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Can Dogs See Colour?

5 min read

Are dogs experiencing the world of colour the same way as we do? We’re exploring the fascinating field of dog vision while looking at how it compares to our own.

Do our dog companions have the same appreciation as us, humans, for the green grass in the park and the bright red toy hiding in it? Do colours look blurred from a canine perspective? And do dogs even see colour? Thanks to recent studies, dog vision, a topic that has long been filled with myths and speculations, is not as mysterious as it used to be. Here is how dogs really see the world.

 

Can dogs see colour?

Many people believe that dogs live in a black-and-white world, with their vision unable to distinguish any of the myriad of colours in their environment. Despite the staying power of this belief, scientists have demonstrated that this is not actually true. Dogs can see colours, just not in the same number of shades or at the same intensity we are able to perceive.

 

How does dog vision differ from human vision?

Dog vision has taken a different evolutionary path to our own and there is no shortage of amazing ways in which the two differ.

Small dog running with yellow toy

Range of colour

The eye has many intricate mechanisms for processing light, with the retina doing a big part of the work. It’s also the place where the differences between dog vision and human vision are most evident.

The retina is made of cells that function as light sensors. A special type called cones are responsible for the colours we see and while we have blue, red and green cones, dogs have only two types: a blue cone and a cone that falls somewhere between red and green.

Low-light vision

A dog’s vision has evolved to allow them to hunt at dawn and dusk. As a consequence, they see much better in dim light than us humans do.

Wider degree of peripheral vision

What dogs lack in full-colour vision, they make up with their amazing peripheral vision ability. While humans have a field of view that extends to 180 degrees, dogs can see 240 degrees, giving them an almost panoramic view. The fact that their eyes are set wider apart than ours also helps them see things that we would have to turn our head to notice.

Near sightedness

Dogs are believed to have 20/75 vision, which means objects tend to become blurry for them the further away they are. But luckily dogs possess an incredible sense of smell that tends to compensate for the drawbacks of their innate vision abilities.

Motion sensitivity

Dogs are more sensitive to changes in motion than humans. These days we can hardly imagine our dog friends going on the prowl at night, but their ability to easily detect motion combined with their excellent vision in dim light, made them quite fearless nocturnal hunters in their wild days.

 

What colours can dogs see best?

The answer to the question can dogs see colour is a definite yes, but there are certain colours that are more evident than others and some colours that don’t show up at all on their radar. A dog’s world is basically made up of shades of blue, yellow and grey, with red, green and orange colours missing from their spectrum. This is why yellow and blue toys make the biggest impression on your dog, while red balls can be left completely forgotten in the grass.

What do dogs see when they watch TV?

Close up of grey dog looking into the distance

Dogs are usually the first in the family to take you up on a movie night offer. While some of our canine friends sit still being mesmerised by the images on screen, others react quite vociferously as if they’re part of the storyline themselves.

Although the sounds coming from the speakers are the biggest incentive for paying attention, the images play quite a role as well.

It turns out, there is another fascinating aspect of dog vision that explains the behaviour. Dogs have a higher flicker rate than humans. This means that while the rate of frames per seconds for humans is 60, for dogs a smooth image is achieved only above 70 frames per seconds. This means that higher-resolution screens provide a much nicer source of entertainment for the canines in the house than the old television set, which might be one of the reasons why they’re more likely to join you on a binge-watching weekend these days.

 

Do sighthounds have better vision than other dogs?

Sighthounds are dogs historically bred for hunting by speed and sight. Their vision extends to a whopping 270-degree field, allowing them to effectively scan the horizon for possible prey. Their retina has a visual streak, a horizontal area with a high concentration of cones, giving them their panoramic-view ability. Interestingly, it has been observed that this is a trait common only among dogs with long noses. Short-nosed canines such as Boston Terriers or Chihuahuas have a shorter streak.

Dog vision gives us a fascinating look into how our four-legged friends actually experience the world and we can’t wait for scientists to keep surprising us with more findings. But did you know that one of the most impressive things about your dog is actually their sense of smell? Find out how important it is and how it compares to our own sense of smell, next.

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