What Colors Do Dogs See? Can Dogs See Color or Black/White?


what colors do dogs see

Humans have been always curious to learn how their fellow living beings see, smell, or hear things. And since mankind is closer to dogs than pretty much any other animal, them wanting to know how their favorite pet sees things is understandable, to say the least. So, do dogs see color, or are their eyeballs treated to monochrome only?

Dogs do see color, but they don’t get to appreciate the different hues as humans do. Their peripheral world is certainly not black and white – at least not totally. A dog’s color vision is similar to humans who are colorblind to the colors red and green. They can also discern yellow and blue.

Keep reading to learn in greater detail the colors dogs can see, what is their vision like, and why should you care. If you are a pet owner, you should certainly be reading this.

cool dog

How Do Dog Eyes Work? 

A dog’s eyes work not very different compared to human eyes. Here is a breakdown of how vision works in dogs:

  • External light enters via the pupil.
  • The iris controls or ascertains how much light enters the eye.
  • The light then passes via the lens and clear cornea, focusing light on the light-sensitive layer called the retina.
  • The retina houses light- and motion-sensitive rods, along with the color-sensitive cones. They convert the incoming light into an electrical signal.
  • These signals are sent to the brain through the optic nerve. The brain then makes an image out of those signals.

The number of cones is the distinguishing factor between human and canine eyes or ascertains how the two see colors.

Can Dogs See Color? 

Dogs do see colors. But the answer to the question is not that straightforward.

Eyes discern colors, as mentioned above, with the help of nerve cells. The eye retina basically has two primary kinds of cells: rods and cones. Rods help detect motion and light levels. Cones help differentiate colors. Just having cones, however, is not good enough. Several different kinds of cones tuned to various wavelengths of light are needed to see color accurately.

Humans have three kinds of cones in their eyes that can detect red, green, and blue color combinations. Dogs, on the other hand, have only two and, therefore, can discern only blue and yellow. In terms of percentage, dogs have just 20 percent of the cone photoreceptor cells that humans have. This limited perception of color is referred to as “dichromatic vision”.

The higher number of cones also means humans can see colors more vividly. Dogs, however, have more rods, which provides them the edge over humans when it comes to identifying moving objects or seeing things in low light.

what colors

What Colors Do Dogs See? 

Dogs do not see all colors. Their limited ability to detect colors could be likened to humans with color blindness.

For the uninitiated, color blindness indicates the inability of the eye to perceive all colors. A person is colorblind due to a missing cone. With just a couple of cones, the person sees colors but not like people with regular color vision do. The actual colors one is blind to depends on the color receptor affected in their eye.

Color blindness in humans is generally of two types: red-green blindness, and blue-yellow color blindness. If a person is colorblind to red and green, it means they cannot discern the two colors or differentiate between them. The Christmas tree, for instance, will not look the way people with normal visions perceive. Similarly, a person who is colorblind to blue and yellow cannot tell if someone is wearing a yellow or blue hat.

Dogs usually are colorblind to red and green. They see the colors black or dark brownish gray in place of red. Also, the colors orange, green, and yellow appear slightly yellowish to them. When playing fetch, dogs cannot differentiate between a yellow and red ball. That said, dogs have no problem seeing the color blue. But then purple could also look blue to them.

Dogs, however, make up for their inability to detect colors through their sharp sense of smell. Their strong olfactory helps them not mix up red and yellow balls when playing fetch out in the open.

To summarize, dogs see the colors blue, yellow, and gray. Other colors appear to them as the following:

  • Green and orange look like yellow.
  • Violet or purple look blue.
  • Green may also come across as gray.
  • Red invariably looks like the color black or dark brownish-gray.

Why the Misconception That Dogs Only See Black and White? 

Not very long ago, it was believed that dogs can only see in shades of white and black. This theory was originally brought to light and propagated by Will Judy, a dog enthusiast who is well-respected and has had several honors to his credit in dog training.

Judy was the first to claim that dogs had extremely poor vision and couldn’t see real colors. He further claimed that dogs were only capable of seeing general shapes and outlines. He came up with this notion and disseminated it through his handbook “Training the Dog” in 1937.

Since Judy was a well-known authority in the subject of dogs, there weren’t many who claimed otherwise or tried to prove him wrong. Furthermore, during the 1960s, some researchers postulated that only primates could discern color. There was no concrete research backing up these assertions, particularly the one relating to dogs. And in no time, it became common knowledge that dogs are colorblind.

It was only years later that it came to the understanding of humans that dogs are not colorblind, but just spectrum challenged. The various examinations carried out on the eye structure of canines revealed certain differences and similarities in basic eye design between dogs and humans.

How Much of These Differences Could Be Attributed to Dog Evolution? 

Function and evolution have had a major role to play in the disparities between the eyes of humans and canines. For instance, dogs developed their nocturnal hunting sense by tracking and snagging food at night over the course of several thousand years. Their eyes, therefore, adapted well to seeing things in the dark. The physical shape and size of a dog’s eyes also help the mammal hunt in the dark. And this attribute too is a product of evolution.

smiling dog

Do Dogs Have Other Vision-Related Intricacies? 

Besides color perception issues, dogs do not have the sharpest of visions – at least not sharper than or on par with human eyes. Dogs are typically near-sighted. In other words, distant objects that appear sharp and crisp to humans look blurry to canines. Dogs’ vision is also not as sensitive to brightness as the human eye is.

Humans are not always at an advantage over their canine companions when it comes to vision, however. Dogs too have an upper hand in certain aspects. For instance, dogs have their eyes set more sideways, which gives them a broader peripheral vision range than humans. The only tradeoff here is lesser depth perception.

Also, dogs’ pupils dilate a lot more than humans, which lets them capture the maximum amount of light. Underneath the retina of their eyes, they have reflective cells that form the tapetum. Tapetum provides canines the “shiny eye” look and also enhances their ability to view things in dim light.

As mentioned earlier, dogs have more rods than humans, which helps them see better in the dark. And this special visual accommodation makes sense as it allows canines to survive when they are all by themselves or in the wild. The better low-light vision also enhances its hunting or fleeing ability.  

How Does Learning About Dog Vision Help Pet Owners 

Knowing what and how your dog could see would help you make better product choices for the pet. For instance, when you are shopping for toys, knowing your dog’s color range would help you choose toys with the right hues. In case you still didn’t figure it out, your dog would appreciate blue and yellow colored toys more than the red ones.

An unfortunate fact is that red color pet toys are extremely popular. Therefore, if your dog happens to scurry past the red toy you tossed, it doesn’t mean your pet is not appreciative of the time you’re spending with it. It basically is an indication that the dog is finding it hard to discern the red toy against the background – for instance, your green lawn. If the ball happens to be yellow, you will see a visible difference in your dog’s response.

If your dog is getting distracted during a game of fetch, your knowledge of the pet’s vision will help you understand its plight better. And since your dog’s visual acuity range is limited, you’ll also know where to stand or place things in front of it to get its complete attention.

Conclusion 

Not very long ago, it was believed dogs could only see black and white. But later, after several research studies, it was discovered that dogs could indeed see color, albeit not as vividly or accurately as humans. 

Despite all the research done, there are still possibilities of new research studies divulging information not known to mankind as of now. Until then, you could be confident about your dog’s ability to see more than just various shades of gray.

Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.

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