Should You Leave Your Dog In the Dark?

Reviewed By Kim •  Updated: 09/19/23 •  11 min read
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It’s hard enough to leave our canine fur babies home alone, but do you ever need to leave your dog alone in the evening or at night? Maybe you work the late shift, you’re going out for an evening with friends—there comes a time when it’s necessary to leave your canine friend at home alone for a while at night. When this happens, many people wonder if they should leave lights on for their pups, rather than leaving them alone in the dark.

You’ve come to the right place if you’ve had the same question. It’s not easy to think of leaving your beloved pet in the dark alone. We’ve done some research to help you answer this question. While there are no definitive answers, there are some things to consider and we’ve found some creative solutions for dogs that may even be afraid of the dark.

Dog’s Night Vision

This is a common question—can dogs see in the dark? The short answer is yes, but there are some things to keep in mind. Dogs do have better night vision than their pet parents. In fact, dogs can see better than we can in bright or dim light. However, it’s generally thought that dogs can’t see in the dark as well as their feline friends.

Our fur babies have evolved larger pupils and a higher number of light-sensitive rods in the retina to see better at night. Dogs also have another structure within their eyes that helps them see well in low light. This structure is called the tapetum, which acts as a light reflector.

In fact, the tapetum is what makes your fur baby’s eyes glow in a photo or at night when a light shines in their eyes

The tapetum lucidum is made of a layer of reflective cells that sit behind the retina. You might say the tapetum lucidum is something like a mirror that reflects light that enters the dog’s eye; it helps reflect more light into the retina.

The effect is that light increases, improving your fur baby’s vision in low-light conditions. Dogs are fortunate to have such aid with their night vision! Our eyes do not have a tapetum lucidum.

All this means that a dog can see better in dim lighting better than their pet parent. However, when it’s completely dark—as in no light at all—dogs are not able to see. If a dog is in a familiar environment in complete darkness, they can find their way around because they’ve memorized the layout of their home or environment. If a dog is in a new spot, with complete darkness, he will stumble around because he can’t see in complete darkness.

Should I Leave my Dog in the Dark?

While dogs can see in low light environments, should you leave your canine companion in the dark? No animal should be left alone in the dark for long periods of time. However, if you need or want to leave the house for a while in the evening, most dogs will do OK without lights until you get home.

Just like us, dogs are individuals and there are some dogs who are afraid of the dark. That may sound funny, but it’s a real issue for some of our canine friends. How can you tell if a dog’s afraid of the dark?

You may notice these behaviors if your dog or puppy is afraid of the dark:

Some of these signs are also similar to separation anxiety—in fact, these two conditions can co-exist. So, how can you tell what’s going on? One test to try is to leave your fur baby alone in the evening, but leave lights on in the house, or at least in the room where your dog will be crated or staying. Then go you can go outside for a while and see how your dog reacts. Or you can ask friends and neighbors to see if they notice your pup barking while you’re out. If your dog doesn’t bark, then he’s probably afraid of the dark.

Can your dog be afraid to go for a walk in the dark? Yes! You will never know what your dog can do when they are scared, they may not obey you and this will lead to bad and undesirable consequences. In such cases, they can be easily lost and in order to prevent your pet from this tragedy, you must definitely protect your dog in various ways. Nowadays, it is possible to do with the help of modern technologies. You can secure your dog with a GPS dog collar which will allow you to track your pet in real-time. The pet’s coordinates are tracked using geolocation systems and transmitted to the owner’s smartphone, so your pet will always be in sight.

If your dog barks, etc. he may be experiencing separation anxiety and may need a visit to the vet to make sure nothing else is causing his anxious behaviors

Should You Leave a Light on for Your Dog at Night?

It’s OK to leave your dog a light on at night. While fear of the dark isn’t common in dogs, some of our fur babies are truly afraid of being in the dark. You can help your pup with these simple solutions:

1). Try a nightlight: a simple nightlight in your dog’s favorite areas can make all the difference. If you crate your pup, then leaving a nightlight near his crate can help soothe his fear of the dark. You can find simple nightlights that you can turn on and off manually, or you might consider a nightlight with a light sensor. These lights simply turn themselves on and off—when the sensor detects darkness, the nightlight automatically turns on. When the sensor detects light, the nightlight turns itself off. You’ll find a wide range of nightlights to consider, such as the LED Concepts Pack of 2 Plug-In LED Night Lights. These lights are great as they won’t get hot, offer a warm white light and automatically turn off and on when plugged in. Just make sure your pup can’t reach any nightlight and try to chew it.

2). Light timers: another option is to use light timers on lamps and other lights in your home. If you won’t be home to turn the lights on when it gets dark, consider using timers. Timers are programmable, so you can count on the lights coming on according to the schedule you choose. This way, your pup won’t be sitting in the dark—the lights will come on automatically. Here’s a set of timers to consider—the TOGOAL TE02 (DT1800) Digital Timer Plugs.

3). Light bulbs with sensors: here’s another solution for pups afraid of the dark—light bulbs with built-in sensors. These work along the same lines as the nightlights with sensors. Built-in sensors detect light and dark—when it gets dark, the lights automatically come on. This way, if you don’t want to use a timer or a nightlight isn’t enough, your pup can enjoy regular light. Check out these energy saving sensor bulbs: Senor Lights Bulb Dusk to Dawn LED Light Bulbs. That way, you won’t have to worry about using more energy, as these light bulbs ensure your home energy use is sustainable and energy bills stay manageable.

These are so some low-tech, easily installed solutions to help your fur baby if he’s afraid of the dark. Another option to try is to use positive reinforcement training to ease your dog through his fear. You might help him relax in a dimly lit room or try playing his favorite games in a darker room. Treats can also be helpful when your dog tries to play with you in these situations. You may want to choose healthy, natural treats such as chicken hotdogs, cheese, pot roast, carrots, green beans, apples, or even your fur baby’s favorite kibble.

It might take some time and patience, but this method may help your pup to feel more relaxed and comfortable in the dark.

If these solutions don’t work, then it may be time to visit the vet. Your dog could have an underlying health problem with his eyes such as glaucoma, cataracts or other eye problems. Like we said earlier, it could also be a case of separation anxiety. Your vet will do a full exam to check for these and other health issues.

Are There Physical Conditions That Make Dogs Afraid of the Dark?

Yes (as mentioned above), there are certain physical conditions that could make your canine friend scared in the dark. These include various vision problems, such as the following:

Some dogs, such as Greyhounds and Whippets, may see differently in the dark. This issue is usually caused by the positioning of the dog’s eyes and snout, which can cause a difference in the quality of their vision.

If you suspect your dog may have a vision problem, it’s best to have him assessed by the vet.

Do Puppies Need Light at Night?

What about puppies? Does a light help them sleep at night? Just like adult dogs, some puppies may be afraid of the dark, especially if they’re in a new home and are with a new family. Some people say puppies should learn that “lights out” means it’s time to sleep. A puppy’s system works similar to ours—sleeping and waking times are controlled by melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep—when it gets dark, melatonin increases in the body. Turning off the lights can help regulate your puppy’s system and sleep.

However, if your puppy is truly afraid, you can try using a nightlight near his crate or in the room where he sleeps. Try one with a sensor and be sure your precious pup isn’t able to reach the nightlight and chew it up. Keep him safe by choosing night lights that are flat against the wall, as they’re more difficult for a puppy to reach and chew. You’ll help calm his fears and the light will automatically turn off and on. You’ll both get a better night’s sleep.

For puppies who are afraid of the dark, you can also try these methods to ease his fears:

Do Dogs Like to Sleep with the Light On or Off?

Your dog’s sleep patterns are similar to your own—he goes through several sleep cycles or stages each night. Dogs, also like us, are diurnal, which means that they’re active during the day and sleep during the night. However, they still like to take naps during the day. Dogs are happy with the light off or on when they sleep. Even so, to keep your dog’s sleep cycles regulated, it’s a good idea to turn off the lights. If he’s afraid of the dark, leaving nightlights on can help alleviate his fear.

Do dogs sleep better in the dark? Most dogs are just fine with the light that filters into your home during the night. You may live in a city or suburb with street lights that shine into your home. Even this low amount of light can help ease a dog’s fear of the dark. And most dogs do sleep better in the dark—their sleep cycles are adapted to ours. We hope this guide has helped you find some solutions if your dog isn’t comfortable or is even afraid of the dark. Try some of the methods listed here to see if you can help him cope with or overcome his fear of the dark.

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Kim is a talented author, who loves animals especially dogs. She engaged in writing books and articles relating to animals a decade ago. Kim resides in Chicago with her husband and son. The family is the proud owner of a dog and a parrot (Jack and Lily). Kim wanted more than these two pets, but her husband put his foot down... She often visits elementary schools to talk to the kids about what she learned about pets and how they could learn from them.