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Can Dogs See Colors or They Are Colorblind?


8 min read

Colorful themes are mesmerizing to watch, a lot of people like to go to festivals, celebrations or even enjoying the colors of nature while camping, we would like our dogs to get the chance to enjoy these schemes too, but are they capable to do that? Can dogs see colors?

Dogs have got the ability to see specific colors as their spectrum of colors is limited. their perception of colors is totally different than ours. The limitation of the dogs’ color spectrum is due to the absence of a certain color receptor and a lesser number of the color receptors found in their eyes. This means that dogs are not able to see all the colors and even the colors they can see, it doesn’t appear as intense as we see it.

How Do Dogs See Colors?

a dog wearing a mask-dogs see  colors

For many years, dogs were thought to see the world in black, shades of grey and white. This claim lasted for plenty of time until Jay Neitz from the University of California, Santa Barbara, concluded that dogs do have color vision, but it is considered limited compared with the human capability of seeing light.

The structure of our canines’ eyes makes them able to distinguish a number of things specific colors, movement, motion and seeing even with the absence of good light source.

It is different than humans vision due to several reasons;

The number of cones(receptors responsible for color detection) found in dogs’ eyes is fewer than those which found in a human eye, which resulted in dogs to see colors in a much less intense.

Also, dogs have got two types of receptors and on the other hand, humans got three types. The absence of one of those cones made the range of colors that a dog sees is limited to yellows, blues, and shades of gray.

For dogs, red-colored stuff would appear to look brownish, purple would look as blue, and green, yellow and orange, depending on the shade, could all look yellowish. 

Look closely at those two images, the first one is what your dog will be seeing, on the other hand, this is what you will be seeing!

It may seem a different image for you, but this is how different we are seeing the world than our four-legged friends.

If you are interested in knowing how your dog is seeing most of the images, click here and enjoy seeing the world from your canine’s eyes!

Digging deeper and knowing more about the anatomy of the eyes, there are more in a dog’s eye that will make his night vision and change in colors different than ours;

The cornea(the transparent part of the eye) wouldn’t only protect the eye but also helps in focusing the light in the retina(the part that is responsible for sending the nerve pulses to the brain for picture formation).

The pupil is the brownish part in the center of the eye and is responsible for the amount of light getting into the dog’s eyes.

As for the Iris (the colored area of the eye), it controls the amount of light that is getting into the eyes by making the pupil of the eye large or small depending on the amount of the light found.

Rods are photoreceptor cells along with cones, rods are responsible for making the eyes work better in dim areas, as for cones, they are responsible for detecting colors.

Dogs and cats have more rods in their eyes than humans which allow them to easily detect things in the dark, also the lens in dogs’ eyes are closer to the retina than in a human eye and this allows the picture to be brighter.

The tapetum lucidum( a mirror-like part at the back of the dogs’ eyes) also helps in reflecting light giving the retina the chance to register the picture more accurately in the dark.

You know that mirror glowy eyes’ gaze from our pets that frightens the heck out of us at night sometimes? Blame the tapetum for it!

History of Dogs Seeing Colors

The conception of dogs being colorblind or only see in black and white was the assumption of most of the researchers back then, they always thought that dogs not only can’t see in colors but also only saw general outlines and shapes.

In the sixties, other researchers claimed that only primates like monkeys and apes are the only ones in the animal kingdom to be able to see colors with the same efficiency as humans.

The claim was believed also there was no real scientific evidence that supported that claim, but with no other theories done over the years, everyone believed in what those researchers said.

Until 2013, no one made any valid research to actually define how dogs see colors, but in this particular year, Russian scientists proved that the theory of dogs only see in monochrome and the outline of things is wrong!

Anna Kasparson, Jason Badridze, and Vadim Maximov decided to experiment if dogs would consciously use the color information they got and if they would choose the color over the brightness or not.

The experiment started with printing four papers with the colors dark yellow, dark blue, light yellow and light blue. The color choice was made on behalf of the ability of dogs to identify these colors and the level of the brightness.

Two boxes were brought, both of them have a piece of meat in it but one of the boxes was unlocked while the other is the opposite.

In front of each box, the researchers put one of the colored papers. The dark yellow and light blue were propped up in front of the boxes and dogs were trained for choosing the unlocked box by making one of the colors as correct so he could the treat.

For nine days, dogs took 10 trials each day with the same colored card in front of the unlocked box, after that the colored cards were changed, the dark yellow card with the light one and the dark blue with the light blue card.

For another 10 days, the researches continued to see what the dogs are going to choose. If their choice was upon the brightness, dogs who were taught that the light blue card as the sign of the unlocked, then he will choose the light yellow card this time.

But that didn’t happen, dogs went for the shade of the color they were trained that it is the right one.

Dogs who were trained that the dark blue is their cue went for the light blue card, on the other hand, dogs trained to choose the light yellow cards went for the dark ones.

This was with a percentage of more than 70% of the times, dogs made the right choice, with six out of eight dogs choosing right at the percentage of 90% and some got a 100%!

This experiment that dogs’ choices can be based on color information they are receiving and it is not only about the brightness of the color.

This research obviously eliminated the consumption that dogs are colorblind or seeing our world in shades of black and white.

As a pet owner, you can use this information for your dogs’ benefit! A lot of things could be done in light of the idea that our dogs can figure out some colors.

How Pet Owners Can Use The Ability of Dogs Seeing Colors?

Knowing that our dogs have the ability to colors but different from us can help us in choosing colorful and interesting toys for our little four-legged friends.

By mentioning the colorful and interesting, it is meant to be that way for the dog, not you.

You may find this very stunning toy in red and green and think that your buddy would love it, but he most likely would find it boring.

The perspective of attention-grabbing colors is different from humans to dogs, as an example, you would see anything that got a rainbow is so colorful but your dog will see it differently.

Dogs would regard the colors of the rainbow as dark and light blue, gray, light and darker yellow {more of a brown color}, and very dark gray, doesn’t seem so great for us, right?

Try to choose toys for your dog that varies in the shades of blues and yellow as they are the colors that a dog can identify well.

Now, when your dog is not interested in any of the toys you bought for him, considering that its color is not appealing to him is something you should keep in mind.

Maybe the shape of dogs and human eyes are kind of the same, but that doesn’t mean that they see the world the same. Dogs vision is different from many aspects; they have better night vision, limited color one compared to us and the ability to see some wavelengths humans can not see.

Check Can Dogs See In The Dark? and Can Dogs Dream? to know more about how our canines are coping with their surroundings and if it affects what they see while sleeping.

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