Are you wondering can dogs see color, or are they color blind? The truth may surprise you. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Despite a very long-held myth that dogs see the world through a gray lens, researchers now know that dogs don’t see the world as though it’s an old movie.
But before going deeper into the subject, we first have to understand the anatomy of an eye. Ready for a quick science lesson?
While you may know that eyes are made up of cones and rods. The most important aspect of color vision is the retina. The retina contains both cones and rods. Cones perceive daylight and control the color and visual perception of the eye. Rods detect motion and work best in low light.
Humans have three cones and so can generally detect the whole spectrum of light. Dogs have more rods and only two cones.
In other words, dogs are considered to have rod-dominated retinas. This simply means that humans can see more vivid colors and see them brighter than dogs do, but dogs can see much better in low light. Therefore, dogs mostly base their vision on movements.
In addition, the dogs’ field of vision is actually bigger than that of humans. They are nearsighted, meaning they can’t see far away as clearly as we can. But they have much better peripheral vision.
A dog’s binocular field ranges from 60 to 116 degrees vs 140 to 160 degrees in humans. This equals a total visual field of 240 to 290 degrees vs only 180 degrees in humans.
Dog eyes also have the tapetum layer which reflects light back through the retina, and larger pupils, enhancing their night vision ever further.
Dogs evolved from wolves who are nocturnal hunters. Their eyes are designed to work best at night. As a hunter, smell, sound, and movement are most important to them, they don’t really care if the animal is blue, green, or black.
What Colors Can Dogs See?
There are a lot of myths about what colors do dogs seen. For many years, people thought dogs saw only in black and white, but that’s not the case either. Dogs can see in color but not like people can. The three main colors that dogs see are some shades of yellow, blue, and gray.
Humans are trichromats, meaning our eyes have three types of cones. Dogs are dichromatic, similar to a human with red-green color blindness.
However, although dogs see color, everything they do see is blurry. That being said, the dog’s focus is not as well developed as in us humans because they simply don’t have to rely on it.
This is how a dog experiences his environment compared to humans:
As you can see, they are not capable of seeing green and red, so the red pillow looks more like a yellow one, and the green grass looks more like a grayish brown.
Dogs see the colors of the world as basically yellow, blue, and gray. They see the colors green, yellow, and orange as yellowish, and they see violet and blue as blue. Blue-green is seen as gray.
You can see what the spectrum looks like to people and dogs below.
So, this means that a bright red dog toy that is so visible to you may often be difficult for your dog to see. It may appear as a very dark brownish gray or perhaps even a black.
In other words, colors are not a reliable means of communicating with dogs. Since dogs find it difficult to distinguish between certain reds and greens, we should choose toys and training aids in other colors. For example, light blue or yellow are much easier colors for a dog to detect.
At the same time, one amusing fact is that the most popular colors for dog toys today are red or safety orange.
Dogs and humans see things differently, but it’s not all bad. Dogs don’t rely as heavily on vision as we do because their other senses are significantly more advanced than ours. For example, a dog’s sense of smell is estimated to be over 10,000 times stronger than that of humans.
They see more limited colors because their eyes naturally have only two kinds of cones.
While it’s true that sight is not a dog’s most important sense, dogs and humans each have particular advantages in their ability to interpret the world through sight.
While we can see and appreciate all the different shades of the rainbow, our dogs can see the mouse twitching in the field far away, even if it’s dark outside.