Do dogs have night vision? Can dogs see in the dark? Do you need to leave a light on for your puppy?
Today we are talking about all things night vision for dogs. Can dogs see in situations where it is dim, dark, shadowy, or shady?
A fellow dog author was wondering if he needed to leave a light on for his Boxerdoodle dog. We also wondered if the night light we use to help our Miniature Labradoodle aim at his DIY porch potty was really necessary.
Let’s find out how well dogs can see in the dark
Can Dogs See In The Dark?
So let’s cut straight to the chase – yes dogs can see in the dark. Dog night vision is incredibly impressive, but only applies to low light scenarios.
Dogs cannot see well in pitch black.
There has been extensive research into the night vision of dogs. A study from the University of Wisconsin found that dogs see much better than humans at night. Professor Paul Miller found that dogs “can probably see in light five times dimmer than a human can see in.”
This of course means that although dogs cannot see well in pitch black, in low light like dusk or dawn dogs see really, REALLY well. Up to five times better than humans.
In the modern context this means that even with a dim street light, a dog can see things humans cannot. In the past, this also meant that dogs could move around or hunt effectively by moonlight when required.
Dogs have such good eyesight in these lowlight conditions due to their historical need to hunt. Dogs would typically hunt in the sunrise or twilight times. Their excellent eyesight made them ruthlessly efficient.
It does help them play frisbee or catch as the sun sets though!
How Do Dogs See Well At Night
The reason why dogs see so well at night is because of some pretty amazing night vision anatomy. It is like they are using an iPhone X to take photos and we humans are stick with a iPhone 4.
Dog eyes magnify the light present. They do this really, really effectively.
When a dog looks in low light it is like they have five torches to help them see. Super powered puppy eyes!
The anatomy that helps dogs see
Dogs eyes are are superpowered for night vision because of three amazing parts of anatomy
- The Pupil of the dog eye is bigger
- This allows much more light to enter the eye
- This makes a dark room seem like all the lights are switched on
- Dog eyes also have more light sensitive cells – so they have more bandwidth to absorb light
- Finally dogs have kind of a mirror behind their eye that reflects light back giving a second chance for light to be absorbed.
- It is called the tapetum and it is this super power night vision that makes dogs see FIVE times better than humans at night
There is one downside to having a mirror behind the eye. It helps dogs see better than humans at night, but during the day it produces TOO MUCH light which confuses the dog.
So humans actually see better than dogs during the day.
How to Tell If Your Dog Is Scared Of The Dark
Fear of the dark is a form of puppy or dog anxiety. Anxiety is a condition that can affect many dogs. There are a variety of triggers than can lead to the anxiety being induced;
For some dogs, night time or the dark can be a trigger. Anxiety in dogs and puppies is directly tied to separation fear. Some dogs develop to the point where they become very fearful or upset when there is separation.
Signs that your dog might be afraid of the dark include
- Tucking tail in between the legs when lights go off
- Dog refusing to move when called once the room is fark
- Growling or barking into the darkness
- Destructive behaviour that does not occur in lit scenarios
Tail tucking is a behaviour that indicates your dog is afraid, ashamed or uncertain. Seeing the tail tuck when the lights are turned off is a fair indication that your dog is scared of the dark.
Refusing to move or sitting on haunches once the room is dark can indicate that your dog is uncertain. Dogs refusing to move towards you or respond to a command in a darkened room can indicate your dog is afraid of the dark.
Growling and barking is a defensive sign of a dog that is distressed, or at least confused. If your dog barks and growls heaps more when it is dark, there is a chance that the lack of light has increased its anxiety about the unknown.
Destructive behaviour that does not occur when the lights are on is another sign your dog might be afraid of the dark. Common destructive behaviours are destroying cushions or soft items that are not typically attacked. There can also be chewing at hard furniture and a disregard for the regular chewing distractions and tough chew toys.
What To Do When Your Dog Is Scared Of The Dark
If the above situation applies to your dog, then they might be frightened of the dark. There are three primary considerations when figuring out what to do. Identify which channel you think will be most effective at reducing your dogs fear and distress.
- Poor vision increased fear of the dark
- Separation anxiety rather than true fear
- Provide comfort in the form of a nightlight and positive treat association training
Poor vision: A major factor that can result in your dog being scared of the dark is not actually the lack of light. Sometimes poor vision can be the issue. If your dog is developing eyesight troubles, this can lead to what we humans perceive as fear of the dark.
If your dog’s eyes are not working well, this can be alarming for them. Remember that dogs and puppies can see up to 5 times better than humans in low light situations. If this suddenly changes, your dog may be scared.
Make sure it is not a simple grooming error (physically blocking the eyesight). This happens more often than you could imagine.
You will need to consult a veterinarian for peace of mind if you suspect this cause. It would be great to find out that your dog’s eyesight is healthy. However if there is an issue, catching problems with the eyes early vastly improves the chance of a great outcome and easy fix.
Separation anxiety rather than fear: One of the most frequent issues that our beloved modern companion dogs have is anxiety.
Most breeds cannot sleep outside alone. They need companionship and to feel safe.
Dogs need a safe space, like a dog bed or a crate. If they perceive their space is not safe, they will become scared of the space and act up.
Watch for common signs of separation anxiety and consider modifying your family space to eliminate this issue.
If your dog still plays up or is upset in the dark, then your dog might truly be scared of the dark.
A night light is a great option to provide comforting light to your dog. You can grab a portable battery powered one for a crate, or a simple in wall option works well also.
There are also motion sensing battery powered night lights that you can put in a hallway or balcony. We actually put one on our balcony to help our puppy use his self draining DIY porch potty that I built for him. It helps with aiming!
Another tack to take for a dog that is healthy but truly scared of the dark is positive association treat training. Desensitise your dog to the dark by rewarding behaviour with treats. Doing this persistently over time results in a dog that no longer associates the darkness with fear.
My Dog Is Scared When Walking At Night
You could consider using reflective or LED light up technology at night to make your dog feel more comfortable when walking. This also improves the safety of walking a darker coloured dog at night. The more visible your dog is, the less trouble and hazards they are going to run into.
You can go for a light on a collar, vest or leash.
A LED light up collar is simplest because it goes on in addition to the already existing leash and harness. This means no doubling up on equipment, and you can place and remove as necessary. It is super well reviewed – but a warning – the LEDs are bright!
You dog will look brilliant on night walks, but might attract more attention from passersby (which dogs tend to love)
FAQ About How Well Dogs Can See In The Dark
Can Dogs See In The Dark Like Cats
Yes dogs can see in the night like cats. It is cats by far who have the better night vision though. Research shows that cats have better eyesight than dogs in low light situations.
Do Dogs Have Better Night Vision Than Humans?
Dogs actually have up to five times better night vision than humans! Research from the University of Wisconsin found that dogs see up to 5x better in low light scenarios than humans. Professor Paul Miller conducted the research into dogs vision in the dark.
Can Dogs See In The Dark Yes or No?
Yes. Dogs can see in the dark or low light. They cannot see in pitch black.
Do Dogs Have Night Vision Conclusion
Dogs do have excellent night vision. Their eyes are built to see very well in low light situations. This originally occurred because of the need to hunt in the morning or evening. The fact that dogs see in the dark enabled them to be effective predators.
Modern companion dogs have not lost their ability to see well in the dark. Some breeds have more acute night vision than others. The skin folds and fur of some breeds can also impact on their vision beyond the ability of the eyeball itself.
Typically as dogs age their vision will get worse. Given that dogs like a Goldendoodle have a lifespan of up to fifteen years, we must protect their eyes.
Looking after your dog eyes is a must. Regular grooming, tear stain removal, and a healthy diet will all contribute positively to eye health as your dog ages.