Should You Leave Your Dog In the Dark?

November 13, 2012

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

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Pet Foods.

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  1. Sharon says:

    I got my precious Pittie, Bella, when she was 5 months old (she was a ‘return’ dog). Since I got her in September. I have always leave my stove light on in the kitchen (open floor plan kitchen/living room) and I have kid’s nightlights in other rooms. She loves to visit everyone’s rooms during the night. One night, we left and forgot to leave any lights on, when we returned home, she tripped over her small basket of toys getting to the door to greet us. Never forgot to leave the lights on after that. Bella is very precious to me and I don’t want her to get hurt in a dark house.

  2. Sandra says:

    I have been won over 100%! He’s a Lab / pei mix named Moose. He was 6 yrs when I moved inheritance 11yrs today. He follows me around all day, we walk, we play, he has learned to do tricks, has toys now to play with that he loves, is a fantastic guard dog and has made my won my heart. We have a very large grassy yard fully fenced. A dogs dream yard. Cleaned daily, lots of fresh water and grain free kibble. what can I add to his life that will make his senior years easier on him. I a noticing he’s having a bit of joint discomfort and have heard of a supplement glucosomean? sp…

  3. Taylor says:

    Smurfette is my first puppy, she’s almost 4, and we have taught each other a lot. I’ve always been a cat person but smurfie is continues to surprise me with how smart she and protective she is. I brought her home from her foster home when she was 2 months old and she go a tour of my house and then went for a walk. It happened to be trash day and suddenly she stopped and started shaking and gave me a pleading look. I immediately picked her up and walked us back home through neighbors yards. We finally got home and she peed in the backyard and I comforted her until the trucks left for the day. She still acts that way and will hold bladder until she feels it’s safe. I’ve also taught her to ring the jingle bells on the door when she needs to got out. I also trained her to bark a certain bark if she needs food or water. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be, you just have to have a lot of treats on hand or a different flavor kibble to use as a treat.

    1. Helga says:

      That’s awesome that you took the time to observe, protect and train your pup. I’m sure you will agree that by doing these things you and your pup have bonded.

  4. Julia says:

    I have a Yorkie with liver shunt, which causes neurological problems. He was very afraid of the dark as a puppy and didn’t want to go outside at night. We took walks at night until he felt more comfortable, which thankfully was very successfully. I leave a nightlight on in the garage where he sleeps all the time since he still gets a little spooked by noises at night. Running a fan or heater downs out the noises and helps him sleep better too.

  5. Tony says:

    should you leave at lease one door in the kennel/ cage exposed to light during hurricanes and lighting in my case the dog will only be in their for sometimes as little as 20 mins, “just purchased Kennel”

  6. Bob Peterson says:

    You should refer also to your other topic about wiskers. Dogs do find there way better in the dark because of thier very sensitive wiskers even in total darkness. I do leave at least a night light on. Chief is not afraid of the dark but I do it anyway.

  7. Eliana says:

    Well, I let Lola out at night and leave her for about 2 to 3 min to go and we have a light in the back to help me and her see( also I am afraid of the dark) but when the light goes off and I forget to let her in I rush out to get her wondering if I’m scaring her by so that! I want my dog to feel safe but I can’t exactly determine if she’s scared of the dark outside.

  8. Gracie Plant says:

    Would it be a good idea to give the dog a small night light so it can see better

  9. Horace Velasquez says:

    I often worry that my dog may fall in the pool when it’s dark. Can they see or sense the water

    1. Balgram says:

      I’ve heard too many stories of dogs not recognizing pool covers and crashing into unwelcome baths to think they can sense the water. When taking your dog somewhere with a pool, introduce them to the area quickly, and make sure they understand there’s water under the cover! As the article mentioned, they have pretty good memorization skills and should be able to avoid it on their own. Doesn’t hurt to check on them every now and then in unexpected blackouts, though.

  10. Argelia says:

    I think my dog is afraid of the dark. During the day, he’ll be in and out of my house as he pleases, but at night, he wont go out to pee or poo unless someones with him. Is this a sign of fear?

  11. Laurel Rose says:

    I found an app that I was able to install on my phone & my laptop that I keep at home that uses the built in webcam so I can check in on my dogs while I’m not there. Even if they aren’t in view, I can get a sense if their napping or if my puppy is howling for me. A word of warning- you may be very shocked or surprised the first time you log into view! I don’t want to seem like I’m spamming but the app I use was $3 for each download & I’m pretty sure it works on Android, iPhone, PC & Mac. Just thought Id mention!

  12. Kristen says:

    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.

  13. Eddie says:

    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.

  14. anna says:

    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.

    1. Hose A says:

      your dog is probably blind/has cataracts.

  15. Marg says:

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