Dear Labby: Is My Dog Afraid of the Dark?

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Dear Labby_old
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?
 
Concerned Mom
 

Dear Concerned,
 
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:

    dogsafraidofdark

  • 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?
 

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20 Comments

  1. Great advice on desensitization – it’ll help build up the dogs confidence when going outside at night. I haven’t had a dog that was afraid of the dark but unfortunately growing up we had a dog that took advantage of it – he would be a real jerk to our older dog due to the older dogs vision problems. We ended up taking them out separately after that since it wasn’t something we could predict.
    Jen Gabbard recently posted…13 Simple Steps to Improve Your Dogs RecallMy Profile

  2. I’ve read some dogs are night-blind, their sight is normal in tests, they only have problems at night. maybe Kylie is one of this dogs… I remember it has something to do with their retina…
    easy rider recently posted…easyblog MISCHIEF MOANDAYMy Profile

  3. We have no fear of the dark, but we like to howl and bark a lot when it is dark out, so we don’t get much outdoor time in the dark…for the neighbors sake says the Mom.
    Emma recently posted…Cowgirls, A Horse, And Big Red Riding HoodMy Profile

  4. I have a seven month old pup who has been, only for her last out for the night, been doing a squeaky “I’m big and fierce” (but actually nervous) bark as she runs out the door, spins, pees, and runs back in while I stand on the porch and wait. We do have a fox that dens up in the next door neighbor’s yard (in the middle of a city!), so she may well be worrying about an encounter with him. She’s doing it a little less, now, and going a little farther off the porch.

  5. I’m thinking something happened out there and now she’s being being extra cautious. Perhaps in time the fear will diminish with someone going out there with her. Great job Labby and company!
    Groovy Goldendoodles recently posted…TUNNEL FUNMy Profile

  6. Maybe a battle with a wayward cat, dog or wild animal has the pup nervous?

  7. My parents have an older dog that has become afraid to go outside when it’s dark. I bought them a small clip-on LED light that they can easily turn on before she goes outside at night and that seemed to get her over the fear.
    Elaine recently posted…What Is Leptospirosis?My Profile

  8. Ours aren’t afraid of the night. Pierre is certain that as soon as it gets dark that monsters hang out in the *back corner of our yard. He will race back there and bark like crazy! To solve the problem, we take them both out on leashes after dark. *Pierre has found snakes, possums, and varmints back there before! ☺
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…BFTB Channel 7 NETWoof News for 10~20~2014My Profile

  9. That sounds like good advice to me, Dear Labby. Sure sounds like maybe something gave her a little fright out there.
    Jackie Bouchard recently posted…Your Dog Ate What?? A Guide to Edible HazardsMy Profile

  10. Great advice to go see a opthamplogist. Certain breeds can have pra progressive retinal atrophy which causes night blindness.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Monday Mischief~MK Going Hunting With The Chessie’sMy Profile

  11. I find my Lee can be tentative in the dark, but I think that is her fear of fireworks. Thanks for the interesting post.
    Hailey and Zaphod recently posted…Mischief Monday – Precious Runs AwayMy Profile

  12. Mika doesn’t like the dark. She isn’t “scared” of it, but she prefers light. She even likes a night light at night!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
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  13. I have to agree that a visit to the vet would be my first move. We had a dog who suddenly developed phobias, and it turned out that he was losing his hearing. Knowing that helped us to figure out how to handle the phobias.

    After that, I’d join the others who are all guessing that something scary happened out there. Perhaps you can desensitize your pup using training techniques.
    KB recently posted…Sunset – The Labraduo and the Mountain Lion DuoMy Profile

  14. My concern would be whether this is truly psychological issue of sorts or an actual health problem. I’d want to have the eyes checked.

    http://animaleyecare.net/diseases/pra/

  15. My dog, Shadow, didn’t like the dark. I always had night lights throughout the house – mostly so I didn’t trip over Nylabones or dogs in the middle of the night when someone needed to go outside. One day, Shadow was in the back bedroom with the door closed and she began to howl. When I checked, the night light had burnt out. She was okay going outside at night, although I had to turn on the lights – for her benefit as well as mine.
    Blueberry’s human recently posted…What I’ve Been Up ToMy Profile

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