Can dogs see color? If yes, what color do dogs see best? Knowing the answers to these questions is crucial if you’re a pet owner or someone who spends their time around dogs. Contrary to popular belief – dogs aren’t colorblind & they don’t see the world in black and white.
Yes, dogs lack specific visual skills that humans have. But, they also have wider ranges of view, night vision, and a super-sharp eye for motion. Similarly, in terms of seeing colors, a dog’s vision is drastically different from a human’s.
What are these differences? Let’s explore them & try to understand the colors dogs see.
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Can Dogs See Color?
What color do dogs see best? If your answer is “Black & White,” you’ve probably fallen for a myth dating back to the 1930s. The myth that dogs see the world only in shades of black & white was started by Will Judy. Judy was a writer for Dog Week magazine.
In his manual, “Training the Dog” (1937), he claimed that dogs perceive the world only in black and gray shades. This erroneous hypothesis was promulgated up until the 60s. People back then believed that primates were the only mammals capable of discerning color.
Thankfully, various studies have proved that dogs aren’t exactly color blind – they’re spectrum challenged. So, do dogs see in color? Yes. But, how they perceive colors is similar to how people with red-green color blindness perceive the world.
Humans who are red-green colorblind see pretty much everything in shades of yellow & blue – they don’t see red/green. Similarly, all dogs can make out these two colors and different combinations of those colors.
Since they can only see yellow and blue, the world generally appears grayish-brown to them. Hence, a grassy green garden will appear as a yellow hay field. Likewise, red-colored objects appear as dark brown or black items to dogs.
How Do Dogs See Color?
Do dogs see color? Yes. Thanks to years of research on the canine eye structure, we know exactly how they see colors. Natural selection, evolution, and function have caused canines & humans to develop different types of eye structures.
- Dogs’ eyes have evolved to help them become nocturnal hunters. Their eyes are primed for activities like tracking predators or catching prey at night. That’s why they have excellent night vision & their eyes can easily spot movements in the dark.
- Dogs’ eyes have larger lenses and corneal surfaces. These surfaces are covered with “tapetum” – a reflective membrane that augments night vision. Dogs’ retinas are also vastly different from human retinas.
- Every retina is made up of millions of light-sensing cells. The two main types of light-sensing cells are rods & cones.
- Rods are hyper-sensitive light-sensing cells that work in low light. Cones work primarily in bright light conditions and are responsible for how we perceive colors.
- A dog’s retina will have significantly more rods than cones. The retinas of humans and various other primates are the opposite. That’s why we’re better than dogs at perceiving colors. In fact, human retinas are composed of three kinds of cones.
Technically, we are “trichromatic” species, i.e., species with three kinds of cones in their retinas. On the other hand, dogs are dichromatic, i.e., their retinas only have two types of cones. Therefore, they don’t have the cones responsible for registering red & green light wavelengths.
Red-green colorblind people have the same issue.
Just like dogs, their retinas don’t have red-green cones, so their eyes can’t absorb red & green colors. So, can dogs see colors like humans? Technically, yes – dogs perceive colors as some colorblind humans do.
What Colors Can Dogs See?
Here’s the link to an interesting experiment on this topic conducted by a child. According to the child’s experiment, the colors orange, green, & yellow all look the same to dogs. That’s not 100% correct.
Dogs can differentiate between blue & yellow colors. But, they can’t differentiate between orange, red, pink, and similar color combinations because of their dichromatic vision. So, all those colors look appear black or grey to them.
Here’s an image from YouTube channel AnimalWised that explains the differences between how humans & dogs distinguish color –
As you can see, dogs can easily distinguish blue and yellow colors. However, green objects appear yellow to them. Red and orange colors appear grayish or brownish to them. Here’s a video from the same channel that explains this phenomenon in detail.
What is the Easiest Color for a Dog to See?
The best color for dogs to see is either yellow or blue. Buying toys or devices with those colors makes sense for dog owners. Dogs can easily distinguish toys that feature those colors. Likewise, dogs will always perceive colors such as red, pink, orange, or green – no matter how bright they are – as shades of gray.
What Colors Can Dogs Not See?
Except for blue & yellow, all colors appear slightly dull to dogs compared to how humans perceive them. Dogs see all orange, green, & yellow-colored objects as yellowish. They see violet, navy blue, light blue, and all other variations of blue as dull blueish colors.
Red is by far the most difficult color for dogs to see. Dogs perceive red-colored objects as dark, black-colored items. That’s why buying dog toys that are red, pink, or orange in color doesn’t make sense for dog owners. Dogs also perceive the color green similarly.
That’s why playing with red-colored toys on a green, grassy lawn isn’t the best pastime for dogs. Both the toys & the lawn will appear grey or black to them. Dog owners are better off buying their pets blue or yellow-colored items.
Do Dogs Have Favorite Colors?
All dogs are different. So, different dogs will have different preferences in terms of colors. But, they can see the colors blue and yellow pretty clearly. So, it’s fair to say those two are their favorite colors.
How do dogs perceive color? In a very different way than us humans! Knowing how dogs perceive colors can help you become a better dog owner or caregiver. Hopefully, this article has answered all your queries about how our canine friends perceive the world!
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