Humans have long been curious about how dogs see the world. In fact, for decades, we believed that dogs saw in only black and white, and we had people working to find out why dogs couldn’t see in color. These researchers discovered that previous knowledge was wrong, and that dogs can see some colors, even if they can’t see all of the colors that humans can.
In fact, dogs see in shades of yellow and blue, but don’t have the ability to see any colors containing red or green. Now, let’s take a look at how dogs see colors and why they see the way they do.
Signs Dogs Can See Colors
There are a number of different ways that your dog tries to show you that it can see some colors. They also try to show you when they can’t see a color properly. Even though these clues are fairly obvious when you know what they are, to an unsuspecting dog owner, they aren’t that easy to recognize.
Have you seen your dog searching for a toy in the grass? If you are using a ball that is green or red during a game of fetch, it can be hard for your pooch to find it. Green balls will look very similar to the green grass, which actually appears a light gray or cream color to your dog. These toys seem to blend in with the grass, so your dog might easily lose it.
How does your dog react to toys? Is your pup’s favorite toy green or red? Probably not! Again, that’s because these colors don’t appear vibrant like yellow or blue toys do. Since your dog sees these colors better than others, you can focus on buying your dog toys and other products that are blue and yellow. Avoid any colors that have red and green in them, like orange or purple.
Body language cues can help you determine whether or not your dog can see colors. If your dog can see a color properly, you may notice these signs:
- Wag tail
- Raise ears
- Ears up
- Favoring one color of the same toy over another
- Staring hard while tilting its head at an object
- Losing toys of certain colors in grass
History of Dogs Seeing Colors
For decades, we didn’t really understand how dogs see the world. In fact, for much of the last 100 years, we were completely wrong. During the 1930s, researchers told the world that dogs could only see in black and white. This same researcher, Will Judy, founder of National Dog Week, also stated that dogs could only see basic shapes and general outlines. He told the world that dogs had terrible vision.
In the 1960s, a different group of researchers told the world that only primates had the ability to see in color. This meant that dogs still were known for seeing in only black and white, as only animals like gorillas could see in color. While there was no legitimate research to back that claim, it still became known as fact.
By 2013, new, credible research was being done in Russia to determine whether or not dogs could see in color. The team of Russian researchers discovered that dogs can, in fact, see some colors, but just not all of the same colors that humans can see. They also found out that dogs can see more than just general shapes and outlines. Dogs can actually distinguish between objects very well—so well that they can pick them out of a lineup.
Science Behind Dogs Seeing Colors
The reason that dogs and human see the world differently is because our eyes are made differently. The biology of a dog’s eyes prevents them from seeing all the same colors that we do. While the retinas of both dogs and humans contain cones, humans have more cones than dogs. We have three different kinds of cones, and dogs have just two. The missing cones help with red and green vision. That’s why we can see red and green and dogs can’t.
In contrast, dogs have more rods than humans do, which allows them to see in the dark better than we can. In addition to the extra rods, dogs also have a larger lens and corneal surface, both of which allow more light to enter the eye. Dogs have better vision in the dark than people do because of this. Additionally, they have a reflective membrane over their eyes that helps as well.
Dealing with Dogs Seeing Colors
While you can’t help your dog see new colors, because their eyes just don’t allow them to see these colors, you can make your dog’s life a little easier. To do this, you need to understand how your pup sees the world.
Once you know that your dog can’t see red, green, and the colors they make up the way you can, you can stop buying toys and products in those colors. Instead, you can buy blue and yellow toys that your dog can see more vibrantly and enjoy even more. Even though your house may be covered in blue and yellow toys, it’ll be well worth it when you see the look on your dog’s face during play time.
When you play with your dog outdoors, be sure that you don’t use green or orange toys, because they will be very hard to for your pet to distinguish in the green grass, and nothing ruins your game of fetch faster than your dog not being able to find the ball or toy in your yard.
While blue and yellow toys are the best, purple toys are also a great option, because purple will stand out against the grass. Remember that even though a color is bright to you, that doesn’t mean that it is bright to your pet.
Since your dog doesn’t know that it can’t see all of the colors that you can, they are really happy with the way that they see. Just because they don’t see the world the same way you do, that doesn’t mean that they can’t be happy. Just try your best to give your dog things that it will enjoy, and don’t expect them to do things that they can’t.
How to React to Your Dog Seeing Colors:
Buy your dog toys and products that are in colors that they can see properly.
Don't expect your dog to see colors that it can't.
Don't use green or red balls or toys when playing fetch in the grass.