The answer to the question of, “Can dogs see any colors?” isn’t black and white – even though researchers thought for years that those are the only two colors a dog’s eyes can process. In fact, that myth has been around since 1937, when a writer named Will Judy claimed that not only do dogs only see black and white but also that their overall vision is poor.1
Over the decades, we’ve learned that, while dogs might not have perfect color perception, they see a lot more than just black and white. Here’s a look at what types of colors dogs can see, and how their overall vision compares to that of humans.
How Does A Dog Sense And Perceive Colors?
Dog vision and human vision are somewhat similar. Both contain structures known as cones. These are cells that humans’ and dogs’ eyes use to perceive light as color.
The main difference is that dogs have two kinds of cones, also known as dichromatic vision, while humans have three, known as trichromatic vision. Human eyes do a better job of seeing colors as a result.2
That doesn’t mean dogs can’t see colors. It’s just that their visual acuity, or sharpness, isn’t as good when it comes to seeing colors. In other words, they can’t see colors with the same depth that humans can.3
Because they don’t have as many cones, dogs have a sort of color blindness. Some color-blind people, for example, have a hard time distinguishing a dark blue object from a yellow one. That’s known as blue-yellow color blindness. Likewise, some humans can’t distinguish between red and green. Dogs have something close to red-green color blindness.4
That doesn’t mean a dog’s ability to see colors is always inferior to that of a human’s. There is some evidence that dogs, even with fewer cones, can pick up the differences in shades of certain colors better than humans. For example, they can pick up on different shades of gray better than people can. It is understood that dogs are mostly able to distinguish between the colors blue, yellow, and grey.5
Other Interesting Facts About A Dog’s Eyes
One thing you might not have known about dogs’ eyes is that they not only don’t see colors as well as humans, they also don’t see as well as the typical human from an overall standpoint.
In humans, 20/20 vision is, of course, considered perfect good. If you have 20/100 vision, on the other hand, that means you have to be 20 feet away to see something most people can see from 100 feet away.6
A dog’s vision is more along the lines of 20/75. They have to be 20 feet away to see something that a human with good vision would be able to see at 75 feet. Dogs are what would be considered nearsighted. The farther away something is, the more difficult it is for them to see it. Objects that aren’t directly in front of their eyes are grainier for them than for humans.7
Do Dogs Have Night Vision?
Now, dogs do have an advantage when it comes to night vision. Dogs have much better vision in dim light than people do. In fact, their low-light vision is about five times better than humans. One of the reasons is a mirror-like structure known as the tapetum, located in the dog’s retina. If you’ve ever noticed your dog’s eyes shining at night, the tapetum is the reason why.8
The tapetum reflects light. That gives the retina another opportunity to register whatever light comes into the eye. Another reason dogs see well in low light is their rods, which are light-sensitive cells, in the retina. A dog’s rods do a better job of responding to low light levels than do those in the human eye.9
Your Dog’s Eyes And Their Visual Field Compared To Human Vision
There are a couple of other ways in which a dog’s eye has an advantage over a human’s. For example, dogs’ eyes are located closer to the side of their head. As a result, their range of peripheral vision is broader.10
Dogs have less “binocular vision” than humans. This is basically the frontal field of vision, the one that allows you to do things such as focus on a spot and be able to judge how far away it is. But what they lack in binocular vision, they make up for in peripheral vision. A dog’s field of peripheral vision is about 60 degrees greater than that of a human.11
The trade-off is that their depth perception isn’t as good.12
One interesting thing about a dog’s vision is that they seem to recognize people by the way they move, rather than the way they look. Your dog probably can tell the difference between you and others not by your face, but by your movements.13
How Your Dog’s Vision Could Affect The Toys You Buy
It’s nice to know a little bit about how your dog’s eyes work, but how can you actually put that knowledge to use? Well, knowing how your dogs’ eyes process color might help you make better choices when it comes to buying toys. Your dog, for example, might be more attracted to a yellow toy than a red one.14
If you’re playing fetch in some tall grass and use a red toy, your dog might not be able to find it. The reason is that they might not be able to tell the difference between the red toy and the green grass.15
Hopefully, you’ve learned a little bit about how your dog’s eyes work. So, if anyone ever tries to tell you that dogs are color blind, you can now tell them they’re not – and do so with complete confidence. Dogs might not see colors as sharply as you, but they can see them.
Disclosure: The Ultimate Pet Nutrition team creates these articles as a way to provide you with the latest information on health and nutrition. Unfortunately, we cannot make specific product recommendations for our website visitors, such as “Nutra Thrive Dog” or “Canine Boost” Please consult with your healthcare provider to determine the best products for you.