Are Dogs Color Blind? The Truth About Color Blindness

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are dogs color blind

Whether dogs can see color or not has been a hot topic throughout the history of owning dogs. So are dogs color blind? Yes, dogs are color-blind. However, they can see some colors. 

The traditional statement that dogs are color blind isn’t entirely true. Dogs cannot see colors in the same way humans do.

“Dog vision is similar to red-green colorblindness in people. So, they can see blues and yellows pretty normally. They may be more playful with toys in these colors, but the color is not usually a deciding factor in toy preference.” –  Lucas White, DVM.

This means that dogs can see some shades of color, but some colors may look alike. The term color blind relates to the lack of a color receptacle. A human who only has two is considered color-blind even if they can see some colors. 

What Colors Can Dogs See?

The world isn’t just black and white for our furry friends. They can see an array of colors. However, dogs’ color receptors do perceive only specific wavelengths of light

For example, red, green, and blue-violet are all part of the same wavelength. Hence, these colors will all look the same to your dog. 

different colors palette

Dogs specifically have the color receptors that noticed blue and yellow wavelengths. Furthermore, this means that dogs will believe that a red rose is yellowish or that the grass they are rolling in is a shade of yellowish-brown. To us, it would look dead.

What Does A Dog’s Vision Look Like?

Dogs have only two-color receptors, so most of their world is seen in blue, yellow, and gray shades. Furthermore, dogs are typically nearsighted. Compared to our 50/50 dogs, see about 20/75.[1]

Your canine friend also has a wider field of vision than humans because of their wide-set eyes. This allows them to see motion better than people and catch fast-moving prey.[2]

That is why they will happily bark at anything that moves before fully identifying it. 

The Black and White Vision Theory

Back in 1937, the founder of National Dog Week, William Judy, released a training manual that concluded that dogs could don’t see in only shades of black and gray.[3]

However, in the ’60s, research furthered the myth by assuming that primates were the only animals that could see color. 

It wasn’t until the early 2000s that looked at the question differently. Russian researchers proved that dogs notice differences between some select colors. [4]

Researchers placed four pieces of paper with different colors on boxes. Only one color had a piece of meat. The dogs learned to associate the food with the color of the box. 

The researchers noticed that the dogs could differentiate even paper of the same shade as they continued to locate the color. 

Can Dogs See in the Dark?

Dogs, like cats, have larger pupils that allow them to see better in the dark or other low light. This anatomical structure allows them to wander through the house easily, even when there are no lights on. 

Dogs have more light-sensitive cells in their retinas that give them this impressive advantage. The retina is also where the cones that allow dogs to see colors are located. 

These cones and rods allow dogs to see color, even in low light. The tapetum[5] works similarly to a mirror and reflects the slightest bit of light, allowing dogs to see. This is also why their eyes seem to glow in the dark. 

“Limitations in color vision seem to have little consequence to dogs and cats. On the other hand, dogs have been reported to be able to differentiate perfectly among closely related shades of gray that are indistinguishable to the human eye.” – Michelle Casey, DVM.

Can Dogs See TV?

As we talked about earlier, dogs are nearsighted and are great at picking up movement. However, this might not be the only reason why dogs seem to watch T.V. like a human. Studies have shown that dogs can perceive images on television. [6]

Dogs are smart enough to recognize images that are on the screen just like they would in real life, even if the animal is new. 

Dogs can also recognize sounds, such as a dog barking or a cat hissing. One study even noticed that dogs like to watch things that include dogs because it is familiar to them. 

So yes, you and your dog can enjoy some late night T.V. before bed. Some YouTube channels even offer specialized videos that dogs enjoy. 

Different Views for Different Dogs

Dogs see the world a little differently than humans do. While dogs cannot differentiate between all the colors that we can see, some dogs have advantages when it comes to vision. 

Different skull shapes offer various visual advantages for some of our furry friends. Sighthounds such as the Greyhounds that are known for racing have forward-facing eyes that allow them to narrow in on their target. 

However, pugs suffer from their underbite and bulging eyes. While they are adorable, the breed is known to have eye problems. 

Do Dogs Dream in Color?

We all would like to think that our dog’s dream is about us or about the ultimate game of fetch. But with their limited color palette, it’s easy to wonder if dogs dream in color. 

Some studies have found that, yes, dogs do dream in color. Or at least their own limited array of color options that they have when they are awake. 

Your dog will see colors while they are sleeping. However, it will only be shades of yellows, blues, and greys, just like when they are awake.

What Does This Mean for Your Dog?

While for owners, half of the fun of picking out your dog’s next toy is all the exciting colors and designs. Coordinate their beds and collars with similar colors.

However, just because it’s appealing to us doesn’t mean that your dog sees it in the same way. Aside from the fact that dogs don’t care as much as we do about color coordination, they also can’t see colors as well. 

Bright rainbow colors may be fun for you, but your dog can’t even see those shades. 

Some advanced dog trainers have, however, cashed in on the limited color palette that dogs have. For example, some agility equipment offers blue and yellow colors or a blue dumbbell for retrieving. 

The Bottom Line

Dogs overall would be considered to be color blind by our human standards. However, they can still see some colors, shades, and tones of the world around them.

Understanding how their eyes perceive color can help you pick out products that work better for them. 

That bright red bowl might look fabulous on your blue carpet, but your pup may have a hard time finding it. But a yellow bowl, on the other hand, will stand out.

Photo of author
Lori Marsh
A writer who's lived in the pet world for more than 25 years. I currently reside just outside of Chicago with my collection of cats while I await the day that I can get my next dog.

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