My dog is afraid of the dark. Can I help her get over it?
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Thread: My dog is afraid of the dark. Can I help her get over it?

  1. #1
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    My dog is afraid of the dark. Can I help her get over it?

    Hello folks.

    I posted here a while ago because my dog had begun crying in her crate after months of being perfectly fine in there. Everybody who commented was very helpful, but one problem that I mentioned in that post has persisted even though Fiver is now once again comfortable in the crate.

    Basically, Fiver is afraid of the dark.

    Short version: at night, on walks, she is oblivious to commands and startles easily.

    Longer version:

    When we first got her, she was terrified of the dark, to the point that we had trouble getting her to go outside at night. Of course, she was four months old at the time. I asked around and was told that this might be normal, as puppies are often afraid of the world, their eyesight may be very bad, and she probably spent several hours in the back of a dark truck on her way up from TN just before we adopted her.

    As time went on, she got better. Eventually we could leave her in her crate at night with only a nightlight instead of leaving the overhead light on. She would go outside to go to the bathroom, but was still resistant to going for walks or hanging around in the yard, especially since our outside light was on a sensor and might suddenly turn off if I didn't wave at it periodically. This would startle her, make her very unhappy. At this point I was told that she was an adolescent, and sometimes adolescents regress and become fearful. I was pretty sure that didn't make any sense, since this actually constituted PROGRESS, rather than regression, but I figured I would wait a while and see.

    Now she is one year old, and obviously still afraid of the dark. It has become a more frequent issue now, since we have moved to a new house where there are few streetlights and because of the short days she needs to walk in the dark or not at all (in the evening).

    Her fear manifests in a few ways, but two in particular are what make me pretty sure this is fear of the dark.

    First, when we set out on our walk, she has a 1,000 mile stare. She behaves herself OK (she is pretty good at loose leash walking, but not perfect yet by any stretch), but I am basically invisible to her. I don't know what she is looking at, if anything. She pulls a bit between streetlights (the few that we have), and won't walk at all on streets that do not have lights, although I won't either if I can help it so that hasn't been as much of a problem. She is almost completely oblivious to treats. She will take a treat if you put it right in front of her nose, but half the time she just chews it for a second and then drops it. If I can startle her into following a command, such as heel or sit, by saying her name or touching her, I can't reward her because she has lost focus by the time I get my hand to her mouth. Even if she sits or heels, she cannot see me. Even if I stand in her field of vision, she seems to stare straight through me.

    The second, and worse, manifestation occurs if something startles her between streetlights, such as a horse stirring, a branch snapping, a neighbor putting out their trash, or a sudden gust of wind. She bolts, as hard and fast as she can, for the nearest source of light. This can include strange houses or CAR HEADLIGHTS. Yes, headlights. The dog will charge at headlights coming towards her at 30 mph, with me hanging on for dear life. Usually once this happens, I will stand stock-still and coo at her a little, staying as calm as possible, until she gets enough of a grip to respond to a sit command. However from that point on we basically have to head home as quickly as possible, because the slightest thing will set her off again.

    If we are out walking near dusk, you can watch her getting more and more anxious. She will actually start pulling even worse than if we started walking after dark, trying to get home before the sun sets.

    Now, in other areas she has improved significantly. If I drive her 5-10 minutes "downtown" (basically three intersections) where there are more streetlights, she can walk pretty well and even greet other people. She responds to treats and commands, but refuses to turn off Main Street onto any side streets. In our backyard, she is perfectly fine with the floodlight on, running and playing and generally unconcerned even though just outside the fence it is just as dark as it is on the street. Although she will start barking when outside with less provocation at night than during the day, I figure this is normal because it is also more quiet. Even over at our friends' home, where they have only a little light in the backyard, she will zoom all around in the dark, even behind their shed where no light reaches. Of course they also have a dog whom she sticks pretty close to. At night she still sleeps with a nightlight, loose in the bedroom now that she can be trusted, but that is OK because it does not bother us. However with regards to walking in our neighborhood she seems to have plateaued.

    So the problem is basically limited to walking at night, which would be OK except that it means that walking with her at night has become a major chore. Walking with Fiver is one of my favorite things, even in the morning (and I am NOT a morning person), but once that sun starts to dip we know we can't just stroll out our front door anymore. It would be nice for both our sakes if there was something I could do to acclimate her to the dark. I especially worry about her lack of responsiveness, which obviously could be very dangerous. She loves to be outside and spends a lot of the day just hanging out in the backyard, but after dark I am afraid of what might happen if she is left out there alone.

    Of course whenever we tell people she is afraid of the dark, they think it's just adorable.

    Any suggestions would be helpful. Thanks in advance.

    Oh, in case it matters, we don't know her exact breed but most people guess she is a German shepherd/husky mix.

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  3. #2
    Senior Member spotted nikes's Avatar
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    Re: My dog is afraid of the dark. Can I help her get over it?

    Have you had a vet check her eyes?
    Spay or neuter your pet! Founding President Of Thread Killers Anonymous.

  4. #3
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    Re: My dog is afraid of the dark. Can I help her get over it?

    No, but she hasn't shown any signs of other vision problems as far as I can tell. Is there anything in particular I should look for?

  5. #4
    Senior Member Pynzie's Avatar
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    Re: My dog is afraid of the dark. Can I help her get over it?

    I agree with getting her checked by a vet so you can atleast rule that out. She may have a hard time seeing in low light, so you wouldn't notice vision problems during the day.

    I was going to say start her out at a level of darkness that she is ok with, aka dusk. Is there any point she is ok with? If so, start there and take her back in before it gets to a point where she starts getting nervous.

    Other than that, can you bring a bright flashlight along with you on the walks? If she pulls toward the street lights maybe she will be happy if you keep the flashlight pointed at her the whole time.

    Is she afriad of the dark in the house? Maybe you can you work on desensitizing her in the house by working on commands and gradually dimming the lights. By gradually, I mean it could take days or weeks depending on how nervous she is.

    I hope some of those things will be applicable and help you.
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  6. #5
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    Re: My dog is afraid of the dark. Can I help her get over it?

    I have tried a flashlight, but it doesn't seem bright enough to make a difference to her. I thought of carrying a lantern around with me, but I like to have both hands free when I am walking her since she is a strong dog and could easily pull me into the street if she panicked and I was not in a position to hold her tight.

    In the house she is fine in very dim light, like a night light. However if she is left in a room alone with the lights completely doused she will cry and pee. The only times she has ever had a problem urinating in the house since we got her house trained was when we left her in her crate without any lights on.

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    Re: My dog is afraid of the dark. Can I help her get over it?

    Any improvement on the dog? We are on the verge if surrendering ours do to what seems to be the same issue. I am just incapable of helping her and she is becoming intolerable at night. I have noticed that when researching I found several German shepherds with similar issues.

  8. #7
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    Re: My dog is afraid of the dark. Can I help her get over it?

    It's tough to say. She still doesn't like the dark at all, but her ability to focus on me has significantly improved thanks to two intervening years of practice. She has also gotten pretty comfortable in our own yard at night so now if I need to exercise her after dark I usually play fetch or something rather than try to walk her.

    When you say she is insufferable, are you referring to crying and whimpering all night? We had luck with a small nightlight for that. My wife and I can both sleep with a nightlight on so that was not a problem for us.

    I can't say we have ever managed to "cure" her, but we have made her comfortable.

  9. #8
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    Re: My dog is afraid of the dark. Can I help her get over it?

    Yes, the non stop whining, she has busted through two baby gates now. She has for ever slept at the bottom of the stairs and in the last two months she just has increasing been anxious after dark. The two weeks have been the worst. Just to ET sleep we finally let her upstairs.. I'm going to have to sedate her tonight because my husband has an interview in the morning and we have had no sleep( also a two year old and a 4 month old to deal with at night so Anya just is pushing us over the edge). I don't baby her at all. I am firm, and still she acts the way she does on the fourth of julybor during a storm. She hates storms and water of any kind. We deal on those days but we just are not able to spend the time on her for this kind of behavior. I'm looking into new homes for her already. I do love her, I just can't do this increasing hysteria. I left a bright kitchen light on for her and put her bed under the table last night, she used to have a crate and usually likes that. It worked for about 30 minutes. My husband thinks she can hear a noise that we can not and it is setting her off . She also hates the beep from the dishwasher and digital thermometer . It just sucks

  10. #9
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    Re: My dog is afraid of the dark. Can I help her get over it?

    Very nice thread! shows how great this forum truely is!

  11. #10
    Panopy
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    Re: My dog is afraid of the dark. Can I help her get over it?

    Have you sought professional help for your dog? a vet or behaviorist? Tt pains me the you are thinking of surrendering your dog (which you may have done by now) because you are "not able to spend the time on her." You adopt a dog FOR LIFE, for the good times and bad. Will you give up one of your kids if you are "not able to spend the time" on one of their issues? you say you love her? that isn't love.

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