The Results are in, What Colors Can Dogs See?

what colors can dogs see
Do Dogs See Color?

Can dogs see colors and if so, what colors can dogs see?

Many people believe that dogs are colorblind. And they are!

But that doesn’t mean they only see the world in shades of gray.

Dogs do see some colors.

What colors can dogs see?

It has been believed for many years that dogs were colorblind, or to be more accurate, color vision deficient and could see no colors at all. Therefore, could only see the world in black & white. But further studies have shown that they do actually see some colors. Although, it is likely, not as brightly as we do.

Within the retina of an eye, there are 2 types of cells, cones, which is the cell that detects colors, with each cone being able to detect a different color range wavelength. And rods, which are the cells that detect motion and light levels.

Studies by Jay Neitz, at the University of California, have shown that dogs have two types of the cone which allow dogs to see in shades of blue & yellow, known as dichromatic vision. Whereas we have three types of cones which allow us to also see colors in the range of red and green and also see all colors brighter.

And so, dogs see the world in shades of blue, yellow, and gray.

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do dogs see color
How did they test dogs?

Scientist Jay Neitz used four colored pieces of paper to test eight untrained dogs. The colored paper consisted of dark yellow, light yellow, dark blue, and light blue. They used the light and dark variants to test the theory that dogs use brightness to distinguish between them.

The test

The dark yellow and light blue colored pieces of paper were placed in front of two locked boxes.

The researchers then unlocked one of the boxes and kept the other box locked. Both boxes had a piece of raw meat inside, and the yellow paper was then placed in front of the unlocked box.

The dogs were then allowed to try and open one of the boxes before then being taken away.

The dogs took just three attempts to learn which color paper sat in front of the box containing the raw meat.

The researchers then tested the dogs to find out if the dogs were choosing the dark yellow paper, because of the color, or because of the brightness.

They did this by trying the experiment again, this time using the dark blue and light-yellow pieces of paper.

The scientists knew, if the dogs chose the dark blue paper, they were making a decision based on brightness.

And if they chose the light-yellow paper, they were making a decision based on color.

It was discovered, the dogs chose the light-yellow paper 70% of the time.

Six of the eight dogs were choosing the light-yellow paper 90 -100% of the time.

Meaning they were chosen based on the color yellow.

They carried out these tests to find out what colors can dogs see, and the results were clear, the dogs were making a decision based on color. They were not making their choice based on whether the paper was light or dark, which is what would have happened if the dogs in the tests could see no color at all, just shades of gray.

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Therefore, if we have any toys for our dogs that are RED or GREEN, our dogs may have some trouble seeing them, compared with other toys which are BLUE or YELLOW.

Knowing what colors can dogs see can help us as dog owners when training our pups. Choosing a red and green item within a training scenario will only confuse our dogs and we will not get the results intended with the training. 

It may also be worth remembering this, the next time you are throwing a red or green toy for your pooch to retrieve at the park. Although you can very clearly see the toy, the toy will be very well camouflaged against the green lawn. Especially if the toy is in tall grass and/or has stopped moving.

dogs vision vs human vision
A Dogs Vision vs Human Vision

You now know that dogs see the world in blue, yellow, and shades of grey. Which is similar to humans who are red/green colorblind. Which are the most common form of color vision deficiency and total as many as 0.5% of women and 8% of men.

Although humans have more cones, except for those of us who have color vision deficiency. Dogs have more rods. So, dogs are able to detect motion far better than us and are also able to see in much dimmer light than humans too.

It is also thought that our little pups are extremely farsighted, so near objects will be quite blurry. Scientists believe that because if this, and the fact that dogs can detect motion far better than they see colors, dogs rely on the lightness and darkness of objects far more than they use color information for decision making.

It is similar to humans regarding our sense of smell. Dogs have a far better sense of smell than we do, and yet we still use information gathered from smells we detect even if only at a subconscious level.  

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Although dogs are colorblind, or should I say, color vision deficient. They don’t just see the world in black, white, and shades of gray. They do still see some colors, but not the full spectrum of colors most humans do.

As for the original question: What colors can dogs see?

You now know that dogs see the world in blue, yellow, and shades of grey. This is also the most common version of color vision deficiency in humans who are red/green colorblind. And total as many as 0.5% of women and 8% of men in the world.

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