Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Should You Leave Your Dog In the Dark?

By Tamara McRill

Know that feeling when pulling into the driveway at night, flush with shopping success, only to be slammed with guilt because you didn’t leave any lights on for your dog? Yeah, me too. After I run inside to pet the dogs, I always wonder: Are dogs okay with being left in the dark?

Not just that, but is it also safe for dogs to be in the dark? Can they see?

Generally Better Night Vision

Obviously, that can depend on your dog, but it turns out it may also depend on just how dark it is in the house. 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.

So your furry housemate is going to make out more looking out the window at night than you will, but that is due to their eyes being able to better utilize the small quantities of light available. Say, from other lit up windows, streetlights or the moon.

Pitch Dark Navigation

When it comes to pitch black darkness, though, dogs can see about as well as we can. Which is pretty much nothing. Wait, but your dog can navigate the living room with absolutely no light? I believe you, but chances are it is because of his ability to quickly memorize the layout of the room.

For example: We had a town-wide blackout for five nighttime hours this summer. The dogs walked around just fine, until I moved some pop boxes in the kitchen. Dusty tripped over them on his way through, because he couldn’t see them and they weren’t there the last time he was in the kitchen.

So your dog can probably navigate your home in the dark, just from memory. It’s even easier for them if a streetlight or other light source is shining in the window. Same goes for them being outside at night.

But Do Dogs Like the Dark?

This could be a generic “depends on your dog” answer, but I think there’s more to it. The biggest question is: Does your dog feel safe in the dark? If she does, then she may not hold it against you if you forget to turn the lights on.

My chocolate Lab, Wuppy, likes to have his cage completely covered, except the door. He also sleeps in my closet, when he can sneak in there. BUT, that’s only if there is someone in the house. Otherwise he doesn’t feel safe and total darkness makes him yip and cry. That’s why his cage is in my office – the streetlight shines in the window.

Cody likes the television on to keep him company at night, but Dusty just sees the dark as a good opportunity to take a nap.

Signs Your Dog is Afraid of the Dark

If your dog doesn’t show any signs of being upset while being left alone in the dark, then he is probably okay with it. Here are some things to look out for:

- Trash being drug out.
- They tore something up.
- Your dog is abnormally upset when you come home.
- They went to the bathroom in the house.
- You find them hiding.
- Hurt claws, like they were digging at the door.

Also be sure to ask the neighbors if your dog barked while you were gone. If your dog normally does any of these things while you are gone, it can be harder to tell. Although, they may suffer from separation anxiety if habitually engaging in these behaviors while you are gone is common.

If you’re still not sure if the dark is one of the things your dog is scared of, then a darkness-sensing nightlight may keep their potential anxiety – and your guilt – at bay.

How does your dog like darkness? Will they go outside at night?

Top photo by Brooke Raymond
Bottom photo by Marco Wiedmann

Read more articles by Tamara McRill


  1. I don't think my dog is afraid of the dark. I never noticed if they are. But it is an interesting subject.

  2. My dog is fine with the dark, but he has surprisingly terrible night vision. I can take a picture with the flash on, and all the other dogs will have an eye flare from the reflective disc except him. He is also quite afraid of people in the dark because of his poor night vision.

  3. Buy a energy saving bulb and leave the light on before you leave the house and leave the radio on talk radio so they hear conversation most people have a complete quiet home or apartment and because of their hearing ability and sound would drive them nuts or you can leave the TV on.
    And yes if you find them hiding or crouched to the ground when you walk in then frighten issues are visible.
    Nice article.

  4. Mine is afraid of the dark, because she only barks when there is a strange noise at night. During the day, she just perks her ears. She's not afraid of thunder though.


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