4 min read


Can Dogs See Layers of Paint?



4 min read


Can Dogs See Layers of Paint?


Dogs are very perceptive! They have legendary sniffing and hearing skills, which makes them useful as guards and sniffer animals. However, their vision is not quite as impressive as their other senses.

Can dogs pick out precise and contrasting objects, such as the layers of paint? It depends on a number of factors, including the colors involved, the thickness of each layer, and the contrast that is made between them.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look through the eyes of our furry friends, and determine how much of the finer details they can see.


Signs of a Dog Seeing Layers of Paint

When dogs see something that interests them, such as layers of paint, you will notice that they suddenly become more alert. The behaviors displayed vary according to the breed and each individual dog, but generally, this will begin with staring and raised ears. Your dog will appear to be fixated on one point where something has caught their attention.

Next, there may be some vocal indications of interest. This may begin with soft whining, crying, or growling, depending on how the dog interprets what they can see. If, for example, they determine that what they can see is something fun or positive, their vocal behaviors are likely to be whining in tandem with a wagging tail. Conversely, if they perceive what they see to be threatening or in some way negative, they are more likely to growl or bark.

After they have noticed something of interest and displayed initial alertness behaviors, the dog will move onto investigation. They may begin pacing, with a focus on the area where the paint is. Your dog may tilt their head to try to get a better vantage point, or they may analyze what they’re seeing from a different angle. As their olfactory system is so well-refined, they will probably try to jump up and sniff the area to better understand what’s happening.

If they determine that it is worth your attention, your dog will give a more substantial vocal response. They may whine, howl, or growl with greater intensity, and may begin barking. Again, this will depend on how they perceive the paint. 

If they see it as something positive, they will seem excited, with a wagging tail, some jumping up, and raised ears. If they understand it to be negative, their ears are likely to drop, and if they feel afraid, your dog might begin cowering or shaking. Take your dog away from the area if they display signs of distress, and try to conceal what they appear to be afraid of.

Body Language

Some signs that your dog is interesting in something include:

  • Growling
  • Cowering
  • Jumping Up
  • Wag Tail
  • Raise Ears

Other Signs

More indications that your dog has seen and taken note of something are:

  • Touching The Thing Of Interest With Their Nose
  • Returning To Where This Thing Is

History of Dogs Seeing Layers of Paint


As you might expect, the ability of dogs to see layers of paint is not one that has been studied extensively. However, there has been some discussion as to whether dogs are able to appreciate art.

As we will discover in the next section, the ability of dogs to make a meaningful distinction between colors is relatively limited, but this does not prevent them entirely from being drawn to shapes and scenes that they enjoy the look of!

Research has shown that dogs can appreciate pictures of things that are familiar, including their preferred parks, other dogs, and their favourite things of all; their owners!

It may seem slightly preposterous, but there are actually art shows for dogs! In New York and London, the canine art scene has been blessed with installations and paintings in shapes and hues that are best suited to our fluffy friends.

Science of Dogs Seeing Layers of Paint


Dogs’ olfactory and auditory systems are legendary; making these animals a great choice for sniffing and hearing activities. But what of their visual aptitude? That’s a little more complex.

Conventional wisdom tells us that dogs are colorblind. However, that’s not entirely accurate. To understand why, we need to know a little more about the structure of the eyes and their connection with the brain.

Within the retina of each eye, there are two types of cells, both called photoreceptors. The photoreceptors that help animals (including dogs and humans) to see at low light levels are called rods. The photoreceptors that aid vision at higher light levels and provide the ability to distinguish colors are called cones.

Dogs’ retinas have fewer cones, but they are not missing entirely. This means that, although dogs can’t distinguish colors with as much accuracy as we can, they can still see in color. They’re particularly good at spotting blue, yellow, and grey hues, but their ability to see in red is limited. In fact, canine vision is superior to humans in a different way; as dogs have more rod cells than humans, they are better at seeing in the dark!

Dogs are also near-sighted. This means that their vision is slightly blurred in comparison to humans, and they can struggle to see the finer details, particularly as they move further away from an object. It’s why, even if you spot your dog from across a large park, they won’t realize it’s you until they’re a lot closer.  

So, what does science tell us about the ability of dogs to see layers of paint? Unfortunately, it is likely to mean that dogs will not be that good at distinguishing between them. Fortunately, this doesn’t prevent them from still being amazing pets!

Training Dogs to See Layers of Paint: Is it Possible?


Due to the restrictions on their vision, it’s unlikely that dogs can be trained to distinguish layers of paint. However, you can create art that is best suited to their visual range.

Choose greys, blues, and yellows as your main palette, and create shapes with which they are familiar. You can even take a picture of something they love, such as a favorite toy (or a picture of their owners!) and adjust the saturation to give them the optimal art experience.

If your dog takes an interest in a piece of artwork that is tailored to them or any kind of layered paintwork, reward their behavior. Offer a treat or make a fuss to reinforce their interest. Do this on a regular basis and your dog will make an association between their action and a positive affirmation.

So, even though dogs are unlikely to be able to help decipher layers of paint, they can still show appreciation of a beautiful scene!  

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Safety Tips for Dogs Seeing Layers of Paint:

  1. Note that when you're training or around paint that dogs can still be susceptible to the fumes and it can make them unwell. In the same way you wouldn't leave a baby in a freshly painted room, treat dogs with that provision. Always keep freshly painted areas ventilated.

By Charlotte Ratcliffe

Published: 06/08/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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