Can Dogs See Color?

dog walking in forest

Dogs can see color—contrary to what we once thought. Although they don’t see in black and white, they also don’t see the same colors as humans.

The anatomy of dogs’ eyes and their photoreceptors differ from that of humans (and other species), giving dogs a unique visual perspective.

What Colors Do Dogs See?

Dogs’ eyes only have 2 types of cones (just 20 percent of the cones in human eyes). Because of this, a dog’s color spectrum is limited to shades of gray, brown, yellow and blue.

This is called dichromatic vision, which is similar to humans who experience red-green color blindness.

Some colors—like hues of red and orange—may show up as another color to dogs, like brown. Greens may appear blue.

Dogs may also struggle to notice the difference between hues of the same color, like light blue and dark blue.

Keep this in mind if your dog struggles to find toys or treats. It’s not that he’s not interested—he likely can’t see what you’re trying to give him.

The next time you’re shopping for dog toys, try something blue or yellow that will stand out better for your dog.

What Does a Dog’s Vision Look Like?

In daylight, a dog’s visual sharpness is 50 percent less than a human’s. So, things may seem blurrier to him. That’s okay, though, because dogs rely on their heightened senses of smell and hearing.

Can Dogs See in the Dark?

Dogs can see well in dark or low-light situations. This is because their eyes are anatomically different from humans’ eyes.

They have more rods in the retina than humans, so their eyes are more sensitive to motion and light. This allows your dog to pick up on small movements and detect the presence of strangers or prey.

Like other predatory animals, dogs have a layer of reflective membrane at the back of their eyes.

This membrane bounces light not absorbed by rods to the retina, which allows the eye to take in additional light and strengthens their nighttime vision. This also makes it look as if dogs’ eyes glow in the dark.

Breed May Affect What Dogs Can See

According to Bonnie Beaver, author of Canine Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians, dogs’ field of vision may vary significantly depending on their breed.

For example, a dog with a narrow face and long nose, such as a Borzoi, has a narrow field of binocular focus and a larger field of peripheral vision. A brachycephalic breed, on the other hand, such as a Pekingese, has a wider area of binocular vision, but an even bigger blind spot.

We’ll never see the world through our dogs’ eyes, but we can use what we know about canine vision to help solve mysteries and illnesses in the human eye.

In fact, research on blindness in dogs has helped experts understand and address blindness in children.

Learning more about your dog’s sense of sight is a great exercise in helping you to become a better dog owner. The more you are able to imagine the world the way your dog experiences it, the better you’ll be able to meet his needs and understand his behavior.

To learn more about dog vision, health and related topics from our experts, visit our Pet Expertise page.

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