Can Dogs Recognize Colors?

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Introduction

Dog vision is a hot topic for pet owners. One of the biggest myths surrounding dogs is that they only see in black and white. It is true that dogs don’t see the world the same way that humans do, but they can see a limited color range that includes blues and yellows. The rest of the color spectrum will also look blue or yellow to your dog.

Since dogs can see in only a limited color spectrum and don’t have great vision otherwise, it is hard to determine whether or not dogs really recognize the difference between colors in the same way that humans do.

Signs Dogs Can See Colors

To determine whether your dog can recognize colors or not, you need to better understand how they see color. Once you know that dogs see a very limited color spectrum, you will probably notice subtle signs that your dog can’t see all the colors that you can. 

If you have ever seen your dog only favor toys that are yellow and blue, that is probably due to the fact that those are the colors that your dog can see. You might also notice that your dog has a hard time seeing toys that are other colors. For example, a green toy is likely to be hard for your pup to see in the grass, so throwing a green ball in the yard might cause some problems.

Watch your dog the next time you go pick out dog toys. You will probably notice that they avoid toys that are green, red, purple, pink, or orange. When picking out toys for your pup, you should be considerate of how they see color. Better yet, let your dog pick their own toys so that you know that they will love them.

So, how did we discover that dogs have red-green colorblindness? Let’s find out.

Body Language

If you see the following body language signs, your can know that your dog sees some colors.
  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Head tilting
  • Wag tail

Other Signs

Other signs your dog can see colors include:
  • Choosing toys of certain colors to play with
  • Playing with yellow or blue toys
  • losing toys of certain colors in grass

History of Dogs Seeing Colors

For decades, it was believed that dogs could only see in black and white. The reason that people believed this is because the founder of National Dog Week, Will Judy, made a statement claiming that dogs could only see in black and white and generally had poor vision way back in 1937. His statement also included that dogs could only see in varying highlights of blacks and grays, and that they couldn’t anything more than just general shapes and outlines.

However, in the 1960s, other researchers came up with a new theory. In this theory, only primates like gorillas could see in color like humans. There was no research to back up this claim, but it eventually became known as a fact that dogs, which aren’t primates, couldn’t see in color. For the next 50 years, very little research was done about dog vision.

In 2013, Russian scientists started to reexamine the way in which dogs see the world. During their research, these scientists disproved the old theory that dogs could only see in monochrome and use only varying brightness to see things. Instead, they learned that dogs can see in a limited color range that includes yellow and blue, and that they can see well enough to distinguish between different objects in a lineup.

Basic differences in human and dog eyes account for the difference in vision that each species has.

Science Behind Dogs Seeing Colors

A dog’s retinas are different than those of a human. All retinas are composed of rods, cones, and ganglion cells. The rods help with low-light vision, the cones help you see colors, and the ganglion cells help with the regulation of circadian rhythms.

Humans have three different kinds of cones in their retinas, but dogs only have two, which is why they can’t see all the colors we can. Scientists found that dogs are missing the cones that allow them to see reds and greens. In addition, dogs have more rods than humans, so they tend to see better in lower light than we do.

Training Your Dog to Recognize Colors

Unfortunately, you can’t help your dog see the colors that are biologically impossible for them to see, but that doesn’t mean you can’t teach your dog to recognize the differences between the colors that they can see. To do this, you will have to teach them how to sort by color in the sense that some things have a color and other things do not.

In his book, “How To Teach Your Dog to Talk: 125 Easy-To-Learn Tricks Guaranteed to Entertain Both You and Your Pet,” Arthur J. Haggerty describes how you can teach your dog to sort laundry into two different baskets. In Haggerty’s method, one laundry basket will be for white clothing and the other will be for colored clothing. Using the commands “white” and “colors,” you can train your dog to put an item of one color in the appropriate basket.

This type of sorting task can be transferred to other objects in your home. Take this technique and try to teach your dog to sort its toys instead of laundry. When you do this, be sure that you have realistic expectations so that you don’t become frustrated with your pooch during the process. Remember that they can’t tell the difference between all the colors that you can. Don’t ask your dog to try to see the difference between these colors, or you will just end up confusing them and causing unnecessary frustration for both of you.

Learning how your dog understands color and sees the world can help you better understand your dog and give you insight that many people will never have. Since science can help us learn about how our dogs see, we can use it to help us learn more about our dogs in general.

How to React to Your Dog Recognizing Colors:

  • Understand how your dog sees color and cater to that.
  • Buy your dog toys in colors that he or she will enjoy.
  • Work on training your dog to recognize colors as a trick.

Share Your Experiences of Dogs Recognizing Colors!