Dog Vision: What Colors Do Dogs See? · The Wildest

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Dog Vision: What Colors Do Dogs See?

They can’t take in as many colors as you can, but their world isn’t just black and white.

by Beth Finke | expert review by Dr. Amy Fox, DVM
Updated August 7, 2023
Reflection of a multi-colored rainbow on the face of a mixed breed dog sitting on the floor indoors
Grigory Bruev / Adobe Stock
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From vibrant sweaters to toys in every color, pup parents often love choosing new items for their dogs. But how many of the colors on your pup’s favorite toy can they actually see? You’ve likely heard that dogs are color blind or even that they see the world only in black and white, but the reality is a little more complex. While dogs are able to see color, they have a more limited color-vision spectrum compared to humans, and those bright colors on their toys and bedding are more muted to their eyes.

So, what colors does a dog see? The truth about your dog’s vision may surprise you — and give you a little more appreciation for the way they navigate the world. 

Are dogs colorblind?

Whitney, my seeing eye dog, and I visited a school on the North Side of Chicago recently, and for some reason, the first and second graders seemed particularly interested in color blindness. When one of them asked me if it’s true that dogs can only see black and white, I explained that dogs do see some colors, but they can’t tell the difference between red and green.

“If we’re at an intersection with a stoplight, it’s my job to judge when it might be safe to cross,” I said. I described the way I stand up straight, concentrate, and listen for the rush of cars. When it sounds like the traffic is going in the direction I want to go, I take a guess the light is green and command Whitney to go forward. Whitney’s ears perk up; she listens for traffic and looks left and right to confirm it’s safe before pulling me across.

So are dogs color blind? In a way, yes. A dog’s vision is similar to that of a human who has red-green color blindness. To dogs, red may appear gray or dark brown, while yellow, orange, and green all look like varying shades of yellow, and violet appears to be just another shade of blue. Research is still ongoing to determine if dogs can distinguish between red and green perhaps based on the intensity of the light, and some scientists believe canines may also use context clues to tell the difference, such as understanding that red objects tend to be darker than green ones.

Why can’t dogs see specific colors like red and green?

One girl told me that her school uniform is red. “But does Whitney think it’s green?” she asked. I gave that question some thought and realized I couldn’t answer it. When I got home, I did some research. 

When researching what colors dogs can see, I found that dogs can see colors, but not the same way humans do. People can see a rainbow of variations, including violet, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red. Dogs can only see blue, yellow, and some shades of gray. See the color chart below for an approximate idea of what colors dogs see best. 

Dogs would see a rainbow as dark yellow (sort of brownish), light yellow, gray, light blue, and dark blue. Dogs don’t see red, purple (violet), or orange like we do. So, while it is established that dogs see shades of yellow, blue, and gray, if a dog were to look at a uniform that is red or green, it would appear as faded brownish, gray, or indistinct. 

Why are dogs color blind? The reason for this more muted spectrum in dog color vision all comes down to the nerve cells in a dog’s eyes. Humans and dogs both have two main types of nerve cells, or photoreceptors, in their retinas: rods, which detect light and motion; and cones, which help differentiate colors. Human eyes have more cones, allowing us to see a vibrant spectrum of color, while dogs can see just blue and yellow. This limited spectrum is known as dichromatic color vision. But dogs have more rods than humans, which enables them to see better than we do in low light and to identify moving objects more easily. 

How does a dog’s brain process colors? 

So, how do dogs see color? Dog eyes work much like a camera. Light enters through the pupil. The iris, a structure that can expand and contract, controls the amount of light allowed in. Light then passes through the clear cornea and lens, which focus the light on the retina, a light-sensitive layer. The retina contains color-sensitive cones and motion- and light-sensitive rods, all of which convert light into electrical signals. The cones and rods send these signals via the optic nerve to the brain, which constructs an image from them. 

Dogs have only two types of cones, compared with the three types in human eyes. As a result, dogs don’t distinguish as many colors as people do. A dog’s color spectrum is more muted, allowing them to distinguish blue, yellow, and various shades of gray. Dogs may also have difficulty distinguishing between different shades of the same color, like light blue and dark blue. 

Fun Facts About Dogs and Color

Although dog color vision is much more limited than that of their human parents, dogs tend to be very attentive to the colors they are able to perceive, and some evidence suggests that dogs may even be able to see some colors that humans cannot

Certain colors improve a dog’s agility.

Dogs do better at agility training when the weave poles, tunnels, jumps, and boards are painted in colors they can easily discern, such as blue and yellow. 

Dogs are nearsighted.

Dog eyesight is 20/75, which makes them quite nearsighted. So, while your dog is likely better at detecting movement and seeing in dark rooms, their vision may be much blurrier than yours.

The best dog toy color is...

Based on what we know about dogs’ color vision, the best color for dog toys is blue, which will stand out on most backgrounds, such as grass, which only appears yellowish or brown to dogs.

FAQs (People Also Ask):

Does a dog’s limited color vision affect their daily life? 

Dogs are born with color blindness, so their limited color vision doesn’t have much of an impact on the way they go about their daily lives. However, dogs have trouble seeing red or pink, so try to avoid these colors when selecting new toys for your dog. 

Can I use specific colors to attract or get a dog’s attention?

Dogs see blue and yellow best, but the best way to get a dog’s attention is to use movement and to stand right in front of them, as well as to invest in training to help them learn and respond to commands. 

What age do dogs have vision problems? 

Like humans, dogs can develop vision problems at any age and for many reasons. Common vision problems that occur with age, such as cataracts, may be more likely in their senior years, which for most dogs is between  nine to eleven years old depending on their size and breed. 

What are the early signs of a dog going blind?

One of the most common physical signs of blindness in a dog is cloudy-looking eyess as they age. You may also notice your dog acting more nervous or hesitant when moving around the house, jumping on and off furniture, or using stairs, especially in low light. Some dogs may even become more clingy or aggressive when they struggle to see. 


Beth Finke ©BillHealy

Beth Finke

Beth Finke is the author of Safe & Sound and winner of the ASPCA’s Henry Bergh award for children’s literature. Her most recent book is Writing Out Loud: What a Blind Teacher Learned from Leading a Memoir Class for Seniors.

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