Do you ever leave the house in broad daylight, and by the time you get home it’s pitch dark? Did you panic when you realized you didn’t leave a light on for the dog? I can definitely relate!
Dogs can see much better in the dark than humans can so, in most cases, whether or not you leave a light on for your pup is more a matter of personal preference than necessity.
Do Most Dog Parents Leave a Light On?
I decided to start this article off with the results of an informal survey I did. I was curious to know if most dog parents left lights on or off for their pups.
Of the 167 people who replied, 157 leave a light on. Many do it only if they’ll be out in the evening, while others like to have some kind of light source throughout the night.
Here are the reasons they gave:
Noticed their dogs were less anxious when there was some light, even just a glow from another room
Didn’t feel comfortable, or that it was “right” to leave their dogs in complete darkness
Helped ensure they didn’t accidentally step on or trip over the dog, especially when taking a bathroom break in the middle of the night (the human not the dog!)
NOTE: Those who replied had dogs of varying ages, not just puppies.
Can Puppies See in the Dark?
Yes they can, and have better night vision than we do.
According to Paul Miller, clinical professor of comparative ophthalmology at University of Wisconsin-Madison – “Dogs have evolved to see well in both bright and dim light, whereas humans do best in bright light. No one is quite sure how much better a dog sees in dim light, but I would suspect that dogs are not quite as good as cats,” which can see in light that’s six times dimmer than our lower limit. Dogs, he says, “can probably see in light five times dimmer than a human can see in.”
Is it Okay to Leave a Puppy in the Dark?
Given their ability to see in the dark, it is “okay” to leave a puppy in the dark but that doesn’t mean you should.
There doesn’t seem to be any scientific answer to this question, but comes down to what you’re comfortable doing and how your pup reacts.
Think back to the times you’ve come home when lights have been on, and when your dog has been in the dark. Have you noticed a difference in his reaction? Did he seem calmer when he was alone with a light on? Why not ask your neighbors if they heard your dog barking or whining? Their answers could help you get a better idea of how your dog is doing when you’re not around. It can also help you determine if he is suffering from a degree of separation anxiety.
When I know I’ll be coming home in the dark, I like to leave a light on for my dog. While I intellectually know he can see well enough to make his way around the house, and he never seems stressed if he is in the dark, emotionally I feel better leaving it on.
When it comes to leaving a dog in the dark overnight, that is a different issue. Not only can some dogs find light at night too stimulating, production of the sleep hormone Melatonin (present in both dogs and humans), goes up when the lights go down. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, “Melatonin is a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness. It helps with the timing of your circadian rhythms (24-hour internal clock) and with sleep. Being exposed to light at night can block melatonin production.” For that reason, it’s a good idea to turn off the lights in the room where your pup is sleeping.
Having said that, there are times when having some light overnight is the best thing for your dog.
Can Dogs be Afraid of the Dark?
According to Dr. Chris Miller, AtlasVet DC – “Anxiety in dogs is a very common problem that can be triggered by a variety of stimuli. While “being scared of the dark” isn’t a common diagnosis in many veterinary behavior cases, it makes sense that decreased light will strike an evolutionary chord that tells your dog to be on high alert.”
Dogs of all ages who are experiencing vision problems, or even older dogs dealing with dementia can suffer increased anxiety when left in the dark. Separation anxiety is another reason your pup may fear the dark. All good reasons to leave a light on!
Signs Your Puppy is Afraid of/Anxious in the Dark
- Tries to turn around and leave the dark room
- Sits down and won’t move
- Some destructive behavior
- Accidents (peeing/pooping)
- If you take him in the back yard at night and will only stay in the lit area
Helping a Dog That is Afraid of the Dark
Before you can help your dog, you need to figure out where that fear is coming from. If it’s a new behavior, think about any changes that have been going on lately. Did something happen on an evening walk recently for example? Are there any other behavior changes you’ve noticed recently? Do you have an older dog that could be experiencing vision issues?
Make a list of your concerns, when they started and anything else out of the ordinary. If you’re sure it’s not down to a scary encounter in the dark, call your vet. It’s important to rule out any medical explanations first.
If you know your dog is healthy, let’s talk about what you can do to help your dog become less anxious when the sun goes down.
Turn the lights on. That doesn’t mean every one in your house has to be on, earning you a huge electricity bill! Something as small as a glow from a night light can make all the difference, and you can find plenty of eco-friendly ones further down in this post.
Desensitization training. The best way to teach your dog there’s no reason to fear the dark is by slowly getting him used to it. These are just a few ideas, but feel free to set up your own desensitization training scenarios.
NOTE: Start off very gradually, even if it means it will take weeks until he’s less fearful of the dark. Taking baby steps increases the likelihood of success, and reduces the chance of setbacks.
Start off at home where things are familiar and your dog feels safe.
If you have dimmer switches start at full illumination, playing with your dog and giving him treats. Over the course of a few days or perhaps weeks depending on his anxiety level, gradually dim the lights, each time distracting him with play, treats or a combination. The purpose is to show your dog good things happen when it’s dark.
You don’t need dimmer switches for this exercise, you’ll be turning off lights instead. Depending on how many lights/lamps you have, this may involve more drastic changes in levels so it may be several days before you can turn off another light. Consider adding night lights or lamps to the room, so the change from light to dark will be less extreme.
It’s getting dark so early nowadays, that can be challenging for a fearful dog. Is it possible to make sure he gets a nice long walk while it’s still light enough, meaning a shorter time spent outside in the dark? During your night time sojourns bring a flashlight to illuminate the path, and to use as a training tool.
With your flashlight and a pouchful of your dog’s favorite treats, set off on your evening walk. Is he feeling comfortable as you light the way? If yes give him a treat a couple of times and keep walking. Now try lowering the intensity of the beam just a touch while giving him a treat. If it isn’t adjustable, use your hand or shine it off the path for a split second. How did he do with less light? Was he fine? If yes, give him a treat, but if he seems nervous just carry on walking with full light.
As with every exercise please take this nice and slow, only decreasing the light level a touch each time you practice.
When out for a pee break in the yard before bed, can you introduce more lights initially? Over time decrease the number as he slowly gets used to the dark.
Best Night Lights for Dogs
Whether you decide to only leave a light on when you’re out in the evening, or having something glowing throughout the night, here are a few suggestions.
How to Help Your Dog Sleep Through the Night
Since we’re on the topic of darkness, I thought I would expand it slightly and offer some advice to anyone having issues with getting their dog to sleep through the night.
These are just some general tips, since specifics will depend on whether we’re dealing with a new puppy or an old dog with health issues.
Lights on or off
Since the theme of this article is about lights, experiment with what your dog prefers. Have you noticed he sleeps more soundly when there’s no light, or does he seem more settled since introducing a night light?
Potty break before bed
Be sure to take your pup out to pee/poop right before bed, so he’s not waking you up in the middle of the night or worse…having accidents in the house.
Young puppies will need pee breaks in the middle of the night for the first few weeks, so set your alarm before he starts whining. Old dogs with health issues will also have to pee more often, and in that case setting up an enclosed area with pee pads should help. It certainly did in our home!
More physical exercise and mental stimulation
If your dog is roaming around the house when he should be snoring away peacefully, it’s a good time to review the amount of physical exercise and mental stimulation he or she gets in a day.
From the youngest puppy to your golden oldie, every dog needs some way to get rid of pent up energy. How, length of time and level of intensity will depend on physical ability, but do be sure he gets the chance to walk/run, play and even solve some puzzles every day. Tiring him out will help him, and you enjoy a calm and restful night.
Create a comfortable sleeping area
Some dogs have a designated spot where they sleep at night, others pick and choose from the beds dotted around the house. Whatever your dog prefers, make sure each area is as cozy and comfy as possible. A bed that’s easy to get in and out of, allows him to snuggle into and topped with a blanket in the winter may be all he needs to help him sleep through the night.
A favorite toy to cuddle with
Much like having a security blanket, a favorite toy can help reduce your dog’s anxiety. Let’s hope the one he chooses doesn’t have a squeaker you hear at 3:00am!
A quiet evening
In theory having a quiet evening should set everyone up for a restful night’s sleep. Whether or not that will work in your situation is probably a case of trial and error. Does playing with your puppy before bed help him release pent up energy so he’s tired, or have you just awakened the energizer bunny?
Anti anxiety aids
I’m mentioning the iCalmDog Bluetooth Speaker specifically because it’s pre-loaded with Through a Dog’s Ear. This is the CD I played for hours for my dog to help relieve her anxiety, and it worked better than anything else I tried. You can get the speaker, or just buy the music separately, whatever you prefer.
The SmartPetLove Snuggle Puppy is another sleeping aid worth trying. The pulsing heartbeat and heat pack may help reduce your dog’s anxiety so he can relax enough for a good night’s sleep.
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