Dogs’ eyesight and capability to see color has been long debated. Some people believe dogs do not see color at all, as this was a theory for decades. However, as we learn more about our canine companions and their biology, there is evidence that canine vision might not be as “black-and-white” as we once thought. Although dogs can’t see a full spectrum of colors, they can see certain hues. So, what colors can a dog see, and how does their eyesight differ from our own?
Differences in a Dog’s Eye
The myth that dogs can only see in shades of black and grey has been debunked. In the last few decades, research on the canine eye has shown that dogs’ eyes differ greatly from their human counterparts. What drives these differences is simply evolutionary traits. In the wild, dogs needed to be great nighttime hunters, which caused their eyes to evolve to be more efficient in low-light scenarios. However, the theory that dogs can’t see color at all simply isn’t true!
AKC’s chief veterinary officer, Jerry Klein, explains that dogs have multiple structural differences in their eyes as compared to a human eye. He says dogs’ eyes have a larger lens and corneal surface as well as a tapetum, which is a reflective membrane that aids night vision. Dr. Klein also says that dogs “have more rods, which improves low-light vision in the retina”. (1)
The retina is also what mainly controls color perception in the eye. The retina is made up of two components:
Rods, which are sensitive cells that catch movement and work well in low light
Cones, which work in the best bright light and control color perception
Dogs have more rods than cones, whereas humans have more cones than rods. This can explain why humans can see more color than dogs, but also, why humans can’t see well in low light but dogs can.
Humans and some other primates are trichromatic, which means we have three types of cones. Dogs are dichromatic, which means they have only two types of cones. Overall, dogs have fewer cones than humans as well as less varied cone types.
Can Dogs Be Considered Color Blind?
Color blindness is a condition that affects a portion of the human population. It is caused by abnormalities in color detecting molecules. Otherwise known as cones, these affect the ability to perceive color. People with these abnormalities will not pick up on the same spectrum of color as other humans can. Red-green color blindness is most common.
Research shows that a dog’s normal vision is comparable to the vision and color perception of someone with red-green colorblindness. Dogs can make out blue and yellow. Colors comprised of red and green will be essentially colorless to them. When your dog looks out at a big yard of green grass, they probably see the grass as a muted grey color.
This doesn’t mean dogs are colorblind though. For humans, color blindness is an abnormal condition because it deviates from a normal human eye function. For dogs, this ‘color blindness’ is a baseline and normal function of their eyes. In fact, dogs are better off with their limited color perception because it allows them to see better in low light.
Colors Your Dog Can See
Dogs can see blue and yellow as normal. Colors in the blue family, such as indigo and purple, will look blue to your dog. They can’t differentiate well between purple and blue.
Red, green and orange will all read as a muted yellowish-grey to the dog’s eye. You’ll notice when you turn on a dog show or a dog agility course that most of the poles are a mixture of blue and yellow. You might also notice that your dog may quickly lose track of a red ball or frisbee. This is because as soon as it hits the ground, it blends right into the grass to your dog’s eye!
Do Dogs Have Bad Eyesight?
Due to dogs’ limited capability to pick up on complex color spectrums, you may assume their eyesight is bad. The eyesight of a dog isn’t necessarily bad, it just has different utilities than human eyes do.
Although your dog may not be able to see the rainbow, they can see moving items much more quickly – and in lower light – than humans can. Dogs also typically have a wider field of vision than humans do. In the dark, dogs will be able to navigate around items much more easily than we can.
Although canine eyesight may not be as strong as human eyesight, the strength of their other senses easily compensates for the vision deficiencies. Dogs have an extremely strong sense of smell.
For comparison, humans have around six million olfactory receptors in our noses. Our six million olfactory receptors allow us to smell scents around us. Dogs have around 300 million olfactory receptors, about 50 times the amount that humans do. Wow!
Dog noses are also built to better analyze scents coming in. Human noses are built primarily for breathing and airflow. Dog noses, on the other hand, feature folds in their nasal slits that work by separating air needed for breathing and scent molecules. This allows dogs to hold scents in their nose longer, while still being able to breathe as normal!
In short, your dog’s eyesight isn’t bad, it just isn’t as good as typical human eyesight. However, a dog’s sense of smell far outperforms human capabilities. Your dog still has amazing senses – we just evolved to prioritize different ones!
Your Dog’s Vision and You
Now that you know the nuances of your dog’s vision, its limitations, and benefits, you might wonder if there is anything you can do to make your pooch’s life a little easier. There are certainly some considerations you can make with your dog’s vision in mind.
Some items to consider:
Red toys may stand out to our eyes, but to your dog, red blends in with the rest of the world. If you want a toy that sticks out to your dog, look for something yellow or blue.
Your dog’s vision is one of its weakest senses. To entertain your dog well, consider toys that involve hearing or smell, like a sniff toy puzzle or squeaker toys.
Dogs notice movement more quickly than we do – watch your dog’s reactions to get an early warning of movement outside of your home, such as an unwanted guest or animal.
Dog’s eyesight is a topic that has fascinated us for ages. We want to know everything we can about our furry companions to provide them with the best life! Thankfully, recent research has begun to help us understand our dog’s vision.
Dogs can see a very limited color spectrum: it’s essentially just blues, yellows, and grays. However, the eyesight of a dog is still extremely impressive, with their great night vision and remarkable ability to see movement quickly. With these details in mind, we can better relate to our canine companions and attempt to see the world through their eyes!
Dogs sense of smell | FirstVet
What Colors Can Dogs See? | Vital Essentials (vitalessentialsraw.com)
Can Dogs See Color? – American Kennel Club (akc.org)