Are Dogs Really Colorblind?

Dog's eyes
Patrik Powalowski / Flickr

Sometimes you can’t help but wonder how dogs see things. When you go for a walk, is your dog able to see all the bright colors that surround it? Can your dog differentiate all the various colors? Or does he just see the world in black, white, and gray?

Well, we’re about to bust that myth. Most people often assume that dogs are colorblind and can only see in black and white. This idea, however, is but a myth. Dogs, in reality, see colors. Yet the way they see colors are different from how our eyes process colors.

We will break it down for you. Below we’ll show you a little bit of insight as to how your dog perceives the world. And we’ll give you a glimpse of how your furry pawed friend sees color.

Let’s Compare Dog and Human Color Perception

For quite a long time, most people have accepted the theory that dogs only see things in black and white. Even up to now, people still believe that. But, this has been disproved due to advances in recent studies and more discoveries of the dogs’ anatomy. Animal experts now have more understanding of how a dog’s vision works.

So in more detail, humans and dogs have eye cells called “rods” and “cones”. Rods and cones are what communicate and transfer data to our brains, allowing us to see color. Rods process peripheral and night vision. Cones communicate color perception and day vision.

Dogs have more rods than cones in their retina, while people’s retinas contain more cones. The different types of cones detect different wavelengths of light. Human anatomies have three types of cones that allow us to see a full spectrum of colors. Human cones allow us to perceive red, green, and blue wavelengths.

Dogs, on the other hand, have only two cones in their retinas. A dog’s cones perceive yellow and blue. But the way a dog sees these colors aren’t as vibrant and bright as how we people see them. Recent studies suggest that a dog’s vision is at 20/75. To illustrate simply, humans can plainly see certain things and scenes from 75 feet, while a dog can only see clearly at 20 feet.

Let’s Talk About Colorblindness and Color Perception

So, what led to the discovery, research, and study of colorblindness? And when did humanity start studying it?

To answer that, we are going back to the late 18th to early 19th century. During that time lived John Dalton. He was an English chemist, physicist, and meteorologist, and the scientist responsible for the study of colorblindness. Growing up, John Dalton and his brother struggled with seeing different colors. This was the reason behind John Dalton’s research and study about colorblindness. The colors their eyes struggled with were red and green. Their colorblindness is the most common form of colorblindness. This colorblindness is called Daltonism, named in honor of John Dalton (also known as protanopia). For most colorblind people with Daltonism, yellow and blue are the colors that stand out. Colorblindness is due to defects with a person’s color perceiving cone.

Recent research implies that a dogs’ vision is quite alike to how people with protanopia see. So dogs can likely perceive blue and yellow, yet see green differently.

A lot of things are made with secondary colors, which are blends made from the primary colors. Which means dogs may not be able to see the colors blended from red and green. They don’t see colors such as orange, pink, and purple. Also, dogs are not able to see the change in their surrounding’s brightness.

What Are Colors That Dogs Can Perceive?

Dogs can see certain shades of blue, brown, and yellow. They can also differentiate varied hues of black, white, and gray. So, in reality, dogs can see the bright blue or yellow chew toys they play with. And they also see the bright yellow ball they fetch at the park. Though the grass might look yellow to them, too. So make sure to pick chew toys that your dog will see, such as blue and yellow fun toys.

So, when you’re looking for stuff for your furry friend. Choose different colored equipment that your dog can see. Getting blue or yellow makes it easier for your dog to distinguish what certain things are for.

Use Color to Safely Play with Your Dogs

Because dogs can’t see certain colors this may cause some safety concerns. Dogs can’t always differentiate certain obstacles because of color. The dog’s vision might cause it to run into things at times. So, make sure to play fetch within areas where they will be able to see different colored obstacles on the grass.

There are various websites that you can use online that give you an idea of what your dogs see. These sites give you a comparison of how human and dog vision see different scenes. Some of these websites also let you upload photos to see how your dog sees the specific scene in that photo.

Final Thoughts

So there you go, myth busted. In conclusion, the world and its surrounding are not just black and white for mankind’s furry best friends. A dog’s vision is capable of seeing colors other than black and white. Dogs can see certain colors (such as yellow, blue, brown, and certain shades of black, white, and gray). But they don’t see them with the same dynamic vividness that we humans do.

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