4 min read


Can Dogs See Rainbows?



4 min read


Can Dogs See Rainbows?


Dogs are known for their keen sense of smell and hearing, and you can often hear the expression that dogs actually see the world around them with their nose. Here, however, the focus will be on their sight, and how they actually see the world around them. Your dog’s sight is also a very strong sense, and they perceive the world somewhat differently than we do.

For instance, their color palette is different, so they will see and react to things differently than we do. Are you wondering whether your dog can see the rainbow, for instance? Read on and find out.


Signs of Dogs Seeing a Rainbow

When your dog spots an object or occurrence, you will be able to tell that by their body language. The body language will differ depending on their perception of that object or phenomenon. For instance, some dogs are afraid of thunder, while others don’t mind it at all. Their response will be different depending on how they perceive thunder.

This goes for basically anything that captures your dog’s attention, even rainbows. So remember, when your dog spots an object or phenomenon, they will react to it if they are interested in it, or if they feel threatened in any way.

A dog that is positively interested in an object or phenomenon will usually show the following signs:

  • Alertness – the dog will be alert of the object in question and try to make out whether the object is potentially dangerous.

  • Raised ears – most commonly, when a dog is interested in something, the ears will be raised and alert.

  • Sniffing – the dog will, if it’s possible, try to sniff the object, as their sense of smell is their primary way to determine whether something is good or bad, edible or not edible.

  • Tail-wagging – once your dog is positive that the object or phenomenon in question isn’t a threat, they might wag their tail to show they are friendly.

A dog that has noticed an object or phenomenon they are unsure about and are wary of will show the following signs:

  • Barking – the dog will bark when feeling threatened by an object or phenomenon.

  • Whining – your dog might even start whining if the object or phenomenon causes them stress.

  • Cowering – if the dog can’t get away, which is a natural response to anything they deem a threat, they will start cowering in hopes the object/phenomenon will disappear.

  • Growling – if they see there’s no other way than to fight, the dog will start growling to assert dominance.

Body Language

Signs that your dog is reacting to something include:

  • Growling
  • Alert
  • Barking
  • Whining
  • Cowering
  • Wag Tail
  • Sniffing

History of Dogs Seeing Rainbows


The dog’s sight, from development to similarity, is basically the same as that of their wolf ancestors. In order to know how dogs perceive the world around them, it’s important to know that each animal develops their sight depending on their specialization. With their wolf ancestors, this means focus on movement detection and good sight in low light conditions.

When looking at the eyesight development in wolves and dogs, the pups develop sight around the same time, which is about six weeks of age. Because of the way their ancestors have hunted, which means in packs, and because they are not pure predators and are also scavengers, the position of their eyes and their field of view is somewhat different from other predators.

For instance, often predators have eyes in the front of their head and a smaller field of view because they are not worried something will try to attack them. Wolves, on the other hand, are scavengers and pack animals. This means that they have to keep track of their surroundings and their pack members when hunting together. Their eyes have developed to be a bit more on the side, which means that their field of view is much wider.

We, humans, have 180° field of view, and wolves and our dog companions have about 270°. This means that they can spot things more easily, especially with a focus on movement detection. But what about a rainbow? It doesn’t really move, but can dogs see it?

Science of Dogs Seeing Rainbows


Because dogs' ancestors focused on the hunt at dusk, night, and dawn, their eyes developed for better sight in low-light conditions and spotting prey as soon as it makes a move. The anatomy of the eye was heavily influenced by this. Our dogs have a different color range from us. Humans have what is known as a trichromatic vision: they see the whole color spectrum. Dogs, on the other hand, have dichromatic vision: they only see part of it.

The difference comes down to the rods and cones in the retina of the eye. Both humans and dogs have more rods than cones, but the dogs have much more. These rods help see better in low light and are used for motion detection. 

The cones work better in mid- to high-light conditions and detect color better. The dog’s eye has only 1/5 of cones in the central area, while humans have 100% cones in a part called fovea. The human eye is devoted to cones, while the dog’s eye is devoted to rods. Dogs will see about four times better in the dark.

Humans also have three types of cones for red, green, and blue, while dogs only have blue and yellow. So basically, dogs would see similar to a colorblind person. This means that they will be able to see a rainbow, but not all the colors that we can see.

Training Dogs to See a Rainbow


You won’t be able to train your dog to react to a rainbow, because this object holds little significance to them: it’s far away, it doesn’t move, it doesn’t smell, and they can’t see it in all its glory.

You can, however, go through with a basic training on how your dog reacts to certain objects that would have a much more beneficial result for training than trying to get your dog to react to a rainbow.

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By Charlotte Ratcliffe

Published: 05/18/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

Wag! Specialist
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