Can Dogs See Gray?

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Introduction

For a really long time, dog owners have been a little bit obsessed with learning as much as possible about their dogs. Since we want to know as much as we can about our dogs, it is no surprise that we are curious about how our pooches see the world. 

While many people have been told for all of their lives that dogs see in black and white, recent research proves that this isn’t quite the truth. In fact, dogs can see more colors than we previously believed, but they don’t have the full-color range that humans can see. Let’s figure out just what dogs can see!

Signs Dogs Can See Colors

Your dog can give you all kinds of signs that it can see certain colors and other signs that it can’t see certain colors. It can be hard to recognize these signs, but as you continue to learn more about your dog, you should be able to recognize more and more of them. 

For example, you may have noticed that your dog loves only its blue toys but seems to disregard the red toys after only a couple days. Once the new smell wears off of a toy, your dog will probably be more interested in how the toy looks to them. Dogs see only yellow and blue, so red would be very dull-looking for your pooch.

You may also notice that your dog has a hard time finding certain toys during a game of fetch in your yard. That is probably due to the fact that you are using a toy that is a color that is hard for your dog to see against the green grass, which doesn’t look green to your dog at all. Stick to yellow and blue toys when playing fetch. Purple will also work in a pinch if you can’t find a yellow or blue toy.

Body Language

Your dog may display the following body language signs when it can see a particular color:
  • Alert
  • Barking
  • Wag tail
  • Raise ears
  • Ears up

Other Signs

Other signs your dog might give if it either can or can't see a particular color include:
  • Sorting toys into white and colored groups
  • Wagging their tail at the sight of a toy in a color it can see
  • Losing toys of certain colors in grass

History of Dogs Seeing Colors

People have believed that dogs can only see in black and white since the 1930s, when the founder of National Dog Week, Will Judy, announced that dogs had terrible vision and couldn’t see any colors. Instead, he said dogs could only see in highlights of white and gray. He also stated that dogs can only see general shapes and outlines, but they can’t make out figures as well as humans can.

By the 1960s, people stopped putting much thought into whether dogs could see any colors. At this point in time, people were being told that only primates could see in color, which explains why humans can see in color, but not all animals can. This research, which wasn’t based in fact, claimed that gorillas and other apes could see in color, but cats and dogs could not.

A team of Russian scientists discovered in 2013 that dogs don’t only see in black and white. This research team found that dogs can see yellows and blues, but not anything with the colors red or green in them, so that means that purple, orange, and pink are all not visible to your dog either. This team also found out that dogs have better vision than Judy claimed in the 1930s. In fact, dogs can distinguish between objects in a lineup!

Science Behind Dogs Seeing Colors

Dogs and humans obviously see the world differently, and that can be attributed to the fact that our eyes are different from one another. While dogs and humans both have retinas comprised of rods and cones, we have different amounts of each. Dogs have more rods, but humans have more cones.

Dogs have only two different types of cones, while humans have three. The third kind of cone—the one that dogs are missing—allow humans to see red and green. That is why dogs can’t see any color that contains red or green. Dogs have more rods, however, which allow them to see better in the dark than humans.

Dealing with Dogs Seeing Colors

Now that you better understand how your dog sees the world, you can help them navigate it despite the fact that they can’t see all the same colors that you can. To do this, you can start by purchasing toys and other products in colors like blue and yellow instead of red, green, purple, orange, or pink. Since yellow and blue are more vivid to your pooch, they will enjoy toys in these colors more than the colors that look bright to you.

Additionally, during a game of backyard fetch, be mindful of the toy you are using. Dogs will have a very hard time distinguishing between the grass and toys that are green, red, or orange. Instead, select a blue or yellow toy. If you can’t find a blue or yellow toy, purple is the next best color, as it isn’t close to the color of grass the way your dog sees it. In fact, red toys look gray to your dog, while green toys match the grass.

Fortunately, your dog doesn’t know that they don’t see the world the way that you do. They are happy with the way they see the world, and they don’t even know that there are a bunch of colors that they aren’t able to see. 

Even though your dog doesn’t seem to know there is anything unusual about their vision, you should work hard to make it easier for your dog to see their toys. Also remember that it isn’t fair for you to ask your dog to try to see colors that it just can’t see. For example, asking your dog to put its toys in piles based on color will only lead to frustration for both of you. You can, however, teach your pooch to sort toys based on whether or not they have color. Teach your dog to sort by white and color instead.

How to React to Your Dog Seeing Colors:

  • Get your dog toys and products in colors that they can see.
  • Don't ask your dog to locate colors that it can't.
  • Don't play fetch in the grass with your dog with red, green, or orange toys.