Can Dogs See All Colors?

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Introduction

Humans have always viewed animals as mysterious. From their hunting skills to their excellent hearing and smelling capabilities, dogs intrigue humans. While much is known about the exceptional hearing and sense of smell that dogs have, not nearly as much is known about their eyes.

Most people have been told for their entire lives that dogs can only see in black and white, but researchers have proven that that isn’t true. This new information into the sight of dogs can help owners better understand their pet and his or her perspective on the world. In this article, we will delve into what colors dogs can see.

Signs Your Dog Can't See All Colors

While it has been scientifically proven that dogs can see a limited range of colors, you may have already come to this conclusion on your own with a little extra observation. 

First, it is probably obvious that your dog doesn’t see the world in the same way that you do. Their eye shape and structure is not the same as a human's eye. Second, you may have seen your dog “lose” an object in the grass during an intense game of fetch. This could be due to the color of the ball versus the color grass. Since dogs mainly see shades of yellow and blue, using a red or green ball on the green grass can make it difficult for your dog to see the ball.

Strangely enough, a lot of dog toys come in reds, greens, pinks, oranges, and purples. A dog can tell that red isn't the same as blue, but they are unable to differentiate between red and green. The inability to distinguish between all these colors often makes it hard for your dog to see certain things. Objects can blend into their surroundings and your dog might not even notice that they are there.

Body Language

While you know that dogs can see some colors and not others, they also exhibit body language signs that show what they can and cannot see. Here are some body language signs you may notice:
  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Head tilting
  • Wag tail

Other Signs

Other signs that dogs can see some, but not all, colors include:
  • Searching for Green or Red Toys in the Grass
  • Favoring Toys in Colors They Can See
  • Choosing One Toy Over Another Due to Color

History of Dogs Seeing Color

In the 1930s, the founder of National Dog Week, Will Judy, told the whole world that dogs have poor vision. He said that dogs could only see outline and shapes, and that they could only see in varying shades of black and white. While Judy was wrong in his theory, people believed this common myth for decades before someone else came up with a new one.

In the 1960s, scientists theorized that primates were the only group of species that could see in color like humans. While there was no research to back up this claim, people took it to be a fact for a long time. This theory further pressed the myth that dogs could only see in black and white and led to very little research on dogs’ vision for the next 40 or so years.

In 2013, Russian scientists disproved Judy with an experiment that led to the discovery that dogs could see a limited color range, but that they definitely could see some colors. During this study, they also learned that dogs can distinguish between different objects and pick them out of a lineup.

So, why can’t dogs see like humans do? It has something to do with the structure of their eyes. Let’s learn more.

Science Behind Dogs Seeing Color

To understand why dogs see the way that they do, scientists looked at the physical structure of the eye, which is very different than that of a human. First, your dog’s retina is not the same as yours. All retinas are composed of rods, cones, and ganglion cells. While ganglion cells don’t have much to do with vision, the rods and cones of both dogs and humans are different.

Dogs have more rods than humans, so they can see better in low-light and dark situations than people, but humans have more cones. Cones control the perception of color. Humans have three different kinds of cones, while dogs only have two. These missing cones would allow your dog to see reds and greens, but without them, your dog can’t see those hues. Instead, they only see shades of blue and yellow.

Dealing With Dogs Seeing Color

Now that you know how your dog sees and why, it is time to learn how to deal with the facts. Fortunately, dogs don’t seem to mind not being able to see the full-color spectrum that humans do. However, some fun can be had with your pet regardless of their abilities to see colors.

In his book “How To Train Your Dog to Talk: 125 Easy-To-Learn Tricks Guaranteed to Entertain Both You and Your Pet,” Arthur J. Haggerty discusses how he trains dogs to sort clothing into different laundry baskets based on whether they are white or colored. Haggerty used the commands “white” and “colors” to teach dogs to sort white items into one laundry basket and colored clothing into a separate basket. This trick proves that dogs can at least tell the difference between white things and “other” colors, even though most colored articles of clothing will look similar to your pet.

You can also use this training to teach your dog to pick up and sort its toys by the same color groups. It is important, however, that you keep your expectations in check. You don’t want to be disappointed in your dog when they can’t perform the tasks you are asking. 

This knowledge about your dog’s ability to see the world not only helps you better understand your pet, but it also gives you a deeper connection to your dog.

How to React To Your Dog Seeing Color

  • Cater to how your dog sees color in their daily life.
  • Buy your dog toys in colors that he or she can see properly.
  • Teach your dog to recognize colors they can see for a fun new trick.