Can Dogs Differentiate Colors?

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Introduction

It has been known as “fact” that dogs can’t see colors for decades. Humans have long believed that dogs are colorblind and only see in shades of gray, black, and white. But, is that “fact” based on real science and research? It turns out that dogs see much more than we ever previously thought. So, just what do our favorite furry friends see? We are going to find out. More importantly, can dogs tell the difference between colors the way that humans do?

Dogs see the world differently than humans, but just how differently do dogs see the world? Once you better understand how your dog sees the world, you will better understand your dog.

Signs That Dogs Can See Color

Over the last few decades, real research has been done on how dogs see the world. This research has discovered that dogs can, in fact, see some of the same colors that humans see. This fact is probably why a lot of people have never realized just how differently dogs see the world. Taking a little time to watch how your dog reacts to its toys and to the other objects in its world may open your eyes to how they see.

You may notice that your dog prefers to play with toys that are yellow and blue - because dogs can see shades of yellow and blue, but not greens, reds, oranges, and pinks. Even when a red toy and a yellow toy are otherwise identical, you will probably see that your pooch prefers the yellow toy. That is due to the way your dog sees the toys. Yellow will be vibrant, while red will be a dull color that is almost brown.

When you think about it, it makes sense that your dog enjoys colors that it can see better than others. Would you like to lose a ball in the grass when you were playing? Probably not, and dogs don’t think that’s fun either.

Body Language

You may notice your dog displaying the follow body language cues when they see certain colors:

Other Signs

Other signs that dogs can see colors include:
  • Sorting toys
  • Being drawn to certain toys over others
  • Losing objects of certain colors

History of Dogs Seeing Colors

The founder of National Dog Week, Will Judy, told the world that dogs have poor vision in the 1930s. Part of his reasoning for the poor vision was that he believed dogs could only see in varying highlights of blacks and gray. Plus, he thought that dogs could only see the general outline of the shapes of objects. While Judy was incorrect in his assumption, that didn’t keep the world from believing it.

In the 1960s, another group of researchers developed a theory that only other primates had the ability to see in color like humans do. There was no research to back it up, but the theory didn’t get dismissed as quickly as you would’ve thought. This research further backed up the previous claim that dogs couldn’t see in color. Over the next few decades, very little research was done into the sight of dogs.

Disproving the earlier theories, a group of Russian scientists conducted an experiment in 2013 that found that dogs could see some colors, but not all. The research concluded that dogs’ limited color range includes shades of yellow and blue, but not red and green. These researchers also learned that dogs can distinguish between objects and pick them out of a lineup.

Science Behind How Dogs See Colors

Part of the reason that people so quickly believed that dogs couldn’t see any colors was that we didn’t have a way to study their eyes. Now, we can look at the structure of a dog’s eyes to see how they differ from the structure of our eyes.

While dogs have both rods and cones in their eyes just like humans, they are different. Dogs have more rods than humans, so they are better able to see in low-light situations than we are. However, humans have three types of cones, and dogs only have two. These cones allow us to see colors, and dogs are missing the cones that allow for red and green sight. So, this means that dogs can see some colors, but not all.

Dealing With Dogs Seeing Colors

Unfortunately, you can’t just train your dogs to see in all colors, because biology prevents that from happening. You can, however, train your dog to differentiate between things with color and things without color. While this isn’t a particularly useless skill for your dog to have, you could have them sort laundry or their toys into different groups.

To do it, Wag! found some advice from Arthur J. Haggerty’s book “How to Train Your Dog to Talk: 125 Easy-To-Learn Tricks Guaranteed to Entertain Both You and Your Pet.” Haggerty describes using the commands “white” and “colors” to tell your dog how to place each item that your dog picks up. Take two baskets and have your dog place all the items with color and one and the items without color in another.

It is important, however, that you understand your dog’s limitation. Don’t expect your pup to know the difference between red and green and put them in different baskets. All you will do if you attempt this is cause frustration for both you and your pooch. Instead, set realistic expectations and try to teach your dog how to sort between the white items and the colored items.

Understanding how your dog sees the world is just one way that you can better connect with your dog. While many people may never understand the way that their pet sees the world, this article can give you a glimpse into just that. In the last decade, science has made it possible for humans to better understand how dogs see and how they think.

How to React to Your Dog Seeing in Color:

  • Buy toys in the colors that your dogs can see.
  • Be aware of how your dog sees the world and try to help them when possible.
  • Don't expect them to see things in ways that they can't.
  • Teach your dog to recognize colors in a way that is possible for them.