Are dogs color blind? The answer is no. All living things, including animals, can see the colors of the rainbow—except dogs. Dogs can see specific colors, and we consider them color deficient, meaning they only perceive a limited range of colors. It’s important to remember that the terms “color blind” and “color-deficient” are not biologically accurate when describing a dog’s vision. The canine eye can detect colors and shades of colors, but not as many as humans can. So, for example, if you toss a red ball for your dog to fetch and he doesn’t respond (but he usually does), it could be because he can’t see it very well.
Luckily for dogs, they don’t need to see colors to survive. Most of the world is in shades of grey and black and white, so they get by just fine with their limited vision. Instead, they use their sense of smell and acute hearing to navigate the world around them.
When you understand your dog’s vision, you can create a better quality of life for your furry best friend. Color blindness is a common misconception for dogs, so it is important to gather all the facts. If you want to learn more about dog color blindness, this is the best article for you!
Are Dogs Color Blind?
Contrary to popular belief, dogs do see color. Their color palette is limited compared to people, though. Humans have three cones, allowing them to see red, blue, and green. Dogs only have two cones, allowing them to see only two primary colors; blue and yellow. They call this dichromatic vision, which means they can only see blue and yellow. This type of vision is called “dichromatic” because it has two color receptors, one that picks up blue light and one that picks up yellow light. This is in stark contrast to trichromatic humans that can see red, green, and blue.
Their vision is similar to a person who is color blind from birth. Knowing that dogs don’t see specific colors, it makes sense to choose products that feature the colors they can see. Therefore, dogs don’t see the world in black and white. Instead, they see the world in yellow and blue. Green appears yellow, as there is no overlap between the two cone types in their eyes. Red appears as gray or black due to both blue and red cones perceiving the same wavelength of light—700nm—which produces a neutral “no color” response from both types of cones at once.
This doesn’t mean dogs can’t perceive any hues between blue and yellow on the color spectrum. Overall, although dogs do not see as many colors as people do, they are not technically “color blind.” The term “color blind” refers to the complete lack of pigmentation in the eye. The color receptors in your dog’s eyes work well enough to allow them to distinguish between shades of gray and some colors.
What Is Dog Color Blindness?
Dogs can be color blind in a couple of different ways. They can have complete achromatopsia, which means they see only shades of gray and no color at all. Or they can have incomplete achromatopsia where they can see some colors, just not all of them.
Dogs with complete achromatopsia are totally color blind, meaning they can’t see any colors. We think that dogs with incomplete achromatopsia see blues and yellows, but not reds or greens. Based on experiments in the 1970s, we taught dogs to associate specific colors with food rewards. In this case, the dogs with incomplete achromatopsia learned to associate blue and yellow with food. In contrast, the dogs with normal color vision learned to associate either blue or yellow with food.
Partial color blindness isn’t as debilitating as complete color blindness is for dogs because it doesn’t affect their ability to navigate their environment nearly as much. For example, dogs don’t need color vision to locate objects that stand out from their background by being brighter. Also, since canine eyes are more sensitive at night than human eyes, it is easier for dogs to hunt at night than humans.
Dogs with normal color vision can discriminate between more shades of gray than dogs with partial color blindness.
Genetics determine whether a dog is entirely color blind or has an average color vision for a dog. Color blindness in dogs links to genes on the X chromosome, and it occurs almost exclusively in male dogs because they have only one X chromosome (XY). Male dogs inherit color blindness from their mothers if she carries the gene for color blindness. Although female dogs (XX) can have the gene for color blindness, it is rare because they need two copies of the gene to develop this disorder and typically inherit one from each parent.
Research shows that dogs are also partially red-green color blind, but dogs cannot distinguish blue as a distinct hue, unlike humans who suffer from this form of color blindness. In addition, dogs can have anywhere from 20/75 to 20/100 vision (compared to the average human who has 20/20 vision). So even if dogs saw the same colors humans do, their vision is so poor that they would not distinguish between shades or hues very well, anyway.
Dog Sight and Color Blindness
Dogs have two eyes, just like humans do. Their eyes are located on the front of the head so that they have binocular vision, meaning that each eye sees a slightly different picture from the other eye. The brain combines these two images into one three-dimensional image. Most mammals have this type of vision.
Dogs have a visual field of 240 degrees, meaning they can see almost around them without turning their heads or eyes. Of course, they cannot see directly behind them, but other than that, their field of vision is better than ours.
They sense light through the retina at the back of the eye. Light converts to impulses sent to the optic nerve (the pathway to the brain). The dog sees objects on each side of its head using one-half of each retina.
To see well, dogs must rely on their sense of smell and hearing more than we do. Dogs’ hearing range is much higher than humans’, with many breeds able to listen to sounds at four times the distance humans can hear them.
Overall, dogs can see reasonably well, but they don’t see things exactly as we do. They are more sensitive to movement than to detail. This is because their ancestors were hunters; they needed to know where the prey was to catch it, but it wasn’t always necessary to know precisely what kind of animal it was or how big it was unless they were close enough to see it.
How Is Dog Vision Different From Human Vision?
No matter how much we love them, dogs will never be us. They’re not human. They’re canine. There are a million differences between our dogs and us, ranging from the functional (like their ability to smell) to the aesthetic (like how their fur grows). One of the most significant differences between our dogs and us is how we see. Dogs have different eyes than humans. While this might sound obvious at first, there are more differences between our eyes than you’d think.
People who are color blind still have splendid vision; they just don’t see the same colors as people with normal vision. For example, they cannot distinguish certain shades of red and green (and sometimes blue), but they can still see yellow, blue, and gray. Like humans with normal vision, dogs have cone-shaped photoreceptors in their eyes that enable them to see color.
The difference between dogs and humans is that dogs have fewer cones than humans. Humans have three cones, allowing us to distinguish millions of different colors. In comparison, dogs only have two cones, allowing them to determine about ten times fewer colors than their human counterparts. In addition, dogs cannot perceive as many shades within each color because their cones are more sensitive to light intensity than the wavelength (the perception of color).
Dogs have a tapetum lucidum, a layer of tissue that reflects light into an eye. This reflection makes your dog’s eyes shine at night when they catch the light from a flashlight or car headlight. However, this also means dogs need less light than humans do to see clearly. Also, dogs have better light sensitivity than humans, so they can see in the dark better than we can. Because their eyes have a tapetum lucidum, a layer of reflective cells that bounce extra light back through the retina, giving the dog a second chance to process the light.
We have three cones in our eyes that detect red, blue, and green. These are the primary colors, and they combine to form all the other colors we see. Dogs only have two cones in their eyes: one that detects blue and violet and one that catches yellow and green. Both humans and dogs also have rods in their eyes—these are light-sensitive cells that help us see at night or in low-light situations.
Other differences include dogs do not focus on things as sharply as humans do, and they depend more on movement to spot something. They can see better than humans in the dark. The range of colors that we see is not the same as what the dogs can see. Dogs have a wider field of view than we do. Dogs have a third eyelid that helps keep their eyes moist and protected from debris.
Another significant difference between dog vision and human vision is peripheral vision. Humans can see approximately 180 degrees with our eyes, while dogs have a wider field of view, about 240 degrees. However, while it may seem like a disadvantage to the dog, it compensates for another weakness in their sight: depth perception. Dogs have only two focal points (humans have three), so they can’t judge distances as well as humans can.
So when your dog jumps off the couch or chases a ball down the sidewalk, he’s guessing how far away his target is based on his other senses and his experience with similar distances.
Are Other Senses Different With a Dog?
Dogs have a sense of smell that is 100,000 times stronger than a human’s and can detect one to two parts per trillion. This means they can smell something up to 100,000 times smaller than we can.
This ability comes from the fact that their nose has over 300 million olfactory receptors. Humans only have about 6 million, which is why dogs are so much better at smelling than we are.
Dogs can also detect smells much better than humans because of having a second olfactory system called Jacobson’s organ or vomeronasal organ. This second organ allows them to pick up pheromones and other social cues that we cannot smell.
And unlike humans, who smell with their noses, dogs also smell with their mouths. As a result, their muzzles have a high concentration of mucus membranes and wet noses, which helps them collect scents and transfer them to Jacobson’s organ for more detailed analysis.
You may not think your dog has much in the way of vision, but it’s better than you think. Of course, a dog’s visual acuity is not as good as a human’s, but dogs can see well enough to navigate their way around obstacles. In addition, they can see moving objects farther away than humans can, and they have better night vision.
Dogs can see some colors—just not as many as humans do. Dog color vision is like a person who is red-green color blind, and they’re not very good at distinguishing between reds, oranges, and yellows. They seem to see shades of blue, however. The world looks pretty dim and washed out through a dog’s eyes.
What Does Dog Color Blindness Mean to You and Your Dog?
Dogs are indeed a man’s best friend. They make the perfect companions whether you live on a farm or in the city. You can throw a tennis ball for your dog to fetch, and she will be happy as long as you spend time with her. If you take your dog to the dog park, they can run free like a wild animal. You can teach them tricks, and they will follow your command with pride and obedience. Your dog is always there for you when you want to cuddle on the couch at night or get outside for some exercise in the morning.
Dogs see a similar range of colors to humans, but not quite the same. But even though they don’t see all the same colors we do, they perceive them differently. This perception is because dogs don’t understand or care about color; it’s simply how humans refer to objects and patterns. While the average human has three cones in their eyes (which process color vision), dogs only have two, meaning dogs see many fewer colors than we do.
They may not distinguish between red and orange as clearly as we can because of their dichromatic vision (as opposed to our trichromatic vision). This means that they may see more shades of color within the range of green and yellow because their perception is less complex than ours.
Dogs can see limited colors. Fortunately, their ability to see in dim light lets them function much better at night than humans. Dogs also seem less distracted by color than people, so training with color-coded equipment should not affect your dog’s ability to focus on you or your commands.
Dogs may have trouble seeing red or orange tennis balls on green grass or among autumn leaves because these colors blend into one another in a haze of green and brown. Colors such as black, gray, white, yellow, and blue stand out best against most backgrounds; oranges and reds appear as various shades of yellow and brown, and greens appear as shades of gray and brown.
As much as we love our dogs and wish we could understand them better, we still know very little about what goes on inside their heads. But having a limited color range in their vision does not mean that our dogs can’t enjoy life. He can still smell the ball, taste it and feel it in his mouth. Your dog can use sound to track the ball and find his way around his yard. He can still see us and know we love him by our body language and voice tone.
As a dog owner, to ensure the best life for you and your dog, just be cautious about when and how you handle your pets. Please pay attention to what our dogs are looking at and provide toys and environments that support your dog’s unique traits like a color deficiency in sight, so you can help them enjoy life as much as possible, and avoid confusing situations because of their vision related to colors.