Why Is My Dog Afraid of the Dark?

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When you turn off the lights — whether it's for nap time, nighttime or just to save electricity — does your dog get anxious? Have you ever noticed that your dog might be afraid of the dark? If so, know that you aren't alone. "Are dogs afraid of the dark?" is a common question from pet owners. Check out these possible reasons a dog might be afraid of the dark, and learn how to help your dog feel more comfortable when the lights go out.

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety may be the reason why your pet appears to be afraid of the dark, but how do you know if your dog is stressed while alone? Some obvious signs include destructive behaviors when you are gone, such as digging through the trash or chewing on items they shouldn't be like shoes or a couch. Other signs that your pet may be experiencing this anxiety is if they relieve themselves in the home when you are out or if you return to find them cowering under the bed or in a corner. Remember, it can also occur if your dog sleeps separated from the family, such as in a crate in a different room or if they slumber on the first floor while your family sleeps on the second floor.

Now, if you partner separation anxiety with dark spaces, you'll might have a good answer to why your dog might be afraid of the dark. The fear of the dark may be caused because when the lights go out, it triggers your dog to think that they'll be left alone, possibly for extended periods of time.

To remedy this situation, start with keeping lights on when you aren't home. This doesn't mean you need to leave on every light in the house, but do so in the spaces your pet spends most of their time. With today's technologies, you can also set lights on timers or use smart devices to turn them on when it gets dark outside.

You may also want to consider working with a dog trainer to help your pet feel confident in your absence. If your dog is experiencing separation anxiety, the darkness may be only one of their triggers. To remove the fear completely, behavioral training may be necessary. Not sure who to hire? Ask your veterinarian for recommendations or consult a certified veterinariy behaviorist.

Closeup portrait of black Labrador dog on black background

Bad Vision

According to Animal Planet, dogs can see in the dark better (although differently) than humans. So it might seem strange that a dog would become anxious by darkness. However, the dark might worsen vision for dogs who are already experiencing vision problems. Low light or no light at all might make their sight even less predictable, causing them to bump into things, fall down or get hurt in other ways.

First, work with your veterinarian to determine how to address your dog's needs when they're experiencing problems with their vision. Then, set your dog up for success. This might mean installing a light strip above the baseboards in your hallway so there's a constant stream of light near your dog's line of sight. Or, you may want to keep a dog-friendly area of your home that's always lit, and train your pet how to access the space without getting injured.

Previous Trauma

If you have a rescue dog and notice they seem to be afraid of the dark, the answer may exist in your dog's past, though it's unlikely you'll know what happened. It could be that they were separated from their canine family at a young age or lived through a traumatic event, such as being left for long periods of time in a dark space, like Lily Jane, a dog who spent seven years in a dark barn, reported The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). While you may never be able to pinpoint the exact reason why your pet is afraid of the dark, there are some things you can to do to get them feeling more comfortable when the lights go out.

Health Conditions

While there isn't likely to be a health condition that only affects your dog's feelings about dark spaces, there are plenty of health conditions that can exacerbate their uneasiness. Cognitive disorders that can cause a dog to get disoriented, can only make things worse in the dark. In these cases, make sure to bring up your concerns with your veterinarian; they can help provide recommendations to ease your dog's anxiety as it relates to their particular condition.

If your dog is afraid of the dark, there are some simple things you can do to help. Consider keeping a light on and provide comfort items and reassurance to your pet. Nightlights might help your dog feel less afraid. You could also use lights that turn on when motion is detected and gradually change the bulb from bright to low light to help your dog adjust. But the best way to help your dog get over their fear of the dark? Spend some time with them in the dark and let them know that everything is okay. Dogs are very perceptive and pick up on their owner's emotions and feelings. If you are calm and easy in the dark, chances are your dog will start to feel the same way.

Contributor Bio

Erin Ollila

Erin Ollila

Erin Ollila is a pet enthusiast who believes in the power of words and how a message can inform—and even transform—its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print, and includes interviews, ghostwriting, blog posts, and creative nonfiction. Erin is a geek for SEO and all things social media. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.