Ever wonder how your dog finds his way from the couch, to the dog bowl, then back to the sofa again throughout the night? It is incredible how dogs seem to make their way through the halls of your home in the middle of the night without tripping or running into anything. After all, your dog doesn’t have night vision goggles stashed in the toy box.
Which raises the question… can dogs see in the dark?
Dogs are known to use their incredible hearing ability and advanced sense of smell to navigate this world, but this doesn’t mean they don’t use their eyes to help get them from point A to point B.
How Well Do Dogs See in The Dark?
It is hard to tell precisely how well dogs can see. We, as humans, will never be a dog to experience it, and dogs can’t exactly let you know what they are seeing. But what we can tell, scientifically, is that dogs have more prominent pupils than we do. They also have wider retinas and a reflective membrane containing a more significant number of light receptors. This allows dogs to see really well in low light situations.
Another skill your dog possesses is a unique ability to memorize the layout of a room. Even your entire house. Maybe because they spend almost all of their time sniffing out and roaming every nook and cranny of your home. Either way, your dog’s eye structure combined with their memorization skills give them the ability to travel freely with just the smallest amount of light.
If you take your dog to a new location they have never been before, then dim the lights to complete darkness, your dog would have issues. Dogs can’t see in pitch black. So without recognizable scents or smells, they would be stumbling around and running into walls just like we do. While dogs can see and navigate pretty well at night, they don’t have complete night vision.
However, if you take your dog into a room they are familiar with and dim the lights to complete darkness, your dog might be able to find his way around the room thanks to his sense of smell and memorization.
Another advantage dogs have for seeing at night is called the tapetum. The tapetum is a mirror-like structure and bounces the light back up to the retina, giving it a second chance to catch anything it missed on the first pass through. This is the reason why the dog’s eyes glow when you snap a picture of them with the flash on or shine a flashlight on them. The tapetum reflects up to 130 times more light than the human eye can and dramatically adds to the brightness of the light.
In addition to increasing the brightness levels, the tapetum also slightly changes the color of the light reflected back into the retina. This change of color moves the light closer to the rod cells that are the most sensitive and can better detect what is going on.
Dogs vs. Humans
While humans have all around better vision than dogs, dogs can see much better in the dark than us. If a room is dark, we are not very competent with navigation. Stepping on things, running into walls and doors, as well as tripping over furniture is a common occurrence when the lights go out.
The primary advantage dogs have over humans lies in the retina. The retina is made up of two types of cells that interpret light: Rod cells and cone cells. Rod cells help improve your vision in low lighting while cone cells enhance the brightness and color. Humans have a more significant number of cone cells than dogs do while dogs have a more significant number of rod cells.
Dogs also have a better peripheral vision than humans do. With most breeds, the eyes of a dog are placed further apart on the face. This gives them close to 250 degrees of vision compared to the 190 degrees of a human eye.
Tips for Helping your Dog at Night
If you want to keep your dog safe from smashing into things and getting injured in an attempt to find his way around at night, there are several things you can do. First, you have to let your dog explore the home. Let him sniff all over, walk around and get a feel for where everything is. This can take some time, but with the memory skills we mentioned earlier, it will stick.
Another approach you can take is leaving some of the blinds cracked over the windows. With the ability to see in such low light, that’s all your dog needs to navigate in the dark.
Keeping your house clean can also reduce the possibility of your dog tripping over things. Any obstruction can be hazardous. Cleaning up any toys, laundry, or furniture would make it a lot easier for your dog to roam freely. If you have kids, you know that a Lego to the barefoot can be excruciating!
The best tip, however, would to simply keep a night light plugged into the wall. This will produce plenty of light to help your dog see at night. If it’s common for you to take your dog out for late night walks, consider bringing a flashlight or stay close to the street lights.
Although your dog can’t see when the room is pitch black, the anatomy of their eyes gives them the ability to see in lower light better than us humans can. Their ability to memorize a room, along with a keen sense of smell and hearing improves their night navigation even more. Keep your home slightly lit and you can avoid any accidents your dog may have scurrying around your home in the dark.
In most ways, human eyes are far superior to dogs. But when it comes to low light and field of vision, your vision is no match for your four-legged friend.
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