It is a very popular misconception that dogs do not experience color, and only see in black and white. But this is simply not true! However, while dogs have decent eyesight, their perception of color is very different from ours. So what colors do dogs see? and how do they see them differently?
Dogs don’t live in a colorless world like we once thought. But where did this misconception come from and what is the truth? In this article, we will explore the truth behind the myth, as well as answer some of the common questions pertaining to dogs’ color vision. Such as how do dogs see differently?
Are Dogs Colorblind?
Dogs are technically colorblind. But this term is very misleading, and likely where the ‘black and white’ misconception we mentioned earlier comes from! Colorblind does not mean ‘blind to all colors’ as it would suggest. It just means blindness to some colors, or that the colors you perceive and experience are limited. The only dogs that are blind to all colors are those that have poor eyesight or are completely blind.
All animals’ eyes contain photoreceptors in the retinas. These tiny but fantastic receptors are responsible for detecting the color frequencies of light. When a person has fewer photoreceptors than normal, they are considered colorblind. A normal human eye retina has three photoreceptor cones that pick up on three different primary colors and their mixes; red, green, and blue, as well as black, white, and grey. Whereas dogs’ eyes only have and are only able to pick up two, which by human standards, makes them colorblind. Whilst no one except them can be sure exactly what colors they can see, experts believe it to be yellow and blue, as well as black, white, and grey.
This conclusion was reached during a study conducted in 1989 at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In which, researchers conducted an experiment where three dogs were taught to pick the odd one out of some colored circles on display in front of them. Whilst the dogs appeared to be able to distinguish yellow and blue, they failed to distinguish red from green. Dr. Gerold Jacobs, a Professor of Psychology from the university, believed this to mean that what humans see as green, red, and reddish colors such as orange, all appear as different shades of yellow to a dog. Meanwhile, blue and yellow are perceived ‘correctly’ – or in the same way as humans.
How Is A Dog's Vision Different From A Human's Vision?
Technically, humans are colorblind too! There are several animals that have more photoreceptors in their eyes and see more colors than we do. Fun fact – Mantis shrimp have 16! They, as far as we know, are able to see the most colors of any animal on the planet. But when it comes to color and clarity, humans have much better eyesight than dogs; we already know that we see more colors than they do, but we also see things a lot more clearly. According to Psychology Today, if ideal visual clarity in humans is 20/20 vision, then the average dog’s would be 20/75. This is quite a lot blurrier than the average human’s eyesight.
Now we know why dogs rely on their sense of smell! Dogs are also about half as visually sensitive to changes in brightness as we are. However, while humans have better overall vision than dogs, dogs have a much wider peripheral vision and far better night vision. The average human has a peripheral vision of around 190 degrees, whereas dogs can see about 250 degrees of what’s around them. This is because of the wider placement of their eyes and narrower shape of their skulls.
They also have more rods on their eyes, and an extra layer of eye tissue called the tapetum lucidum, which reflects light into the retina. This is what gives dogs their superior night vision, and also what makes their eyes glow in the dark at night!
How Do Dogs Eyes Perceive Color?
Based on past research, scientists once believed that dogs don’t see colors as richly and deeply as humans do, and can only tell things apart based on the brightness or darkness of the objects. However, another more recent study published by Proceedings of the Royal Society B in 2013, suggests that dogs are actually very good at distinguishing different shades of the colors that they can see.
The study, which took place in Russia, consisted of eight dogs who were taught to associate treats with different pieces of paper. The pieces of paper were all printed in different shades, of equal brightness, in the dog sensitive colors of blue and yellow; light blue, dark blue, pale yellow, and dark yellow. The scientists found that the dogs were able to make the correct associations more often than not. This means that dogs may perceive the colors that they can see just as deeply as we do.
However, because they do see so many things in the same colors, this may make it difficult for dogs to differentiate between objects in certain environments or fast-paced situations; such as playing fetch with a green ball on green grass. So take that into account when buying your dog new toys!
What Colors Dogs Can See – FAQs
Dogs do see in color, just not the full variety of colors that humans can see
It is a common misconception that dogs can only see in black and white because of the term ‘colorblind’ – but this word only means that the colors seen are limited, not that the person or animal can’t see any at all.
According to scientists, dogs see the colors blue and yellow best, as well as black, white, and shades of grey. They can also see all different shades of yellow and blue, from light and bright to deep and dark.
Blue is likely the easiest color for dogs to see because greens, reds, and reddish colors such as orange and pink all appear as different shades of yellow to a dog. That’s a lot of yellow! So blue things really stand out to dogs.
Dogs don’t hate any colors, (that we know of). But as they see many colors as varying degrees of the same thing, it might be best to buy them toys in the colors that really stand out to them; bright yellows and blues. Because like humans, dogs – especially puppies – are stimulated by color.
Dogs can see a lot better in the dark than humans can. Their eyes have more rods than ours, and an extra layer of eye tissue called the tapetum lucidum, which reflects light into the retina. This is what gives dogs their superior night vision. It’s also what gives their eyes that orange glow in the dark.
Dogs almost certainly don’t see pink the way that we do. Pink colored objects are likely seen as a yellow or greyish color depending on the shade of pink. But of course, we will never know for sure! So if you want to know for certain, then ask your dog!
According to scientists, yellow and blue are the only colors that dogs can see. And while we wish that our dogs could see as many colors as us, they don’t know any different and as long as they are happy, so are we. Did you know that dogs only see those colors? Let us know in the comments down below.