Do Dogs See in Color?

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Yes, dogs definitely see in color but they don’t quite see the same colors that we do. Dogs appear to see shades of yellow and blue but they don’t seem to be able to see shades of red and green. When they look at things that are red and green they see shades of gray instead. A dog sees things in a way that is a little similar to a person who is red-green colorblind.

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Humans have three kinds of color receptors, also called “cones.” We are “tri-chromatic.” Dogs, on the other hand, only have two kinds of color receptors. They are “di-chromatic.” According to scientists, full color vision developed very early in the evolution of the eye. Some fish, insects, birds, reptiles, and other creatures have four or more different color receptors. Butterflies have five color receptors. The mantis shrimp has 16! Over the millennia, mammals began to lose these extra color receptors until they were all di-chromatic. There didn’t seem to be an advantage to having so many color receptors in mammals. It was only later that humans and other primates added additional color receptors as they continued to develop.

If you have ever seen the Dog TV channel on cable then you know that there is a heavy emphasis on the color yellow and little red or green in the videos. The channel has processed the video they show to make it more appealing to a dog’s eyes. But if you, as a human, watch the channel for very long, you’ll probably get a headache. It wasn’t meant for your eyes.

The dog’s eyesight, in general, is not as good as a human’s. They are nearsighted. Experts think that dogs only have about 20 to 40 percent of the visual acuity that humans have. So, when we see something clearly, it can look blurry to a dog looking at it from the same distance away.

But don’t feel too bad for your dog. Dogs are much, much better than we are at detecting moving objects and seeing things in low light. They also have greater peripheral vision. These are important abilities for a hunter so he can hunt at night and find animals that are trying to hide. Your dog’s other senses are even more phenomenal. He has an excellent sense of hearing and some breeds have a sense of smell that is estimated to be as much as 100 million times better than our human sense of smell.

Keep your dog’s vision in mind when you are buying toys and other things for him. For instance, if you throw a red ball for him in the green grass, he can have a hard time finding it. It could appear like a gray ball in a gray field to him. Choose toys that are yellow or blue so he can pick them out more easily. Your dog can probably find the ball or toy if it is moving, but he’ll have a harder time locating it after it comes to a stop. He can detect differences in dark and light, but it will be easier for him to find things if they are one of the colors he can see.

Carlotta Cooper

Carlotta is a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine Dog News. She's also the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, the Dog Writers Association of America Award winner for 2013. In addition, she's written Canine Cuisine: 101 Natural Dog Food & Treat Recipes to Make Your Dog Healthy and Happy.

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