Great Dane laying on the grass

Key takeaway

Dogs see the world differently than humans, including how they see color. Dogs don’t only see the world in black and gray; they also have red-green color blindness that affects the way they see certain colors. 

It's a common myth that dogs can only see in black and white because people don't know the true definition of color blindness. Dogs are indeed color blind, but they can also see certain colors. However, being color blind doesn't mean you can't see any color; color blind humans and dogs can see color, but they see color differently. This article will discuss color blindness in dogs, common dog vision myths, and explain how your vision differs from your dog's. 

What Is Color Blindness?

Color blindness refers to how people (and dogs) perceive different colors. Humans who are color blind don't see some colors the way others do, and they may see certain colors at a different intensity than others. The most common form of color blindness is red-green color blindness, and people with this type of color blindness can't distinguish dark green, red, or both.1 

Definition of color blindness

The other type of color blindness in people is blue-yellow color blindness, in which a person can't distinguish the difference between blue and yellow. 

While dog vision and human vision are slightly different, a dog's normal vision can be considered most like someone who has red-green color blindness, which means dogs may not be able to distinguish red from green. 

Are Dogs Color Blind?

Dogs are color blind in the technical sense. However, many people don't understand what color blindness really is. Color blindness does not mean that someone or a dog cannot see any color; it simply means that some colors are indistinguishable from each other and those with color blindness perceive those colors differently. 

In general, dogs don't see in black and white, but they don't perceive colors the same way humans do. So while you might tell your dog to fetch the red ball, they may only know it's red if you've trained them to know which ball is the red ball. 

In the past, scientists believed that dogs didn't rely on color to determine what objects were. However, a new study has proven that this is a misconception, and dogs can use color to discriminate between objects.2 The study found that dogs could discern objects from their colors rather than by the level of brightness, which means your dog may be able to learn the colors of objects, especially if they're yellow or blue. 

In this particular experiment, researchers found that dogs could see yellow and blue and were not yellow-blue color blind.2 However, this was a small trial, so it's possible that it may not apply to all dogs, making us wonder are all dogs color blind? While it's safe to assume color blindness in dogs is similar for all breeds, it's impossible to truly know without experimenting on a wider scale. 

So, can dogs see color? The short answer is yes, but it's a lot more complicated than that. They can't see all colors and may not be able to distinguish red from green, or they may see them as other colors. 

Myths About Vision in Dogs

The main myth about vision in dogs is that they see in black and gray. Dogs can see in color even though many tones will appear more muted than they will to you. As we've discussed, dogs can see the same level of color that a human with color blindness can.3 Of course, humans and dogs are not the same species, so we can expect these minor differences in our vision. However, dogs are color blind because of their biology and the different anatomy of their eyes. We'll get into this later, but dogs have a lower number of cones in their retinas, so humans can typically see and distinguish more colors than their canine counterparts. 

While dogs may be color blind, it doesn't mean they suffer from dog blindness or any other eye health issues. While some dogs may have eye problems, many have healthy eyes. Remember, color blindness doesn't mean your dog can't see everything around them. When considering the health of your dog's eyes, you should be aware of when your dog's eyes are cloudy. The most common cause of cloudy eyes is typically cataracts, especially in older dogs. Additionally, those with dog allergies may get eye irritation, which can impact their vision for short periods of time. 

What Colors Can Dogs See?

As we've discussed, dogs can see certain colors, especially blue and yellow. However, because they have red-green color blindness, they may not be able to distinguish red from green, and red may even look green and vice versa. Therefore, some colors will look like others to your dog. For example, green can appear blue or even gray. 

What colors can dogs see? Dog eyesight color chart compared to a human’s eyesight color chart

If you ever throw a ball to your dog in hopes of playing fetch and your dog doesn't seem interested in the game, they just might not be able to see what you threw. Additionally, you may notice your dog looking for certain toys, unable to find what's right in front of them. When looking for toys for your dog, consider something that's either yellow or blue because those are the colors they can distinguish the most from other colors. 

Dog Vision vs. Human Vision

Because dogs are color blind, many humans believe that their dogs might have poor vision, but this is not the case. Humans can also be color blind, but there are main differences in human vision vs. dog vision. For example, the retina is responsible for the main reason dogs interpret color differently than humans. The retina has millions of cells that sense light, including rods and cones.4 Rods are sensitive for the purpose of catching movement in low light, while cones work in bright light and control how your pet sees color, and dogs are dichromatic, which means they only have two types of cones.4 On the other hand, humans have three types of cones, making them trichromatic.

Overall, dogs don't have the same number of cones humans do, which is why their vision is different. Additionally, dogs also don't have areas within their eyes with 100% cones, which means they don't have the same level of detail in their vision like humans.5 However, dogs have better night vision than humans because they have more rods and their eyes have a structure called the tapetum lucidum, which reflects light back through the retina to improve vision in low light conditions.5

Comparison of dog eyes and human eyes

All in all, dogs can perceive color, but they don't see all the colors in the spectrum. However, they can still distinguish different colors. For example, red might look gray or black to a dog, while green looks yellow.4

There are other vision differences between dogs and humans, too. Dogs often have eyes that are set farther apart on their head, allowing them to see more of their peripherals. Unfortunately, they have a smaller range, making them near-sighted, and they don't have the same level of depth perception as humans. 

Additionally, dogs' vision can be impacted by their breed. Some dogs have narrow faces and long noses, which place their eyes closer together on their head, giving them better depth perception. However, a breed with eyes that are farther apart may have a blind spot when looking forward. 

Learning the differences between how you see things versus how your dog sees things can help you become more patient and understanding pet parents. Instead of getting frustrated that your dog can't find a ball you threw in the grass, you'll understand the importance of getting a ball that's a color your dog can easily distinguish from its background. 

Luckily, even though your pet might not see color as well as you do, they have a stronger sense— their sense of smell. As a result, dogs can usually identify objects based on their smell alone. 

Examples of Vision in Dogs

Now that you understand how your dog's vision is different from yours, you're probably wondering what they see. You can use the Dog VISION Image Processing Tool created by András Péter to compare what you see to what your dog sees using everyday objects. All you have to do is upload a photo and ensure you have the right settings for red-green colorblindness, and you can start to see everything how your dog sees them. 

Example of a dog’s vision compared to humans

Dog vision vs. human vision

What to Know About Your Dog’s Other Senses

Your dog's sense of sight might not be as good as yours, and they might not be able to see colors as vibrantly, but they have other senses that are stronger than yours. Don't feel bad for your dog just because they can't tell whether or not their ball is red; they're able to smell and hear things that you can't even imagine. Here's what you should know about your dog's other senses:

Smell

A dog's sense of smell is between 10-10,000 times stronger than yours.6 Your dog's sense of smell is its most powerful sense because it has more olfactory receptors than yours. Their brains are also able to analyze smells better than humans, making their sense of smell their greatest asset, and why many breeds are such great hunters. Dogs use their sense of smell to learn about everything around them, including people and other dogs. 

Dogs can smell just about anything from dew on a blade of grass to the different ingredients you've used to cook your dinner. While you may smell the culmination of something, such as a home-cooked meal, your pet is able to discern the different things that went into the meal, including the vegetables, meats, and spices. 

Your dog's sense of smell is so strong that they can use it to learn about other dogs. For example, you may have noticed your pup sniffing another dog's backside when they meet. This is because your dog wants to learn everything it can about a stranger, including what he ate and what he's been up to that day. Of course, sniffing another dog's bottom can also be used to help ease anxiety in dogs since it's part of their instinctual behavior process. 

Additionally, you may notice your dog likes to mark where another dog has urinated, especially if your dog is a male. Many people call this "checking pee-mail," and it occurs when your dog sniffs a spot another dog has urinated and urinates on top of it. Dogs can learn a lot about other dogs by the chemicals in their urine, including whether the dog is stressed, healthy or sick, and even use their urine scent to track them to the next spot they went. 

Your dog loves their sense of smell, which is why they enjoy being outside and going for walks. If you notice your pet sniffs a lot on walks, it's important to let them go about their business so they can learn about the world around them. Your dog may also enjoy playing scent games indoors, which can help stimulate their mind. 

Hearing

Basset Hound walking outside

Dogs can hear sounds as high as 47,000 to 65,000 Hz, while humans can only hear up to 20,000 Hz.7 Hearing is the second strongest sense your dog has, as long as they have healthy ears. Similar to their sense of smell, dogs have better hearing than humans. They can hear everything much louder than you do, so many dogs are afraid of loud noises. Additionally, they can even distinguish the differences in sound. For example, your dog might know if you're stressed based on the different tones in your voice. Additionally, something that might not be loud to you can be incredibly loud to your beloved pet. While a smoke alarm going off is loud and annoying to you, it can actually hurt your dog's ears. 

Dogs hear sounds in different frequencies, which is why humans can't hear dog whistles. Additionally, dogs can hear sounds from much farther away because it's louder. Have you ever realized your dog always seems to know when your company has arrived before they've knocked on the door? It's likely because they heard their car park, the door shut, and the footsteps of your guests walking up to your door. 

Your dog can hear so well because of the shape of their ears, which also allows them to rotate and move independently. Dog ear health is important, and anything from an ear infection to trauma can impact your dog's ability to hear. Always inspect your dog's ears for any sign of debris or inflammation. You can usually tell if they have an ear infection by their body language. If your pet is shaking their head, rubbing, or scratching their ears, it could be an indication of an ear infection. 

Touch

Dogs’ eyes aren't fully developed at birth, so they depend on their mother a lot during the first few weeks. Because one of their senses isn't strong enough, they must rely on other senses, including their sense of touch. Have you ever noticed how much your dog likes to snuggle and how they love fluffy, soft blankets? That's because their sense of touch is used from the moment they're born. 

Your dog's body is covered with sensitive nerve endings to help them feel, which is why they have whiskers. Believe it or not, your dog's whiskers serve more of a purpose than just making them look cute; they can feel touch. 

Dogs use their sense of touch to communicate with other dogs and their loving human companions. In addition, most dogs love physical affection, including petting and gentle massaging, which can help you communicate with your dog that you love them while helping them stay calm and relaxed. The next time your dog sits next to you on the couch or rolls around in your lap, consider giving them a few loving pets to make them feel loved. 

Taste

Does your dog love food and treats? If your dog can't seem to stop begging for food while you're eating dinner, it's not because of their sense of taste. Just like vision, dogs' sense of taste is much more subdued than humans'. In fact, your dog has fewer taste buds than you do, but then why do they seem to love food? The answer to why your dog is always begging for you to share your food is their sense of smell. As we've already discussed, dogs have an incredible sense of smell, which allows them to taste what they're smelling.

For dogs, smelling the food is a better experience than eating it, but they'll still happily eat any food you give them. Ultimately, dogs aren't eating food because it tastes good, which is why it sometimes looks like your dog swallows food whole. Instead, they're enjoying the olfactory sensation right before the food goes into their mouth. 

Final Notes

While it might be difficult to imagine how your dog sees the world, it's important to understand the differences between what you see versus your dog so you can become a better pet parent and provide them with a quality life. In this article, we discussed whether or not dogs are color blind and which colors they can see. The true definition of color blindness means your dog cannot distinguish between certain colors and may see different colors other than the true colors of objects. 

There are two competing myths about color blindness in dogs; the first is that dogs are color blind and see in black and gray only, which is untrue because we know dogs can see a variety of colors. The other myth is that dogs are not color blind because they can see color. Both myths exist because people misunderstand the true definition of color blindness. Color blind individuals don't see in black and gray and can distinguish many different types of color, and the same is true for your dog. While many tones are subdued, and some colors might look like other colors to your pet, it doesn't mean they see in black and gray. 

Color blindness in dogs is not a health concern; in fact, all dogs are color blind, and, depending on their breed, dogs have a different way of seeing the world than you do. For example, some have eyes that are farther apart, which allows them to see their peripherals easily, while others have eyes that are closer together to give them depth perception similar to yours. 

When it comes to color blindness in dogs, remember that they can see blue and yellow better than anything else. That means when choosing a toy for your dog, especially a ball they can play fetch with; it's always best to choose one that's blue so they can easily find it with their eyes. You can also choose white or black toys to help your dog see their toys better, no matter where they are. 

Of course, it's always important to take care of your dog's eye health. If you notice your dog is scratching or pawing at their face, or they keep their eyes closed more often than usual, it could be a sign of a health issue. Anything from recurring allergies to eye trauma requires the help of your vet. 

That's where Dutch's telemedicine for pets comes in. Dutch is your one-stop shop for pet resources, including qualified licensed veterinarians who can answer your questions about your dog's eye health. With Dutch, you can contact a vet from the comfort of your own couch for non-emergency visits and have all your dog questions answered. So whether your dog has allergies or you believe they're starting to lose their vision, Dutch can help you get the care you need without worrying about getting your dog in the car and making an anxious trip to the local vet. 

 

References

  1. Brady, Christopher J. “Other Eye Symptoms - Eye Disorders.” Merck Manuals Consumer Version, Merck Manuals, 17 Mar. 2022, www.merckmanuals.com/home/eye-disorders/symptoms-of-eye-disorders/other-eye-symptoms.  

  2. “New Study Shows That Dogs Use Color Vision after All.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 17 July 2013, www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/new-study-shows-that-dogs-use-color-vision-after-all-13168563/?no-ist.  

  3. Fleischhacker, Brooke Rachel, et al. “SiOWfa15: Science in Our World: Certainty and Controversy.” SiOWfa15 Science in Our World Certainty and Controversy, 16 Sept. 2015, https://sites.psu.edu/siowfa15/2015/09/16/dogs-can-only-see-in-black-and-white-myth-or-fact/.   

  4. Meyers, Harriet. “Can Dogs See Color?” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 7 Dec. 2021, www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/can-dogs-see-color/.  

  5. Plonsky, Mark. “Dr. P's Dog Training: Canine Vision.” K9 - 101 Dog Behavior, 1998, https://www4.uwsp.edu/psych/dog/la/drp4.htm.  

  6. Tyson, Peter. “Dogs' Dazzling Sense of Smell.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 4 Oct. 2012, www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/dogs-sense-of-smell/

  7. Gibeault, Stephanie. “Sounds Only Dogs Can Hear: Higher Pitches Is Where They Shine.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 13 July 2018, www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/sounds-only-dogs-can-hear/.