerative. Others can be treated through surgery.

Are dogs scared of the dark

Factors That Affect Your Dog’s Fear of the Dark

Your dog’s vision can be a contributing factor in their fear of the dark. So, what influences your dog’s eye problems, and what do you need to look for?

  • Trauma. Your dog may have their eyesight damaged if they were involved in an accident or injury in the past.
  • Age. Senior dogs are more likely to develop eye problems because their tissues are more easily damaged.
  • Breed. Some dog breeds are more prone to eye diseases because of their genes, especially brachycephalic dogs.
  • Underlying health problems. Some infections or diseases cause your dog’s eyesight to deteriorate.

Dogs rarely get afraid of the dark. But they may feel uncomfortable in this situation if their eyesight is declining. It can also cause them trauma.

If you have noticed your dog seems suddenly afraid of the dark you should consider some of these factors and bring them up with your vet to determine the underlying issue.

Does a Full Moon Affect Dogs? 

You might notice your dog becoming very alert and aware of their surroundings every time you walk them in the dark.

They search in the bushes or bark at nearby houses, and you don’t know why.

Many think this is because of the full moon. Walking your dog during a full moon results in wary behaviors. But there is not enough evidence to prove this. 

These are merely observations and based on experience. Walking them during a full moon makes them more agitated and alert probably because of the shadows. 

They become more cautious of reflective objects along the road, thinking it is a threat. This includes shadows of traffic cones or a cyclist with a small torch. 

These shadows emerge from the moon which scares them even more. The unusual noises in the dark can also make them more afraid.

Do dogs fear the dark

My Dog is Suddenly Scared at Night

If your dog is suddenly scared at night whether or not the lights are on, it can be because they have poor eyesight or are stressed out. 

If your puppy is still young, it’s normal for them to be scared of their environment especially when it’s nighttime. This restlessness goes away with proper training and socialization.

Learn what to do if your dog is suddenly scared at night before the behavior snowballs into a lifetime fear.

It’s also possible that they have poor eyesight. As mentioned, dogs can’t be scared of the dark for no reason.

Your dog’s vision might be declining if they are suddenly scared at night when they weren’t like this before.

How to Help a Dog Who is Afraid of the Dark

It’s not the dark itself that’s making your dog afraid of the dark. Understanding the root cause will help reduce their fear.

If your dog is afraid of the dark, try to make them more comfortable with the following tips.

Give Your Dog Attention Before Bedtime

Allot a few minutes to an hour of playtime with your dog so that they will be tired and more likely to sleep through the night.

It can be any indoor game with your dog, a walk, or simple cuddles and kisses.

Anything that will mentally stimulate your dog and will make them feel wanted is enough to give them a good night’s sleep.

Assistance Lighting

Some dog owners find that their dog is less agitated when they use lighting to minimize the situation. 

You don’t have to spend a lot of money on this. Remember that your dog is likely to be fine unless they are having vision issues.

If they are showing signs of anxiety, this may not be the solution. Remember that dogs can see well enough in the dark so they will not need light left on for them.

Letting them have the light on could only lead to fear of the dark as they grow old.

Floodlights and accent lighting at home can relieve your dog’s anxiety. 

You can also try using glowing collars or leashes for your dogs.

Remember that this does not completely help with poor vision. They can simply deter critters from stressing your dog out. 

Try the Blazin’ Safety LED Dog Collar. This collar comes in various sizes to fit different types of dog breeds, along with different colors for your dog’s preferences. 

It also offers great visibility of 350 yards so your dog can see and be seen in the dark. While it’s usually for visibility on the road, it can also assist their poor vision at home.

Blazin' Safety LED Dog Collar – USB Rechargeable with Water Resistant Flashing Light – Medium Blue

The collar is rechargeable and can run for more than 8 hours.

Try Calming Products

Calming products like hemp oil products or anti-anxiety chews can ease your dog’s anxious behavior. 

NaturVet Quiet Moments Calming Aid Dog Supplement, Helps Promote Relaxation, Reduce Stress, Storm Anxiety, Motion Sickness for Dogs (Quiet Moments Plus Hemp, 180 Soft Chews)

Try Hemp Dog Chews for dogs. A whole tub has 180 chews to relax your dog at night despite the external stressors. 

Only made with natural ingredients, these soft chews are great for dogs with hyperactivity, fear of fireworks, separation anxiety, and fear of groomers or the vet. 

These tasty chews don’t have a bad odor and any added fillers such as corn, dairy, soy, and artificial colors.

Ask for Professional Help

If you still don’t know why your dog is afraid of the dark, it’s time to seek the help of your veterinarian. They may recommend tests and medications for your dog’s eyesight.

However, if it seems like a behavioral problem, a veterinary behaviorist can help with your dog’s fear of the dark. They can identify why your dog fears the dark.

Take it Slowly

Don’t push your dog to overcome their fear right away. You wouldn’t want to be forced to jump into the pool when you don’t know how to swim yet.

Take things slowly if your dog is not yet comfortable sleeping in the dark. This is especially important if you are planning to let your dog stay outdoors.

Train them basic commands and teach them to see you as the pack leader to have a good foundation of a well-behaved dog.

Don’t force them out of their comfort zone too soon. Small progress is still progress. 

FAQ Dogs and Night Vision

Can Golden Retrievers See in the Dark?

Just like other dogs, Golden Retrievers have a lot of rods in their eyes. This means they can see better than us humans in low-light environments.

Rods are vision detectors that can detect dark and light. Even though they can’t distinguish colors, Golden Retrievers see well in the dark.

However, in a zero-light situation, they won’t be able to see anything.

This popular breed is known for being intelligent and family-friendly. 

Find out more about the Golden Retriever if you’re planning to adopt one.

Why is My Senior Dog Restless at Night?

If you have a senior dog that seems to be restless and agitated at night, they may be experiencing health and behavior-related issues. 

This is especially true if they weren’t sleepless before. 

For instance, your geriatric dog might experience pain at night which is causing them to lose sleep. Other signs of pain include pacing, panting, limited mobility, and excessive grooming.

Anxiety and cognitive dysfunction are also common among senior dogs. These issues might kick in at night when they feel alone or vulnerable. 

Treat your senior dog’s restlessness at night to make sure they live comfortably and happily.

What is a Dog’s Favorite Color?

Blue and yellow are a dog’s favorite colors since these appear to be the most vibrant to their eyes. 

These are also the colors that they can easily differentiate because they can only see red as a shade of brown, gray, or black. 

The same is true with bright orange despite orange dog toys being marketed as high-alert and high-contrast dogs. 

Learn how dogs see colors and the type of color-blindness they have so you can decide what color of dog toys, clothes, and tools to get.

Fix Your Dog’s Fear of the Dark.

It turns out that they are not afraid of the dark. Find the source of your dog’s fear or anxiety to determine the underlying cause.

What looks like fear of the dark is usually separation anxiety, fear of being attacked by another dog, reliving memories from the shelter, or pain.

If your dog isn’t afraid of the dark, then why do they stay on your pillow at night? Learn what to do if your dog sleeps on the pillow with you.