A dog is best known for their sense of smell and hearing. Service dogs, for instance, are specially trained to help humans in disaster areas, as well as police, military, and firemen. Their keen senses are superior to ours, so they can assist us in numerous ways.
But, the question that comes to mind is that of their vision. Is it also superior? Most of us are aware that a cat’s vision is much better at night, but what about a dog's? We know dogs can hear some spectrums that we cannot, but can they also see certain parts of the spectrum that are beyond our abilities? For example, what about infrared?
Signs Dogs Can See Infrared
Whenever your canine friend sees something that is of interest to them, they will react. Their body language will tell you straight away how they perceive the thing that caught their attention. Firstly, it’s important to mention that a lack of reaction most commonly means that your dog either isn’t interested, or they didn’t even see what you wanted them to see.
The reaction, or lack thereof, will always tell you straight away whether your dog noticed something or someone, or didn’t. If they do notice it, they will react in a friendly, curious manner, or maybe even aggressively should they feel threatened in any way.
So, depending on whether the reaction from your dog will be a positive or a negative one, here are some signs your dog might exhibit:
Alertness – once your dog spots an object or some kind of a natural occurrence, they will instantly become alert while they assess whether it’s a threat or not.
Whining – your dog might whine at the object or phenomenon because of two reasons: either they really want to get closer to it, or they really want to get away.
Barking – should your dog feel threatened or scared, they will start barking.
Cowering – should your dog be forced to interact and still be scared, they might cower and try to make themselves smaller.
Growling – should the dog not have the option to gain distance between the object/occurrence that they feel might be a threat, they will also start growling and showing signs of aggression.
Raised ears – in the majority of cases, however, an aggressive stance will not be your dog’s natural response; they will often just be curious, which you can tell by their raised ears.
Sniffing – in order to assess whether the object they are curious about is edible, they will sniff it.
Tail wagging – when your dog decides whether the subject of their attention isn’t a threat, they will most often start wagging their tail.
- Ears up
- Stiff tail
- Barking or whining
- Approaching cautiously
History of Dogs Seeing Infrared
Even though your dog’s senses of smell and hearing are keen and very sensitive, their sight is actually inferior to ours. A dog’s sight is similar to that of a wolf, as they have common ancestors. Even if you look at the development of their sight and other senses, there is very little difference between wolf and dog pups.
As the dog’s ancestors were specialized to hunt in low light conditions, they also developed sight that will aid them in that. This is why your dog and wild wolves both have sight specialized to perceive movements and to adapt to lower light conditions.
Because their sight is more adept in low light hunts, they do not see colors the same way that we do. Dogs only see hues of blue and yellow. So what about infrared?
Science Behind Dogs Not Seeing Infrared
The specialization that allowed the dog’s ancestors to excel at low light conditions, such as dusk and dawn, is also the very reason that your dog can’t see infrared. There are certain animals, like snakes, that can detect infrared with their specially developed sensory organs, but dogs do not have that ability.
It would also not make sense, as they are warm-blooded and give away heat, so this would create quite a lot of interference in their vision. Some argue that cats might have heat detection similar to snakes, but this isn’t true either. Cats just have extremely sensitive heat sensors on their skin, so they excel at finding warm spots all around the house (like your notebook, for instance).
With dogs, their color range is more limited than ours is. We have what is called a trichromatic vision, but our dogs have dichromatic; that is, they see only a part of the spectrum that we can see. We aren’t at the very top of the list when it comes to advanced vision. We have 3 types of cones in our eyes that help us see colors, but some species of butterfly have as many as 15 different photoreceptor types.
The anatomy of a dog’s eyes gives away why they don’t see infrared. In the retina, there are rods and cones, which help humans see. The cones are specialized to provide vision when there’s a lot of light, while the rods help us with seeing in low light conditions. Both humans and dogs have these, but dogs have many more rods in their eyes, allowing them to see much better in lower light conditions.
As already mentioned, our trichromatic vision enables us to see red, green, and blue. Our dogs and their dichromatic vision, however, can only perceive blue and yellow. This is very similar to certain types of colorblindness, so our dog’s vision is rather close to that of a colorblind person.
Training Dogs to See Infrared
Your dog can’t sense infrared the way snakes, some types of bugs, and bats can. Their sight is actually quite inferior when compared to ours, but they definitely make up for it with their other senses. Many say that your dog actually “sees” with its nose, and this is where they will always be superior to us. Training them to use their keen sense of smell is something that you can do.
If you are unsure how, it’s best to consult a professional dog trainer and see what your canine’s nose can do for you.
Safety with Dogs Seeing Infrared:
If your dog reacts to an infrared object (e.g a thermometer or pen), consider seeking the advice of a vet as there could be something medical triggering the reaction and signal an issue with the eyes or brain.