You probably think you already know the answer to: “Can dogs be color blind?” What if we told you everything that you have been led to believe about your dog’s sight is wrong?
Surprising to most people, dogs don’t only see in black and white like we have been led to believe. In reality, dogs see a limited color spectrum. This means that they can’t necessarily distinguish all of the same colors that humans can, but they can see definitely see some colors. This is very similar to how people with color blindness see the world around them. Let’s learn more about color blindness in dogs.
Signs of Dogs Seeing Colors
Have you ever had a number of different colored tennis balls, but only noticed your dog enjoying the classic yellow one? This could be due to the way that dogs see color. Your dog is probably drawn to the toys that are vibrant in their eyes. Blues and yellows are probably much more desirable for your pooch.
Since dogs can’t see colors like red, orange, pink, green, and purple, it can be difficult for them to see objects in these colors. When you throw an object in your yard for your dog in a color that they can’t distinguish, you might notice that they have a hard time finding it in the grass. This is a great sign that your dog can’t see in the full-color spectrum.
Think of your dog’s color scale like that of a person with red-green colorblindness.
You may notice your dog doesn’t respond to a thrown object in a shade of red or green. This is a great indicator of your dog not being able to see specific colors. Since dogs are also very nearsighted, they aren’t likely to be able to see where a toy in shades of red or green land in grass, as it is likely to blend into the grass.
Another great way to see how your dog sees color is to look at his or her favorite toys. Does your dog have three toys that look the same other than color? You will probably see your dog pick the blue or yellow toy over a red, orange, or green one.
- Head tilting
- Wag tail
- Wagging at the sight of a toy in a color it can see
- Not being able to find a toy due to it blending in to grass or flooring
- Favoring one color of the same toy over another
History of Dogs Being Color Blind
Back in 1937, the founder of National Dog Week Will Judy was the first to make the proclamation that dogs had poor vision. In his manual, Training the Dog, Judy wrote that dogs are likely to only see “varying highlights of black and gray.” He also said that they only saw general outlines and shape.
In the 1960s other researchers believed that the only mammals that could see color were other primates, such as gorillas. While there was little to no research to back up this weighty claim, the belief that dogs lacked the ability to see color became common knowledge—even though it really was more of a common misconception.
In the last few decades, however, more research has been conducted, and some basic differences between the eye structure of humans and dogs have been established. These differences lead to your dog’s inability to see every color in the spectrum.
The difference is that humans have three different kinds of cones in their eyes, and dogs only have two. Dogs are missing the cone that allows them to see green and red.
However, many people still don’t realize that dogs can see some colors, and even fewer actually understand just what their dog sees.
Science Behind Dogs Being Able to See Colors
Remember how we mentioned that dogs and humans have different design structures? Let’s take a deeper look at those differences.
First, dogs have eyes that are adapted to seeing well in the dark, because they are naturally nocturnal hunters. For this reason, dogs have a larger lens and corneal surface, as well as a reflective membrane, that helps them see better at night than humans.
The second main difference between your dog’s eyes and your eyes lies in the retina. The retina is composed of rods, cones, and ganglion cells. The rods help you see in low light, cones control color perception, and ganglion cells help with the regulation of circadian rhythms. While most humans have three kinds of cones, dogs only have two. According to scientists, dogs are missing the cones that allow them to see red and green. Even though dogs can’t see every color, they can see varying shades of blue and yellow.
Ironically, many toys and other products for dogs come in bright colors that your dog may actually have a more difficult time seeing. It seems that red, orange, pink, and green can appear as brown, gray, or black to your dog, which could be the reason they can’t spot the toy you just threw across the yard.
Training of Dogs to Distinguish Colors
You can’t really train your dog to see in color, but you could possibly train them to distinguish different colors from each other. But, this obviously only works with the colors that dogs can actually see.
In “How To Teach Your Dog to Talk: 125 Easy-To-Learn Tricks Guaranteed to Entertain Both You and Your Pet,” author Arthur J. Haggerty describes teaching dogs how to sort laundry by having two different laundry baskets.
One laundry basket is filled with white clothing, while the other is filled with colored clothing. Using the commands “white” and “colors,” you could teach your dog to sort your laundry for you. While this won’t teach your dog to see in colors that it can’t see, you can teach your pup to see the difference between white and other colors, most of which will look very similar to your dog.
If you think that your dog is ready for the challenge, try to train them to sort things by color. While the previous example spoke of laundry, you could have your dog pick up its toys by yellows, blues, and other colors. As long as you don’t ask your dog to sort purple and red toys from each other, you should have some success with this training.
It is also important to consider your dog’s other vision characteristics. Don’t ask your dog to identify colors of things from great distances or in colors that it doesn’t see.
Understanding how your dog sees the world gives you a unique perspective on their minds that you may otherwise never have gotten. While science has given us the ability to understand more about other species than ever before, it doesn’t help us read the minds of animals. At least being able to see through your pet’s eyes gives you a little insight.
How to React To Your Dog Seeing Color
Buy your dog toys in colors that he or she will enjoy
Teach your dog to know colors they can see
Understand how your dog sees color and cater to that