What Colors Can Dogs See: Dogs and Color Perception

Dogs and Color Perception, are dogs color blind?

Is everything in a dog’s world black and white? For many years, it was believed that dogs were color blind and could only see in shades of black and white. But is this actually the case? Are canines color blind?

That idea that dogs can’t see color was widely accepted for decades, but new research and conclusions about canine anatomy and behavior have shown that while dogs can’t see the same colors humans do, dogs can still see some colors.

Technicolor may be beyond their comprehension, but research shows that the dog’s eye can see much more than shades of gray.

Recent studies have shown that dogs are actually capable of seeing color, albeit in a limited capacity. In this article, we will explore what science has to say about dog vision, and how it differs from human vision.

Human Color Vision

First, let's take a look at how human color vision works. Humans have three types of color receptors in their eyes called cones, which are responsible for detecting red, green, and blue light. These three types of cones work together to create the perception of a full spectrum of colors. However, dogs have only two types of cones in their eyes, which are specialized in detecting blue and yellow lights. Canine vision provides limited color vision. As a result, our furry friends are unable to distinguish between red and green, which means that the world appears to them as a combination of blue, yellow, and gray.

Myths About Dogs Seeing Colors

The notion that dogs see only in shades of blacks and whites has been attributed to Will Judy, a lifelong dog fancier, writer, and past publisher of Dog Week magazine. He claimed to be the first to declare that dogs had poor vision and thought they were able to see single shades and tones and only general outlines and shapes.

“It’s likely that all the external world appears to them as varying highlights of black and gray,” Judy wrote in his 1937 manual, “Training the Dog.”

In the 1960s, other researchers hypothesized that the only mammals that can discern color are primates. There was little research to back up these assertions, especially the one about dogs. Nevertheless, it soon became apparent that our canine pals are color blind.

color blind in dogs, how dogs see color

It's important to note that while dogs can see color, their color vision is not as vibrant or rich as human color vision. This is because dogs have fewer cones in their eyes and because the cones they do have are not as sensitive as the cones in human eyes. As a result, pups see a less vibrant and less detailed world than humans.

A Dog’s View

However, despite these limitations, dogs are still able to see color and use it to navigate their environment. For example, they can distinguish between different shades of blue and yellow and use this information to find food or identify objects. In fact, studies have shown that dogs are able to discriminate between objects based on their color, even if the difference is subtle.

What Colors Can Dogs See?

Dogs are born unable to see certain colors like red and green. They can only see blue, yellow, brown, and gray because they have fewer color receptors in their eyes compared to humans.

Are Dogs Color Blind or Just Spectrum Challenged?

In the last few decades, examinations of the canine eye structure have revealed some differences in basic design between humans and dogs. Evolution and function have driven these differences. Dogs developed their senses as nocturnal hunters, tracking and catching their food at night. Therefore, their eyes adapted to see well in the nighttime and to catch movement.

For the purpose of hunting in the dark, canine eyes have a larger lens and corneal surface and a reflective membrane, known as a tapetum, that enhances night vision. They also have more rods, which improves low-light vision, in the retina.

The retina is where scientists have also found the key to the difference in color perception between dogs and people. The retina is composed of millions of light-sensing cells. These include:

  • Rods, which are extremely sensitive cells that catch movement and work in low light.

  • Cones that work in bright light and control how color is percieved.

Dogs have more rods than cones in their retina, whereas people have more cones, and this apparently makes the difference in color perception. Humans and a few other primate species are trichromatic, which means they have three kinds of cones. Canines are dichromatic, and have only two types.

Each type of cone registers a different light wavelength. The one for red and green gives humans their appreciation for a red rose or a Granny Smith apple. Dogs, and some color-blind people, are missing red-green cones.

Meanwhile, there are some types of fish and birds that can see an even broader range of the color spectrum than people can. There are many types of birds and fish that are tetrachromatic — they have a fourth type of cone receptor to absorb ultraviolet light.

Dog Vision, a website devoted to canine color perception, printed this side-by-side comparison of how people and dogs register the color spectrum.

Different-Colored Dog Toys Through the Lens of a Dog

Different-Colored Dog Toys Through the Lens of a Dog

Human view (left) and canine view (right) of a canine with a pink frisbee. The most popular colors for dog toys today are red or orange despite the fact that these colors are difficult for dogs to see. When you throw a red, pink, or orange toy, it may be difficult for the dog to see compared to the grass.

Dogs and Color Perception, how dogs see colors

Human view (left) and dog view (right) of a dog with a yellow tennis ball. Dogs are able to distinguish yellow and blue from green, which may explain why they prefer yellow tennis balls over toys of different colors.

Dogs and Color, dogs color perception, are dogs color blind

Human view (left) and dog view (right) of a dog with a blue ball. Dogs are able to distinguish yellow and blue from green, which may explain why they prefer blue and yellow toys over toys of different colors.

Fun Facts About Dogs and Color:

Certain colors improve a dog’s agility.

Dogs do better at agility training when the weave poles, tunnels, jumps, and boards are painted in colors they can easily discern.

Dogs are nearsighted.

Dogs see 20/75, which makes them quite nearsighted.

The best dog toy color is...

Based on what we know about dogs’ color vision, the best color for dog toys is blue.

I thought a dog prefers the color red

The big surprise: dogs don't love red as much as we think they do. Owners often gravitate toward red toys and objects when shopping for dogs because they assume that red will pique the interest of a playful canine and that dogs can see the color red.

Are dogs color blind?

Contrary to popular belief, a dog does not see in black and white, but they are what we would call "color-blind," meaning they have only two color receptors (called cones) in their eyes. Red green color blindness would be a more accurate way to describe dog color vision.

Dog Night Vision

It's also worth mentioning that canine vision is much better at night than humans and are able to see in much lower light conditions. This is because they have a structure in their eyes called the tapetum lucidum, which reflects light back through the retina, allowing for more efficient light detection. This means that even if their color vision is limited, our canine companions are still able to navigate their environment effectively and safely.

Dogs’ eyes are built very much like ours, with many of the same features. They do have some disadvantages in terms of vision, such as seeing fewer colors, less depth perception, less visual acuity to determine finer details, and less visual perspective because they are lower to the ground.

However, when it comes to seeing in the dark, dogs have a few anatomical differences that make them better suited to see, survive, and hunt at night. 

So, Can Dogs See Colors Like We Can?

Scientists now believe that a dog’s color vision is similar to that of a person who has red-green color blindness, according to research conducted by Jay Neitz, who runs the Neitz Color Vision Lab in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Washington.

Dogs can make out combinations of the colors they can see. This renders a lot of the world grayish-brown. That lush green lawn? It probably looks like a field of dead hay. That bright red velvet cushion? Still comfy, but it probably comes across as a dark brown blob to the dog.

Dog Vision offers an online tool to help you see things as your dog sees them. There are also apps that you can use to see what your dog is seeing at any time.

Conclusion

But, can man's best friend see color? Yes, dogs see much more than just black and white. A dog’s vision is similar to that of the 8 percent of humans who are red-green colorblind.

While dogs are not color blind, their color vision is limited compared to human color vision. They are able to see blue and yellow and use color to navigate their environment, but the world appears to them as a combination of blue, yellow, and gray. Green grass, a red ball, or varying shades are not part of a dog's normal vision. Despite this, dogs have many other adaptations in their eyes that allow them to see effectively, including excellent night vision. Understanding the color perception of dogs can help us better understand their experiences and provide them with a rich and stimulating environment.

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