what colors can dogs see

What Colors Can Dogs See?

Everyone has wondered at one point or another ‘what color can dogs see’. We process everything differently than they do, so it’s common to wonder how they experience our environment. 

Thanks to pop culture, we know that dogs don’t see colors precisely as we do. Some believe that they see in black and white; others believe that they see specific colors. It means that maybe all those fun rainbow-colored dog toys might not be the best choice for them. Many products for dogs come in a broad spectrum of colors as they are primarily marketed to the owners. But how much of those toys can our furry friends enjoy visually? 

Knowing more about our pets and how they perceive their environment helps us give them the best experiences. Even if it only means you change the kind of toys you give them, it can have an impact on them. It can also help you save some money on unnecessary toys that your dog won’t be able to enjoy visually.

Nowadays, there’s extensive research on the topic, as it gives us great insight into how dogs experience their surroundings. This article will debunk some myths and teach you about dogs’ vision and color blindness. 

Debunking Some Myths

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We’re not the first people to wonder what colors can dogs see. Many believe that dogs see in black and white. We’ve seen it mentioned in cartoons and movies ever since we were little, but it is inaccurate.

This rumor was attributed to a past publisher of Dog Week magazine, who in 1937 published “Training the Dog.” The publication claimed that dogs had poor vision and could only see general outlines and shapes and single shades and tones. He speculated that dogs only saw their environment in varying black, white, and gray hues. It is unclear how he arrived at that conclusion, but people still believe his theory even now after 80 years.

Since then, it has been researched, and scientists have reached different conclusions depending on the decade. In the 60s, scientists thought that the only mammals to differentiate colors were primates. At that time, they didn’t have the tools we have today, so the research had little backup. 

Thanks to technology, we can better understand how vision works both in humans and animals. 

How Vision Works

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Dogs’ eyes work very similar to ours and to a camera, at least in the most basic sense. 

When light enters the pupil, the iris controls the amount of light allowed in. Then, the light goes through the cornea and lens, which focus the light on the retina. This is where the cones and rods are found. The cones are color-sensitive, and the rods are light and motion-sensitive. Signals are sent to the brain through the optic nerve. Their brains can process that information transmitted from the cones and rods and then produce the image of what they see.  

Compared to humans, dogs have more rods than cones. This characteristic makes a significant difference between color perception and light perception. 

What Colors Can Dogs See?

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Colors are different wavelengths of light reflected by an object. Depending on the wavelength and which receptors we have, we can see different colors. 

The type of cones and rods an animal has determines which colors an animal can see. For example, we humans have three types of cones, which means we have Trichromatic vision. It allows us to see the extensive color palette we can see, meaning that we can perceive red, blue, and green. 

So, what colors can dogs see? Dogs only have two types of cones, so they cannot distinguish as many colors as we do. They have Dichromatic vision and can only see two primary colors: blue and yellow. Having two types of cones means their color vision is very similar to red/green color-blind people. We can consider the myth that dogs can only see black and white debunked. 

How Do Colors Look Like For Dogs?

how do colors look like for dog
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We established that dogs can see color, but not the same way we do. Dogs can see blue and yellow the same way we can, but what other colors can dogs see? 

Colors like red or pink appear as a dark brown or dark gray. Sometimes, it can even look like black. It means that a lot of our red-colored supplies for our pets are not attractive to them, even if they look bright and fun to us. Other colors in the warm spectrum like orange, yellow, and some types of green all look yellow to dogs. 

There’s no difference between blue and purple to dogs, as they can only perceive blue light. It means that if they have toys or blankets with a blue and purple pattern, it looks all blue to them, and they might not see the figures. It is believed that dogs favor this color as it is the most eye-catching for them.

Human Vision vs. Dog Vision

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Color perception is not the only thing differentiating our vision from the dog’s. Dogs are more near-sighted and less sensitive to changes in brightness than we are, but it doesn’t mean that they have poor vision. Our furry friends had to survive in the wild, and their eyes evolved to hunt and protect themselves. 

Their eye separation causes their near-sightedness. Dogs are predators, but they are also scavengers, so they have their eyes on the front of their heads but are separated. This separation is to give them a more extensive range of vision. In the wild, dogs and wolves need to be aware of their surroundings, and this wide range allows them to detect any animals sneaking up to attack. Dogs’ visual field is around 240 degrees, while humans can only see about 180. Even if dogs are more near-sighted, they also can perceive their environment with their incredible sense of smell and hearing. Of course, this may vary per breed since it bases on the location of the eyes. Brachycephalic breeds like pugs and bulldogs have better binocular vision and worse peripheral vision than breeds with narrow, long faces. 

Dogs can also see well in the dark, as they have more rods than we do. It means that their light perception is better when in a dark environment. Their eyes are more sensitive to light and motion to detect the presence of movements or other animals in the night. 

Tips For Dog Owners 

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Knowing more about how your dog perceives its environment is essential. Considering this information, we can take steps to make their lives more comfortable and enjoyable. Also, knowing how their anatomy works helps us pick better products for them. 

As we buy the products, it is important to note that most are made with the owners in mind rather than the dogs. We gravitate towards brighter colors and patterns without knowing that our dogs can’t perceive the beautiful rainbow-colored toy we bought them. Professional dog trainers are aware of this and usually use blue and yellow for their equipment, as dogs do better when training with the equipment they can easily discern.

As an owner, you can consider this when making purchases in the future. For example, it will be easier to identify why your dog doesn’t care as much about their red toys when you consider that they aren’t able to perceive that color in the same way that we do. They are more likely to lose red, pink, or orange toys, as they might blend in with the environment where they’re playing. It may be one of the reasons why your dog might be running past toys that you tossed. 

Conclusion

Dogs and wolves have evolved to have the perfect vision for their lives in the wild, where they hunted and scavenged at night and where they had to defend themselves. Lucky for them, domesticated dogs have the luxury of only using their excellent night vision to fight bugs from the comfort of their couches or dog beds. 

It is fascinating to learn how different our furry friends experience their surroundings. We’ve been asking ourselves for decades what colors can dog see, and fortunately, technology has made many advances in the last couple of decades. Now we have answers to these questions. Not too long ago, most of what we believed accurate about dogs’ vision were just theories and studies with little to no backup. 

Learning more about it can give us insight into their behavior and interaction with the environment. The fact that dogs can only see on shades of blue and yellow explains why your dog might favor a yellow tennis ball over toys of other colors. Buying products and toys made with dogs in mind mean that you will save time and money and make your dog happier. 

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