Dear Labby: Is My Dog Afraid of the Dark?
Dear Labby, Our dog Kylie seems to be afraid of the dark. Is that possible?
During the day, when it’s sunny, bright, full of daylight, Kylie romps around in the backyard. We play ball, she chases squirrels, etc. However, once the sun sets and the backyard is dark, she’s very tentative about going out. I even turn the back yard lights (not super bright) on to see if that makes any difference – but it’s a no go. I need to go out first then she follows. But even in this situation, she quickly comes back in after I do so.
I thought perhaps she’s losing her sight – but the vet said no. Any thoughts?
Interesting question. A dog’s night vision is actually much better than humans due to the special structure in the back of their eyes that reflects more light to the retina, so additional lighting probably wouldn’t make a difference. A fear that arises suddenly like this probably is caused by a negative experience that Kylie associates with being in the yard at night.
First and foremost, get her eyes thoroughly checked by a vet, preferably one who specializes in ophthalmology. If they give her the all clear, then the best thing to do is to analyze what may have caused this fear. Think through what may have happened when it first started:
- Was she startled by something in the backyard?
- Did she encounter an animal back there one night that may have frightened her?
- Has she developed any other fears – thunderstorms? Loud noises?
You want to get to the bottom of what the cause might be and then the best way to work through it is desensitization. You say she will go out if you go, so go with her, walk around the yard until she gets more relaxed and wanders away from you. You may need to do this for several nights – and just slowly build up her confidence to be outside in the dark alone again.
Also, examine your own behavior – do you show concern or nervousness being outside with her at night? Remember dogs are very perceptive and she may be picking up on your anxiety.
I open the question up to our readers – does anyone else have a dog who is afraid of the dark? How do you handle it?