Most dog owners today probably have heard that dogs are color blind, but they don't know for sure that it is true, much less understand what it means for their dog. It's very common for people to assume dogs see everything gray almost like a black and white television set, but this is not true. Dog vision is similar to but different from ours in some areas. On one hand, their vision is not as "good" as ours and in other ways, it is better. There is an evolutionary purpose for this, and it is not something wrong with the dog. Read more to finally answer the question, "are dogs color blind" and understand how this impacts your dog and your interactions with them.
The definition of colorblindness
Colorblindness does not mean the human or animal sees no color but just that they don't see colors the same as what is considered normal or accurate. Normal color vision usually amounts to what is called trichromatic vision, because it is based on three types of cone cells. Some humans and animals have dichromatic vision, having only two types of cone cells and perceiving fewer colors, while some animals have a tetrachromatic vision with four types of cone cells and they are able to see an even wider range of colors and make use of ultraviolet light. Perhaps, to those with tetrachromatic vision, we'd all seem to be lacking. Some species of birds, fish, insects, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and the rare human have a tetrachromatic vision. An Australian artist, Concetta Antico, was found to have it because of genetic variation in 2012, and she applies it to her art.
How are dogs color blind?
Dogs are color blind very similarly to how humans are, and for the same physical reason. They can see some colors but not all, or they perceive the colors but the colors look different than they do to others. A colorblind person or a dog might see a red ball or couch as a beige and brownish color and maybe distinguishable or indistinguishable from other colors that it sees the same way. Patterns may only be distinguishable by other factors like lightness or texture.
How do we know dogs are color blind?
Research has suggested for some time that dogs were color blind, but the mechanisms and extent of the colorblindness have finally been proven. The answer lies in the physical parts of the eye.
The retina discerns colors. All retinas contain a certain number of rods and a certain number of cones, depending on the species, rods determining how the eye perceives light and movement, and cones determining how it perceives color.
Humans, with trichromatic or "normal" vision, have more cones and fewer rods than dogs. Meaning we see more colors and they see more light.
With dogs, we don't just know they have less color perception than humans, we can say what colors they can see because we know which cone cells are missing. Like color-blind humans, they can't see reds and greens. Their vision is yellow and blue dominant because those are the cone cells they have.
It is also possible to see the impacts of this lack of color perception by testing their reactions and interactions to objects of different colors. Try playing with them with toys of different colors or buying them bedding or harnesses of a different color. There are other factors at play, so results are not guaranteed, but it is not surprising at all if your dog usually prefers items that are yellow or blue.
How many colors can a dog see?
The only colors they can see well are yellow and blue, but they can also often discern purple. Red, green, and many oranges are the colors they have the least able to see.
Most of their world is a grayish-brown color, almost like a sepia photograph but yellow and blue will appear with more brilliancy. You know how people make movies and photos where most of the screen is black and white but some colors show, often red? It is similar to that but not as stark a contrast between the grays and colors. Everything is not actually black and white, neither is the color quite as vibrant. You could imagine your dog seeing everything kind of like these stylized photos though, which is kind of neat.
What color is a dog most attracted to?
Because dogs see yellow and blue rather than other colors, yellows and blues stand out to them. Sometimes they will also see and appreciate purples. Like those stylized photos just mentioned, a limited number of colors standing out against a monochromatic background naturally draw the eye and creates an impact.
Discerning is about more than color
Objects, animals, people, everything your dog looks at does not just distinguish itself by color. Light, shading, contrast, texture, and movement help your dog differentiate from one thing to the next even with limited ability to see color. They also use smell to understand what's going on around them.
When chasing a ball or stick, they are likely to use motion, contrast, brightness, smell, or a combination of the above to find and grab the item rather than discerning its color as we would do.
Are all dogs color blind?
We can only assume at this time that all dogs are color blind. The breed would require more cone cells in their retinas to see more colors. As more studies on dog vision are conducted, there may be proof that some dog breeds can see more colors, but so far, we don't have that information.
Don't feel bad because dogs are color blind
It sounds bad. The word blind makes us think of not being able to see, of missing out. And yes, your dog does not see the array of colors you can, but that doesn't mean they feel they are missing anything, and, in fact, their eyes are capable of doing things ours can't. Their vision is not all-around worse than ours, just very different. And it's like that for a reason.
Dog eyes evolved to help them find food in dusk and dawn, whereas animals like humans with greater color vision evolved to predominantly operate during the day. Dogs had to see prey moving in low light conditions, and most animals use camouflage to make it so that they are not easily seen by color and light. Your dog's ancestors didn't need to see color, but they did need to be able to see movement, to see in lower light conditions, and to hear and smell. These they do very well, much better than we do.
Dogs have forward-facing eyes as humans have. Animals higher on the food chain often have this type of eye structure because it provides better depth perception that helps catch prey, rather than a prey animal who needs a better peripheral vision. The position of a dog's eyes provide them a wider field of vision than us, 240-250 degrees depending on the dog, which is 20% more than ours. This wider field lessens their depth perception though, so they see a larger area than we do but with less accuracy regarding depth.
Dogs are famous for their sense of smell, with 300 million olfactory receptors, hair-like things, in their noses as well as a larger portion of the brain dedicated to interpreting smells. You might be looking at Fido thinking he's missing out on your color perception, but he's also smelling, seeing, and hearing things you could never smell.
Dogs can also hear much better than we can in many ways, though some aspects of hearing we share with them. They can hear high-pitched sounds two or three times higher than we can. It is also possible for them to hear softer noises in the high range. This helps them be able to discern a tiny animal moving or a person walking far away.
This combination of factors gives your dog a combination of senses that make them aware of their environment in a powerful way, perfectly designed for the life they evolved to live. A superpower in a way.
Can dogs see at night?
Many people wonder if their dogs can see at night, like night vision. Dogs don't have true night vision like would be achieved with night vision goggles, but they can see much better in the dark than we can. They are naturally crepuscular, meaning they evolved to be most active during twilight and dusk. Their retinas have more rods than ours, for discerning light and movement, and they have larger lenses and corneas than we do, letting in more light to the process. They also have something we don't have at all, which is a mirrored tapetum lucidum, helping light reflect in different directions so more of it can make it into the retina.
This enhanced night vision gave them the ability to hunt for food more often than being limited to eating during the daylight hours. They can detect movement during the day and night that is imperceptible to us, and in long-distance too. Their night vision is not quite as good as a cat's, but it is keen.
Dog vision blurry
If you research dog vision online, you're likely to be surprised to not only discover that your dog is color blind but to see a lot of blurry images showing up in the results. Scientists have found that because dogs are crepuscular and have great twilight and night vision, their daytime vision suffers a bit. Their eyes don't register brightness as well as they do other things that they need to see, so the world in bright light ends up blurrier than we see it. You may notice that your dog doesn't act like they are missing out on anything during the day and that's because this is what they are used to, what their eyes at this time were designed to do to meet their unique needs.
Dog vision simulation
You don't have to just imagine how a dog sees the world, you can see it for yourself with aids like videos online and apps for your phone. With apps, you can point your phone at something in your field of vision and compare how you see it and how your dog sees it, according to our knowledge at this time.
This is not only a fun tool and one to help you understand your dog better but one to help you make strategic choices for your dog's enjoyment of their surroundings and your training tactics. Plan your dog's space, your backyard, or training areas with these tools. Or select the most enjoyable dog park and doggy daycare this way.
Colorblind dogs and training
Dog owners who don't know that dogs are color blind may assume their dog is lacking in intelligence if they can't find a ball in the grass or don't discern the difference between things that the dog owner thinks they should. It is important when training to educate ourselves on and take into consideration the differences in dogs and us. They may not be stupid or stubborn, but just dogs, just different from us. If we don't realize that and plan accordingly, we're the ones lacking something.
We can also use what we know about dogs and colorblindness to train them more efficiently. By buying them toys, harnesses, and any other gear we need for them in colors they see better, we eliminate potential barriers, and better yet, draw their eye to an object of importance to their training. It will be so much easier to convey the messages to your dog that you want them to know if you do so in a way that is easiest for them to absorb.
When buying them toys and bedding, it would be considerate of you to buy them in yellow or blue. You might even choose furniture you know they're going to spend time on in yellow or blue to really spoil your pooch. The odd thing is so many items for dogs come in red and orange. Guess it just shows how companies are behind in what dogs want. Other factors may draw a dog to a toy or object that isn't yellow or blue or turn a dog off an object that is, but most of the time, an object of this color would be much more appealing to a dog.
Nothing wrong with them
Dogs are color blind, but this is perfectly natural for them and not a sign that anything is wrong or deficient about them. Their eyes just adapted to different needs than ours did, and, unless evolution changes it to suit present or future times, the best vision for them.
While colorblindness, even though the word blind is in there, is not a vision problem, your dog can certainly suffer sensory loss from actual blindness, cataracts, hearing loss, and maybe even their sense of smell. Age and disease may both decrease the efficiency of or impair the use of one or more of their senses. If the cause is an underlying disease that gets addressed or simply age, your dog can adapt surprisingly easily to sensory loss, but during that time of adjustment, they may suffer some anxiety or injure themselves. There will always be some increased chances of accidents due to unforeseeable events, like something falling.
When a dog's senses diminish or one disappears, you can help them a lot by adjusting their lifestyle and living environment to accommodate their new needs, not freaking out about them, allowing them to do as many things for themselves as they can, and managing any anxiety that they may have.
CBD oil tinctures, treats, and balms are gentle and natural ways to try to manage anxiety and pain. Treats and oil tinctures are good for oral use, and balms can be applied to localized areas such as for pain and inflammation with an injury.
Innovations from Innovet
We create scientifically-backed natural products to address the needs of pets and pet owners. Dogs are color blind, and that's how their eyes are intended to be. Yay for a healthy dog! Any dog may benefit from our oral care and anti-pest products, as well as our eco-friendly poop bags so their owners can maintain their dogs' health and the environment at the same time. Anxious, depressed, injured, and sick dogs may benefit from our CBD oil tinctures, capsules, treats, and balm. Should your dog develop true blindness or debilitating vision impairment for some reason, we offer scent markers with essential oils to help dogs navigate safely using their sense of smell. You won't normally smell them and you can place them where you don't have to see them, but your dog can smell them and react.
If you encounter a pet problem there is no traditional or natural solution to, contact us to see if we can't find one. We love to innovate for pets.
Sources:Are Dogs Color Blind?
Do Dogs See Color?
Are Dogs Color Blind?