What Colors Do Dogs See?

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Man’s best friend, the loyal canine, is a wonder and a joy to have around. However, there is a myth that dogs only see in shades of grey. This is not the case.

Dogs can see a wide array of colors, albeit not as many as a human. Can your new puppy appreciate their colorful toys, and are there certain colors that have no effect on them?

what colors can dogs see

Here, we’ll cover not only what shades they can see, but also why they are so limited to begin with!

How Does a Dog’s Eye Work?

An eye is composed of two main parts that register vision: cones and rods, with cones being the part that registers color, and rods registering shape and light.

Humans are able to see the world in fairly vibrant colors because we have three varieties of cones in our eyes; one for red, one for blue, and one for green.

For dogs, their cones are less receptive to red and green light, essentially giving them deuteranopia or red-green colorblindness. It is less a matter of dogs being unable to see those colors, and more a matter of them not being able to distinguish between the two of them.

Furthermore, they are actually less receptive to variations in grey, and are only half as sensitive to changes in light.

What Colors Can Dogs See?

The myth to debunk: are dogs colorblind? Yes, they are.

However, the problem with that statement is colorblindness has been misconstrued to mean an inability to see color, which is not the actual meaning.

Instead, colorblindness is a term used to explain an inability to see specific colors, such as being unable to tell the difference between red and green.

For dogs, the world is a wash of grey, beige, yellow, and blue, lacking any distinguishing sense of red, green, orange, or purple.

While this may sound tragic, it, in fact, does not harm their ability to interact with the world just as we do.

what colors do dogs see

Canines will never be painters or interior designers, but as mainly carnivorous animals, they lack the human need to detect more colors as a means of survival – such as in discerning poisonous plants from healthy ones. They don’t need to; the color of their prey (or dog food) makes very little difference.

Research in the Subject

There have been multiple studies in figuring out what dogs can and can’t see in regards to color.

For example, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Jay Neitz conducted an experiment. He would set up multiple doors, each a different color from the other, and send a dog towards the doors. If the dog picked a certain color, they were rewarded with a treat.

More often than not, the results were conclusive: dogs can in fact differentiate. However, Jay was not the only one to discover this.

In Russia, a team of researchers placed four pieces of paper (colored dark yellow, light yellow, dark blue, and light blue) in front of the test dogs. One of these papers led to a piece of meat, while the other did not.

The scientists began with two different hues of the same color – dark and light yellow, and dark and light blue.

what colors can dogs see

Once they managed to arrange all of the data for that, they began testing different hues and different colors (bright yellow with dark blue, as well as dark yellow with light blue) to see if the dogs could differentiate between color or shades, before using the same hues of different colors.

Eventually, the dogs began to show that they could connect food to color.

Ways That Dog Vision is Better

Where dogs fall flat in seeing color, they excel at being able to sense motion; in this, they’re between ten to twenty times better at seeing movement from afar.

This is an evolutionary feature that comes as a result of their history as hunters. They also have better night vision than humans, allowing them to function earlier at dawn and later at dusk.

Their sense of smell also makes up for the shortcomings of their eyes.

Here’s a video showing a color experiment with a dog.


Conclusion

The ongoing myth is that dogs cannot see any sort of color (that their world is a wash of black, white, and grey) is simply false.

Although they are red-green colorblind, that simply means dogs cannot differentiate between those exact colors. They are still fully capable of seeing many shades of blue, yellow, beige, and grey. For that matter, several humans also share this condition, though it’s rare.

So, the next time your dog can’t find their red ball on the green carpet of your home, remember their world is still vibrant and vivid, albeit a bit less than our own.

What they lack in color, they more than make up for in their ability to sense motion and see in the dark, something that humans have never developed the knack for.

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