5 min read


Can Dogs Be Scared of the Dark?



5 min read


Can Dogs Be Scared of the Dark?


Children everywhere are afraid of the dark. The light goes off and the fear creeps in. What if the boogieman comes? 

Do you ever turn off the lights and wonder if your dog might be afraid of the dark? Is that possible? Dogs are the sweetest creatures, and they love their humans so much. Sometimes, when we go to bed, our dogs howl and cry. Is it because they are afraid of the dark? 

We all want our dogs to be happy and safe. But how can we make sure our dogs always feel that safety? Maybe dogs need night-lights, too! 


Signs That Dogs Are Afraid of the Dark

Dogs can be afraid of the dark! When the lights go off and dogs start crying, there are a number of things that could be causing fear. Dogs frequently experience separation anxiety when their owners leave.

Maybe your dog is not afraid of the dark, maybe he just doesn't want to be apart from you. Another possibility is that your dog is having some sight issues. Dogs can actually see better in the dark than humans can. If your dog is having trouble seeing in general, darkness may not help the situation. That could produce an anxious response from your dog when you turn off the lights. 

If both of these scenarios are ruled out, your dog is probably afraid of the dark. When the lights are turned down and it's time to unwind and go to bed, your dog might have other plans. In an attempt to hold your attention and keep you in the room, your dog may jump up on you to signal that he does not want to be left alone.

When walking into a darkened place, you'll notice that your dog is afraid of the dark if he tries to turn around or sits and refuses to move. This is probably because of a perceived danger. It's possible that your dog is just afraid of the unknown, something we can all relate to. 

You'll know your dog is afraid of the dark if he tucks his tail between his legs once the lights go off. You may also notice quick pacing and a lot of sniffing. If you leave your dog alone in the dark, a scared dog may tear up things he knows he is not supposed to. 

Different breeds and personality types react differently to darkness. Be observant of your dog when you turn off the lights and watch for signs of fear or anxiety.

Body Language

These are some signs you might notice if your dog is afraid of the dark:

  • Whining
  • Shaking
  • Cowering
  • Chewing
  • Scratching

Other Signs

Here are some other signs you might notice if your dog is afraid of the dark:

  • Closed Posture
  • Scratching At The Door
  • Trying To Escape
  • Howling

History of Dogs Being Afraid of the Dark


Over 15,000 years ago, a beautiful friendship between wolf and human began. Grey wolves are where the dogs we love today came from. They were the first animal to be domesticated. The bond began out of a mutual need. Humans and wolves helped each other hunt and they protected each other from local predators such as other hunters or vicious animals. Wolves and humans found that they could both benefit from a friendship, the rest is history. 

Over time, the wolves began to look less like wolves and much more like dogs. The ones who were calmer, nicer, smarter and better hunters continued to be bred. Today it's hard to know how many breeds of dogs there are because so many different types of dogs have made their own special combination of puppies. 

As dogs grew closer to their loving humans, they began feeling safer. The safer they felt, the more fearful they became of dangerous situations. They want to avoid scary scenarios at all costs. Now that dogs rely more on humans for safety, they can be more fearful when they are on their own, especially in unknown situations. 

Now, many dogs struggle with anxiety disorders. Most frequently, they experience separation, anxiety and fear around new people. However, many dogs are afraid of the dark. Even though most dogs can see just fine in the dark, they can feel uneasy in darkened places. 

The Science of Dogs Being Afraid of the Dark


Dogs and wolves are now very different than they once were. However, dogs still have some of the same qualities as their wolf ancestors. For example, they have an impeccable sense of smell. They also have good night vision.  

Dogs do have better night vision than people in very low-light situations. This is because they have a special structure in the back of their eyes that reflects more light to the retina. Dogs also have larger pupils, which allows more light into their eye to be processed. There are more light-sensitive cells in the center of a dog's retina than there are in a human's retina. 

A dog's eyes are well-equipped to see in dim situations. The light-sensitive parts of their eyes are successful in low-light. What most helps a dog see in the dark is the tapetum. The tapetum is located in the retina. It reflects light, which allows darker areas to seem brighter. 

Training a Dog that is Afraid of the Dark


If your dog is afraid of the dark now, he does not need to be afraid of the dark forever. It can be heartbreaking when our dogs are anxious. If we could talk to them for 10 seconds, we'd probably tell them not to worry about the dark! 

We can teach our dogs to not be afraid of the dark by gradually training them. The best way to teach your dog that there is no need to fear the dark is by gradually exposing him to it and praising him all along the way. 

If you have dimmers on your lights at home, you can gradually lower the light so that your dog can get used to it - just like slowly entering a pool! If you are on a walk with your dog at night and he starts showing signs that he is scared, you can be patient and loving while he acclimates to the new level of light.

If you are in an unfamiliar place, you can give your dog treats as you enter the darkness. You can also speak to him in a positive, soothing tone to remind him that he is safe. Small dogs can be picked up and held for the first time entering an unfamiliar and dark place. The next time you go, they will be able to walk through the darkness. Each time dogs practice getting comfortable in unfamiliar places they get better and better until they are no longer anxious.

Another great way to teach your dog to relax in a dark setting is by playing with him in dim light. This could help your dog stop associating darkness with danger. Instead, when you play a small game of tug-of-war or just give lots of belly rubs, your dog will start to enjoy the dark. Eventually, he will feel peaceful in the dark instead of fearful. 

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By a Corgi lover Simone DeAngelis

Published: 02/07/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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