Anybody who has owned a dog or puppy for even a short period of time will quickly come to realize that dogs experience the world in a very different way to us humans.
Of course, while they have a keen sense of hearing and unrivaled sense of smell, one of the most interesting aspects of how a dog experiences the world is how they perceive through their eyes.
In fact, for many years, it was believed that dogs were basically colorblind or could only see in limited black and white, but over time, new studies and research has found that dogs can actually see far more color than was once believed, although it’s closer to a ‘greyscale’ kind of vision rather than true colorblindness.
Can Dogs Detect Color?
You may be surprised to learn that dogs can see more color then we used to give them credit for. So what makes their color detection different? Well, while humans have three cones within their eyes, dogs possess two cones, giving them a genuine ability to detect certain colors, but fewer than a human.
The key distinction is the fact that humans have red, blue, and green cones, whereas dogs have only two, which primarily allow them to detect both yellow and blue.
Ultimately, this means that dogs aren’t colorblind in the true sense of the word, but the way in which they perceive colors gives them a somewhat different perception of their environment than humans do.
Now, these facts do not mean that a dog can’t see red or green at all, it simply means that they can’t detect the differences based on color alone (but they can detect the difference if one object is dimmer or brighter than the other, which will be explained shortly).
Which Colors Can Dogs See?
In practical terms, this seems to mean that dogs will commonly perceive the world in a similar way to a person who’s red-green colorblind, otherwise known as deuteranopia. So, your dog will see yellow, red, and green as one type of color, but they can still distinguish between them based on brightness.
However, yellow and blue are the key colors they can distinguish separately, and everything else blends into a somewhat limited color field that isn’t as detailed as a human would see it. Yet the different brightness levels of each color can be detected, so they’ll still see a separation between the colors, giving them a greyscale-like perception to work with.
Interestingly, many dogs seem to have a fascination with brightly colored tennis balls – and once we learn more about how a dog’s eyesight works – this becomes easy to understand because the bright yellow color of a tennis ball is something they can detect with relative ease compared to many other colors. In fact, the color will really stand out within their visual field.
Which Colors Can’t They See?
One of the hardest colors for your dog to distinguish is red. Unfortunately, this means that many dog toys that come in those red colors aren’t always the best choice if you want your dog to be able to see it quickly and easily! But these days, many dog toys come in colors such as yellow and blue, which are often the best choice for standing out within a dog’s limited color vision.
Furthermore, the way a dog’s vision works also means that they will see colors such as orange and green as yellowish, while red looks closer to brown or black. It’s worth noting that they may struggle to detect different shades and hues as well, being more inclined to see only a single shade without being able to tell much difference between the different hues as they change.
Can Dogs See Detail?
Another key task of cones within the eye is to distinguish detail, and as a dog’s cones aren’t as sophisticated as humans, this goes some way towards explaining why most dogs can’t see in such precise detail when compared to a human.
But vision isn’t only dictated by color, and rods also play a role in how the visual field is interpreted by the brain of either human or a dog.
The rods tend to show the brightness and dimness of an object. When it comes to the rods of your dog’s eyes, they are more focused in some areas, giving them better eyesight in low light conditions, rivaling and even surpassing that of a human. In fact, you’ll struggle to compete with your dog’s eyesight when it comes to tracking something at a distance, and this means they’re likely to spot things that human may miss.
Overall, it’s clear to see that a dog’s perception of the world is markedly different to their owners, and while they may not be able to see colors in such vibrant detail, their incredible sense of smell goes a long way towards making up for any perception deficit they may have from their vision.
In fact, a dog relies heavily on their sense of smell when it comes to perceiving the world around them, and they can distinguish different smells from each other with astonishing accuracy. So, while a dog’s way of perceiving the world is very different from ours, there’s no denying that they can still have an incredibly unique and detailed experience of their surrounding environment.