Can Dogs See Color?

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Introduction

One of the biggest myths surrounding man’s best friend is that dogs are colorblind. While dogs don’t see the world the way humans do, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t see colors. Surprisingly, dogs can see some color, but they are unable to see the full-color spectrum that humans enjoy. Much like how some humans are referred to as colorblind, dogs see in a similar way.

In general, dogs have fairly poor eyesight, and in addition to seeing limited colors, dogs are extremely nearsighted and don’t see things quite as sharply as people do. Let’s find out just what color range dogs can see.

Signs That Dogs Can See Color

When it comes to determining whether or not dogs can see colors, there are a few simple ways to see it for yourself. Have you ever seen your pet favor one toy over others that are different colors? That could be because only one of those toys is in a color that your dog can see with clarity. Your dog is going to be more drawn to toys and other objects that are within the color spectrum that they can see.

Dogs can only see shades of blues and yellows, so toys that come in colors like orange, pink, red, purple, and green may be less desirable to your pet. This is a lot like people who have red-green colorblindness.

When you throw a ball in your yard that is a color that your dog can’t distinguish, you will notice that your dog probably has a hard time finding that ball in the grass. This is great proof that dogs can’t see every color, but that they can see some colors.

Body Language

Some common body language signs to let you know that your pet can see colors include the following:
  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Head tilting
  • Wag tail

Other Signs

While it is scientifically proven that dogs can see a limited color spectrum, there are some signs that you may notice when your dog is looking at something in a color they can see. Other signs that dogs can see colors include:
  • Choosing Toys of a Certain Color
  • Getting More Excited at Blue or Yellow Balls
  • Losing Toys of Other Colors in the Grass

History of Dogs Seeing Color


Historically, it was believed that dogs could only see in black and white due to research completed decades ago. In 1937, the founder of National Dog Week, Will Judy made the statement that dogs had poor vision and could only see in black and white in his manual. He said that dogs were only able to see varying highlights of blacks and grays. Judy also believed that dogs only saw general outlines and shapes.

In the 1960s, other researchers formed a theory that only primates, such as gorillas, could see colors in the same way as humans. While there wasn’t any research that backed this claim, it eventually became common knowledge that dogs couldn’t see in full color. In the years following, little research was done to determine exactly what dogs could see.

In 2013, however, Russian scientists disproved the theory that dogs only see in monochrome and use only varying brightness to see the outlines of things. During the Russian experiment, the scientists learned that dogs have a limited color range and that dogs can even distinguish between objects and pick them from a lineup.

Some basic differences between the eyes of dogs and humans account for the different color spectrums that each species can see.

Science Behind Dogs Seeing Color

When it comes to determining why dogs see the way they do, it all boils down to biology. The eye structure of dogs is different than the eyes of humans. Let’s take a look at the differences.

First, dogs have eyes that have adapted to seeing well in the dark because they were naturally nocturnal hunters in the wild. Dogs have a larger lens and corneal surface than humans. There is also a reflective membrane on a dog’s eyes that helps them see better at night than humans.

A dog’s retinas are also very different from a human’s. The retina is composed of rods, cones, and ganglion cells. While the rods help you see in low light, cones control color perception. The ganglion cells just help with the regulation of circadian rhythms. Humans who aren’t colorblind have three different kinds of cones in their retinas. Dogs only have two. According to scientists, dogs are missing the cones that allow them to see shades of red and green. So, while dogs can’t see every color, they can see varying shades of blues and yellows.

While many toys sold for dogs are in colors like red and orange, dogs actually can’t see those colors very well.

Dealing With Your Dog Seeing Color

While you can’t train your dog to see colors that they biologically can’t comprehend, you can try to train them to sort things by color. Of course, you can only teach them to sort by colors that they can see, so it is more about sorting between objects with color and objects without.

Arthur J. Haggerty describes teaching dogs how to sort laundry in his book, “How To Teach Your Dog to Talk: 125 Easy-To-Learn Tricks Guaranteed to Entertain Both You and Your Pet.” According to Haggerty, one basket of laundry is filled with white clothing and the other is filled with colored clothing. You teach your dog to sort the laundry based on the commands of “white” and “colors.” You can then use these to prove that dogs can see at least enough color to distinguish between white and colored clothing. 

If you think that your dog is ready for a challenge, you can try to train them to sort colors, like in the previous example. You could have your dog sort their toys by color groups. Be sure that you have realistic expectations, however. Don’t be too upset if the task is a little above your pupper.

Once you understand how your dog sees the world, you will be better able to understand your pet in a way that most people never will. Science has the ability to help us learn about the physical characteristics of our pets, but it doesn’t yet fully help us understand their minds. This knowledge gives you a little extra insight into your pet’s life.

How to React To Your Dog Seeing Color

  • Understand how your dog sees color and cater to that.
  • Teach your dog to recognize the colors they can see.
  • Buy your dog toys in colors that he or she will enjoy.