What goes on in the minds of dogs is a mystery to humans. Over the last few decades, humans have attempted to learn as much about dogs as they possibly can. Included in this research is whether or not dogs can see in color. For many years, people believed that dogs could only see in black and white. This myth was later proved to be false, but it is true that dogs can’t see in the same way that humans can.
Let’s take a look at just what colors dogs can see and why they only see in those colors.
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Signs Dogs Can See in Color
It has been scientifically proven that dogs aren’t completely colorblind, but many people have probably never noticed that their dogs see the world in a different way than they do in the first place. Now that you know your dog doesn’t see the world in the black and white, you can start to take note of how they respond to certain colors. You may notice that your dog is drawn to a yellow tennis ball but doesn’t much care for the red one, that is otherwise completely identical. This could be due to the fact that dogs can't see red.
Since dogs only see yellows and blues, it makes more sense that toys that come in orange, red, pink, purple, and green are seen as less desirable by your dog. Your dog sees the world much like a person with red-green colorblindness would. So, when you throw a ball in a color that your dog can’t recognize, it's probably just going to blend into the surroundings. If you have ever thrown a red ball in your yard and noticed that your dog is really searching for it, take it as good, solid proof that your dog can’t properly see red.
Below is a list of common body language signs that your dog may exhibit that show you that they can see some colors, but not all:
- Head tilting
- Wag tail
- Getting Excited at Toys of a Certain Color
- Loosing Toys of Certain Colors in the Grass
HIstory of Dogs Seeing in Color
In the 1930s, the founder of National Dog Week, Will Judy, told the world that dogs have poor vision and can only see in black and white. In his statement, Judy said that dogs could only see in varying highlights of blacks and grays. In addition, he also said that dogs could only see general outlines and shapes. Unfortunately, Judy was wrong, but the whole world took the information and ran with it for decades.
In the 1960s, other researchers developed a theory that only other primates could see in color like humans. With no research backing up the theory, you would think that it would be quickly dismissed, but it also fueled the common false-knowledge that dogs were unable to see in color. For the next few decades, little research was done to figure out exactly what dogs are able to see.
Russian scientists disproved the earlier theories in 2013 during an experiment in which they learned that dogs have a color range, although it is quite limited. Dogs can also distinguish between objects and pick them out from a lineup.
Basic differences between the eyes of humans and dogs account for the different color spectrums that each species is able to see.
Science Behind Dogs Seeing in Color
Determining just why dogs see the way that they do, we can take a look at the biology of their eyes. A dog’s eye structure is different than a human’s. These differences lead to the reasons that your dog can’t see the same way you can.
Dogs have eyes that have adapted to see in the dark because they are naturally nocturnal hunters in the wild. To give them this ability, dogs have a larger lens and corneal surface than humans. Dogs also have reflective membranes on their eyes that help them to see better in the dark. This, again, sets them apart from humans.
The retinas of your dog are also vastly different from yours. Retinas are composed of rods and cones, as well as ganglion cells. Rods help you and your dog see in low-light situations. Dogs have more rods than humans, so it makes sense that dogs see better at night than humans.
Cones control the perception of color. While humans have three different types of cones, dogs only have two kinds. Dogs are missing the cones that allow them to see varying shades of reds and greens. This means that dogs can see colors, but just not anything that contains red and green. Instead, dogs see in varying shades of blue and yellow.
Training a Dog Who Sees in Color
You can’t train dogs to see colors that biology prevents them from seeing. However, you can train them to differentiate between the colors they can see. In fact, you can even train your dog to sort laundry into groups of whites and 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. He does this by teaching his dogs the commands “white” and “colors.” This proves that dogs can at least see enough color to distinguish between the two groups of clothing. While most of the colored articles of clothing will look similar to dogs, your dog can see the difference between white and colored clothing.
If you think that your dog is ready for this type of challenge, you can try to train him or her to sort laundry like Haggerty did in the previous example. You could also try to have your dog sort its toys by color groups in a similar way. Set realistic expectations, however. Refrain from asking your dog to do things that they aren't capable of.
How to React To Your Dog Seeing in Color
Buy your dog toys in colors that he or she will enjoy.
Teach your dog to recognize the colors they can see for a fun trick.
Cater to how your dog sees color in your daily life.